The Son of Man Must be Lifted Up
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
I had just finished the retreat to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary of Anbu Community, Trichy, South India, and a retreat to the nurses at their so-called American Hospital. At the conclusion of the programs, Sr. Marie Therese, a Scotswoman, and the Medical Doctor in charge of this hospital, pleaded with me, "I know that you are very exhausted and I would not want to take you around the wards to pray for all the sick in our hospital. But there is just one patient that I would want you to pray for. She has been with us for so long and we are unable even to diagnose the nature of her ailment. She gave birth to her baby, but she is so weak and lifeless that she cannot even nurse it; and so her mother is taking care of the infant." I told her that, since we were now about to begin Mass, the woman could be brought to the chapel. But when I saw her being brought on a stretcher, I realized the seriousness of the case. I told the Sisters to place the stretcher on the floor just in front of the altar, something I had never done before.
The Gospel proclamation at the Liturgy of the Word happened to focus on the amazing incident of the paralytic, who was brought in through the roof of the house, where Jesus was preaching and healing, and placed just in front of him. After the homily, which I preached specifically having in mind my special and unusual audience on the floor before me, we continued with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the actual Sacrifice of the Mass. I realized then in a deeper way the three parts of every sacrifice, which in all religions is regarded as the most appropriate way to worship God, i.e., Man's Offering, God's Acceptance and Their Mutual Communion, which are highlighted at the triple Elevation or 'Lifting-up' at Mass, i.e., the Offertory, the Consecration and the Communion, reflecting the three instances when Jesus is depicted as being 'lifted up' in John's Gospel.
"And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself" (12:32)
Man's Offering to his Creator. The First 'Lifting up' or Elevation is at the Offertory. As the priest lifts up the host of bread and the chalice of wine, he acknowledges that through the goodness of the Lord of all creation we have this bread and this wine to offer, the fruit of the earth (and the vine) and the work of human hands, in order to become the bread of eternal life and the cup of spiritual joy, the fruit of heaven and the work of divine hands. The very first elevation, therefore, with which the second part of the Mass begins, is the offering of ourselves, all that we are and have, symbolized by the bread and wine which are the basic products of both God's gift of nature and man's cooperation of labour.
I am always deeply moved when singing the well known Offertory hymn, 'Blessed are you, Lord', originating from Mumbai, for the first step of every sacrifice is offering to God a little portion, a 'tithe', of what we have received from his hands and worked over with our hands, both to acknowledge his authority over us in all that we do, we being only his stewards, and to surrender to his will our total selves, symbolized by that token gift or love offering. As we then ask God to send his Holy Spirit upon this double gift, to the praise and glory of his name, so that it can be transformed into the very body and blood of Christ, thus making it a spotless and acceptable sacrifice, we also pray that God will send the same Spirit upon us all so that we too can be transformed into that same Christ, his Son and our Lord, for our good and good of all his Church.
As I looked at the young woman lying motionless in front of the altar, I was reminded of the acceptable sacrifice that Abel offered of the best lamb of his flock and of the more acceptable sacrifice that Abraham offered of his only son and of the infinitely more acceptable sacrifice offered by God the Father of his Son Jesus, and I realized that the Mass is each one's sacrifice, offered together with the sacrifice of Jesus anticipated at the last supper: "This is my body, this is my blood." The mingling of the water with the wine at Offertory makes us aware that, just as Jesus became then a partaker of our humanity at his Incarnation in Nazareth, we may now become participants in his divinity at the Sacrifice of Calvary.
"When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He" (8:28)
God's Acceptance from his creatures. The second 'Lifting up' or Elevation occurs at the so-called Consecration. After saying over the bread and over the wine the words: "This is my body broken for you, this is my blood shed for you," the priest lifts them up, in order that we can both remember that, 'They will look on the one whom they have pierced' (Jn 19:37), and, in the very words of Thomas on looking at the risen Christ with the wounds of the crucifixion still on his resurrected body, we could then proclaim, "My Lord and my God" (Jn 20:28).
As I then looked down at our patient stretched out on the floor, I was reminded of the words of Paul, "All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share in his suffering by reproducing the pattern of his death" (Phil 3:10). That is why the Church invites us to proclaim, (i.e. to say loudly and joyfully with love, faith and hope), "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again," or, "Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free …." The second step in every sacrifice is therefore God's acceptance of what is offered, symbolized and made effective by the destruction of the thing offered so that the offerer cannot change his mind and take it back, knowing full well that he has given it to his Lord totally and wholeheartedly - to use the technical word of sacrifice: It is now consecrated to (i.e. set apart for) God.
The Son of Man must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him (3:13,14)
God's Communion with Man. The third 'Lifting up' or Elevation takes place at the Communion. The third step in every sacrifice is when what we have offered and consecrated, our bread and wine, is now given back to us in another and higher form, his body and blood, as the sign that God is pleased with our sacrifice. Remembering what he (the priest) said, recalling the words of Jesus at the last Supper, the First Communion, "This is my Body broken for you - Eat it; This is my blood shed for you, - Drink it," the celebrant now for the third time lifts up the host and the chalice and announces, "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! Happy are we who are called to his supper!"
Making our response as one body, we first confess to God with all humility, in the familiar words of the Roman Centurion, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," and we then implore with full faith, "Say but the word and I shall be healed!" And as the priest lifting up the host announces to each communicant, 'The Body of Christ', his response is the declaration of his faith, 'Amen', as he accepts and receives the Bread of Life, Christ himself, into his soul. As I gave Communion to the sick and feeble woman on the stretcher, I was reminded of the words of the Third Eucharistic Prayer, "May we through receiving the body and blood of Christ be filled with the Holy Spirit and become one body and one Spirit in Christ." That is why St. Ephrem would say, when lifting up and offering the host to every communicant, "Receive the fire of the Holy Spirit."
I have always been convinced that the Mass is the greatest, most complete and most effective 'prayer service' for total and deep healing, for the prayers following and flowing from the Our Father, the Lord's Prayer, with which the third part of the Sacrifice of the Mass begins, are prayers of deliverance, emotional healing, spiritual healing and physical healing, in that order. And so, at the end of the Mass, I felt so sure that the Eucharist had brought our infirm participant this three fold healing and deliverance, if and where needed, deep in her spirit, soul and body, that all that was now needed was for it to be claimed and manifested externally.
So I went up or rather down to her and prayed specifically for her high temperature and her intense pains, the symptoms of her mysterious illness. On being asked how she felt, she admitted that all her pains had vanished immediately and she felt good and comfortable. I was getting up from my knees to leave, when her devoted husband looked at me intently and challenged me, "I know she is healed only if she will but stand up. For she has not stood up nor even sat down only all these six months." I was about to retort that I am not God and that we have done our best; her pains and fever have gone and she would become better in due course.
But I then noticed that the lady was trying to lift up her body even to a sitting position - but was unable to do so. I was taken aback by this and so I asked her, "Do you want to stand up?" She said, Yes! The whole congregation of nuns, nurses and the sick now joined me in praying over her and I found myself saying, to my own astonishment, "In the name of Jesus, stand up!" She did manage to stand up on her own - but it was too much for her, and she immediately collapsed to the floor. We prayed once again and I commanded a second time, "In the name of Jesus, stand up!" She stood up, remained standing for some time, and once again in her weakness flopped down to the floor.
A third time we prayed together relying on the promise of Jesus, "If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them" (Mt 18:19,20). And a third time I said with authority, "In Jesus' name, stand up!" She stood up and - remained standing. We then prayed for strength to her hips and legs, and I said, "In Jesus' name, walk!" She began walking. Finally, remembering the incidents in the Gospels and the Acts, I said to her, to my own greater astonishment. "You may pick up your stretcher, and go home" (Mk 2:11,12). She took up the stretcher by herself and - went home!
There is one last and fourth 'Lifting up' in the Mass, at the end of the Canon or Consecration and at the beginning of Communion, when the Priest gives glory and honour to God, "Through him (Offertory), with him (Consecration), in him (Communion)…," and the People endorse it with a jubilant AMEN! as if they were crying out to their Father God in the touching words of that straightforward hymn, "When you look at me, you see not what I used to be, but you see Jesus."
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