The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6 + Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 + Matthew 2:1-12
January 3, 2016
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
The Responsorial Psalm is the Cinderella of the Mass. When was the last time that you heard a homily based on the day’s Responsorial Psalm? I could ask my brother priests and myself, “When was the last time that you based a homily on the Responsorial Psalm?” My own answer would be: “Very rarely.”
For practical reasons the Responsorial Psalm is sometimes not proclaimed from the same pulpit where the other three Scripture passages are proclaimed. Some insist that the Responsorial must be sung at the pulpit. But too strictly connecting the pulpit and the proclamation of Scripture at Holy Mass is not mindful of how rooted the Mass is in Sacred Scripture.
The entire Mass—not only the Liturgy of the Word—is filled with both direct and indirect citations of Scripture. For example, the Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphons are almost always taken from Scripture, but it’s rare to hear them proclaimed from the pulpit. Most of the Gloria and the Sanctus are taken from Scripture, and the Consecration is directly from Scripture, but there’s not a need to lead or speak them from the pulpit. The fact that the priest at Mass proclaims words of Scripture from his chair, the pulpit, the altar, and again at his chair shows just how biblical the Mass is.
Nonetheless, the Responsorial is usually overshadowed by the other Scripture readings from the Liturgy of the Word. There are varied reasons why priests don’t base their homilies on the Responsorial. One reason might be that the Psalms are a form of poetry. In our rationalistic culture, the moral prescriptions of the Second Readings, and the narratives of the Gospel passages and First Readings, tend to be easier to focus on, and develop a message from. We don’t have enough poets among us. Fortunately for us, God is a Poet.
“Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” Psalm 72, from which today’s Responsorial is taken, clearly alludes to the mysteries of the Solemnity of the Epiphany. If we were to choose only one word from Psalm 72 to meditate upon, we might choose the word “nation”.
During the intercessions at Mass, we occasionally pray for “our nation” and for “peace among nations”. But we’d be hard pressed to find another part of the Mass in which we focus our prayer on a nation: ours or anyone else’s. Especially in our country, we think of church and state being separate. The Church is about our own spiritual life, and about the mission of the Church. The role of any “nation” in all that isn’t likely to be very great, we might think.
However, Psalm 72 focuses on “the king’s son”. If we were to imagine King David chanting this psalm, this “king’s son” might refer to Solomon. But in the light of the Holy Spirit we recognize “the king’s son” as being the newborn Jesus. Psalm 72 is about Jesus’ mission to “every nation on earth”. This “king’s son” has been sent to earth to spread the riches of His Father’s heavenly Kingdom: to the ends of the earth, for the good of all nations, and for the salvation of every human person.