by Fr. Deacon Pedro Fulop
“Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Every prayer, as every act of the Christian, is ordained ultimately, not only to his own fulfillment in the “vision of God” in heaven, but also to the transformation and consummation of all things in Christ. In Christ all that is, is full of possibilities for beauty, truth, community and justice. The Christian is vowed to draw out all these possibilities into the realities of this world. All of reality invites him to respond to goodness with goodness of his own. The swaying and sounds and whispers of nature and of man are a continual prayer that brings God to man. The Christian hears within his soul these cries and sighs and longing, and he brings them in an upward movement of praise and glory to God. This vision of the praying Christian is most explicitly clarified in the Litany of Peace, which opens our Divine Liturgy. In this litany, the Christian gathers within himself the public servants: authorities both religious and civil; cities, country places and all those who live in them, the travelers by sea, land and air; the sick and those who suffer and those forgotten brothers who are in prisons. The Christian lives deeply in touch with all the troubles of the world and feels the pain of human life intensely. He brings all the earth and whatever it contains to God for His mercy, and dedicates himself for its healing and welfare.
When Christ ascended the cross, He succeeded in spreading over the whole world more of Himself, more of love and salvation than there will ever be of death, hatred, self-centeredness and sin. The mercy of God is the life-giving perpetuation of the divine energy of the Redeemer’s love, an outpouring of love and goodness that sanctifies and divinizes. The mercy of God is God Himself in His transforming presence. It is He, the Bread broken for all, generously given and completely surrendered. The cry of “Lord, have mercy,” therefore, invokes the divine presence on the whole of creation, upon mankind and matter, upon the whole world thought of as gathered in the one embrace of Christ. Many are the needs. Many, therefore, are the cries for mercy. The rhythm of the intentions and the repetition of the “Lord, have mercy” is the manifestation of the all-embracing concern of Christ and of the Christian’s heart. It teaches the individual and the community their true relation with the world and with all mankind as it makes them go beyond themselves to embrace the whole world, all mankind and every circumstance, and carry them in their prayer and in their daily life.
This litany of intentions is the vibrant acclamation of the Christian that everything and everyone belongs to God’s kingdom, where saint and sinner, believer and unbeliever are at home, and where all share in the peace of God. It proclaims the universality of the embrace of Christ which the Christian makes his own. The praying Christian realizes here that he is the brother of all and responsible for all. This is the kingdom of God!
In the antiphons, Christians witness to the goodness of the Lord and shout their own hopes and joys at the sight of Christ’s action of salvation. Historically speaking, the antiphons were popular demonstrations and processions through the streets and winding roads of a given locality, from church to church, leading to the main Church where the celebration had to take place. These processions were meant to gather on their way the “good and the sinners, inviting every one, believer and unbeliever, to the wedding-feast of the King” (Matt 22:8).
The word antiphon means a refrain to a reading or to a rhetorical declamation often repeated during the course of a procession. Antiphons are devised to provoke in people enthusiasm, and joy, and to help them see the goodness of God who hears the immense desire of humanity. Humanity sighs and longs for the coming of the Savior, and God bends toward the earth, sending His Son to be incarnate. Salvation is then seen as present and already working among us. These street demonstrations, as they are worked out in the antiphons, end in a peaceful and nerve-relaxing hymn which sings the presence of the Son among men:
Only-begotten Son and Word of God, immortal as You are! You condescended for our salvation to take flesh of the holy Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, and without undergoing change, You became man. You were crucified, O Christ God, and crushed Death by Your death. You are One of the Holy Trinity, equal in glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit: save us.
Once we have seen that the promises of God and the expectations of His people have been fulfilled, we understand that the wedding-feast is open to all and in full progress. An excited air runs through the congregation: the Bridegroom is now coming! We prepare to receive Him. The ministers form a great procession with lighted candles, covered with a cloud of incense. The bejeweled Holy Gospel book, which is the symbol and sign of Jesus Christ Himself, is carried high on the head of the celebrant or the deacon.
The whole assembly rises to honor the coming of the Lord, using singing, imagination and all the human emotions. Everyone bows profoundly at the passage of Christ, adoring Him really present in His book of life. By bowing and by many signs of the cross, everyone proclaims his or her readiness to hear his voice and heed the lessons of His love. The Gospel Book is thus brought with solemnity and majesty into the midst of the congregation and finally to the sanctuary. The priest, standing in front of the altar, raises the Gospel Book and shows it to the people, thus symbolizing the manifestation of the Lord, when He began to appear to the multitudes. For the Gospel represents Christ in the same way that the books of the Old Testament are called the Prophets.