The Primacy of Jesus and the Church’s Liturgical Year
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8, 2019
Today, even at the highest ecclesial levels, the importance of Catholic doctrine is disparaged. In particular, Jesus is reduced to one of many founders of divinely willed religions. I was contemplating this sad reality on the recent Solemnity of Christ the King, the celebration of Jesus Christ as the definitive Lord and universal Savior. In the entire cosmos, he alone holds primacy of place. There is no name greater, and therefore, there is no one superior to Jesus, the incarnate, only begotten, Spirit-filled Son of the Father.
As I pondered this effective belittling of Jesus, the thought came to me that the Church’s liturgical year is both the safeguard and the promoter of Jesus’ primacy. The climax of the Church’s liturgical year is the Feast of Christ the King. But then it begins again with Advent, the preparation for the Solemnity of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, the incarnate Father’s Son.
Christmas is founded upon an event, a liturgical celebration, that took place nine months earlier on March 25, the Annunciation. On that feast, the Church joyfully recalls the coming of the archangel Gabriel to Mary. He is sent by the Father to announce to her that by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit she will conceive a son, whom she is to name Jesus – YHWH-Saves. Gabriel informs Mary that her son will inherit the everlasting kingdom of David and will be called the Son of God.
In these conjoined events, we celebrate the singular significance of Jesus. Yes, Jesus is a man conceived and born of a woman. But conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. No other event in the history of the world comes close to this marvelous truth, and, therefore, no other human being, past or future, can be greater than Jesus, the eternal Son of the living God.
This is his divine identity, and it is unique to him. No other religion lays claim to such a truth, and no founder of any other religion claims to have God as his very own divine Father.
The best Mohammed can do, for example, is to profess that he is the greatest prophet – a far cry from the truth that Jesus is the Son, the very Word, of his heavenly Father.
Not surprisingly, then, the Church marks the dawn of the new calendar year, January 1, by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, for with the birth of her son the dawn of a new and eternal life appears. Mary, in herself, is the proclamation and the defender of the mystery of the Incarnation. To honor Mary as the Mother of God is to honor her human son as the Father’s divine Son.
Who first proclaims this truth that Jesus is the Son of God? The Father himself! At Jesus’ baptism, as the Holy Spirit descends upon him, the same Spirit by whose power he was conceived as man, the Father declares who Jesus is: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
The Father affirms, and so confirms, that his Son, Jesus, is God as he himself is God, for Jesus possesses fully the Father’s very divine Spirit of Sonship. This declaration of Jesus’ divine identity is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. Once again, we find the Church’s liturgical year professing the primacy of Jesus.
During Lent, the Church prepares to celebrate the definitive events by which Jesus becomes the universal Savior, the events in and through which he enacts his name, YHWH-Saves. Through his passion and death, Jesus obtains the forgiveness of our sins, for he lovingly offers his holy and innocent life to his Father out of love for us.
So pleased was the Father that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he raised his Son, Jesus, from the dead and at his ascension made him the Lord of glory. In so doing the Father made Jesus truly Jesus, mankind’s singular, definitive Lord and universal Savior.
The Father established Jesus, his glorious incarnate Son, as the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and so King of kings, the Lord of lords. During Holy Week, Easter, and the Ascension, the Church celebrates this mighty work of the Father made manifest in his incarnate Spirit-filled Son, Jesus Christ.
To hold or to insinuate that Jesus is merely one of many “saviors” is not simply to denigrate Jesus but to insult the Father himself. Ultimately, it is to sin against the Holy Spirit – the unforgivable sin!
In order to reap Jesus’ salvific benefits, one must be united to him. This is what the Church celebrates on the Solemnity of Pentecost. As the risen Savior and Lord of all, Jesus pours out his Father’s Holy Spirit upon the Church so that all who believe in him and are baptized become new creations in him by sharing in his risen and glorious Spirit-filled life.
This communion with the risen Jesus finds its fullest earthly expression in the Eucharist. There the faithful share in his one saving sacrifice and partake of Jesus’ risen body and blood. The great mystery of the Eucharist is what the Church celebrates yearly on the Solemnity of Corpus Christ. We become one body in Christ.
This feast, too, declares the singularity and primacy of Jesus. No other religion contains such a marvelous truth, for no other religion has a founder to whom one is so united as to be in communion with God the Father through the indwelling Spirit.
So, we end where we began, with the Solemnity of Christ the King. This feast anticipates the heavenly liturgy, a solemnity that will never end, for we await the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, at the end of time, when we will share fully in his resurrection and ascend to our Father. Then, in the Holy Spirit, every knee shall bend and every tongue shall proclaim that Jesus Christ alone is Lord to the glory of God the Father!
*Image: Christ Blessing (The Saviour of the World) by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), c. 1600 [Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh]
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Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap.
Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, a prolific writer and one of the most prominent living theologians, serves as a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. His newest book is Jesus Becoming Jesus: A Theological Interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels.