Life & Soul

Like a mosaic, the Church needs a great Artist to arrange it

Renovated mosaics inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Getty)

Last week, those who frequent Holy Mass with the traditional Roman Rite heard the Gospel about the Good Shepherd. In the Novus Ordo, that Gospel is read this week, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. The disconnect is unfortunate.

The experts of the Consilium thought it was important to break the continuity of centuries just like that. But who are we to judge?

For this Sunday, we have a little gem for a Collect which goes back at least to the time of the Gelasian Sacramentary. Whoever wrote this was a true master of faith, thought and language:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, deduc nos ad societatem caelestium gaudiorum, ut eo perveniat humilitas gregis, quo processit fortitudo pastoris.

There is a nice juxtaposition in humilitas (lowliness) and fortitudo (strength). They seem to be opposites. (Hint: they’re not.) Weakness and strength are not to be measured in worldly terms. Note the nice eo … quo construction and the rhythmic endings of clauses which make the prayer so singable.

Procedo is “to come forth” as well as “to advance, proceed to”. It comes also to mean “to result as a benefit for” someone or something. Think of the English “proceeds”, as in money raised for a cause. “Procession”, along with the liturgical meaning, is a theological term describing how the Persons of the Trinity relate to each other.

Current ICEL translation (2011): “Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.”

Our prayer’s structure resembles an orderly procession. There is synchesis in the last part, a parallelism of grammatical forms: “ut A-B-C-D, A-B-C-D”. Hence, it reminds me of mosaics in the apses of ancient Roman basilicas. Christ reigns in glory above. Beneath the feet of the mighty Shepherd King are lines of courtly sheep, hooves elegantly raised as they proceed into a green safe place where water flows, symbolising the River Jordan and our baptism, the refrigerium Father invokes during the Roman Canon.

Speaking of mosaics, these masterworks are assembled from tiny bits of coloured stone, tesserae, into beautiful spiritual works with many symbols. Up close, individual tesserae are unremarkable, invariably flawed. Once a great artist gathers and arranges them, they dazzle and amaze.

Holy Church is like a mosaic. We small individuals, with different vocations, in diverse places and from distant eras, play important roles in the larger picture.