Wednesday, May 19, 2010

...Wherever They May Be

I was saying Mass today for the final retreat of the Ignatian Volunter Corps group of New York. A fantastic group and a fantastic program. If anyone reading is retired and looking for a really really cool volunteer opportunity -- one that has bases all over the U.S. -- you should definitely check out IVC. It's something special.

So, anyway, I'm up there presiding, and I'm using Eucharistic Prayer III, and near the end of the eucharistic prayer I'm hit with a question that occurs to me over and over the last 3 or 4 years. Right before the end of the prayer, where we pray for all those who have died, and right after we've prayed for the pope, the bishop and the entire community, the presider offers these two lines:
Father, hear the prayers of the family
you have gathered here before you.
In mercy and love
unite all your children
wherever they may be
It reads like a summary -- hear our prayers, Lord, and unite us.

But what exactly do we mean by "wherever they may be"? When I first got ordained, I put a sort of "whether they're in the Church's best graces or not at this point" spin on it.

But at some point since I've begun to wonder whether that's correct. Could the phrase have a geographical referent instead? Seems a bit too on the nose, but on the other hand it embraces a sense of communion not limited by distance, which is nice.

Why should we even need to have the phrase, really? That which precedes it really says it all. The fact that we include it, I don't know, it always feels a little ominous to me, like there might be some sort of parameters that could reasonably be thought to keep us from being united. Like our sins, maybe.

Could the phrase have something to do with our moral status, whether we're sinners or not? Or our final status? Perhaps we're talking about people who have died and might be in Purgatory?

Undoubtedly there is a definite meaning to this phrase; in fact, if it's like the Creed, and it is, there's probably some specific historical issue that led to this particular phrase being included. That's how things tend to work with us in the Church.

These days when I pray it, I tend to think of families that broken or divided in some way that seems un-overcomeable. (And yes, that's a word. A horrible, horrible word, but still a word.) If anyone hungers for that sort of unity of the prayer, it's them. Maybe it's all of us. I reach for the hope that in God's hands, something beyond all the obstacles is possible.

But to date, I'm still investigating...

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