I usually linger in my homilies almost exclusively over the gospel of the day; but that is not the only way of delivering a sermon. Liturgical regulations state on this point: “[The homily] should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #65). Especially in case of solemnities, in my opinion it can be useful to linger over some liturgical text to grasp the meaning of the mystery that we celebrate.
Among the texts of a Mass, the one that summarizes better the mystery being celebrated is usually the Preface at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer. The Preface is a kind of thanksgiving, “in which the priest, in the name of the whole of the holy people, glorifies God the Father and gives thanks to him for the whole work of salvation or for some particular aspect of it, according to the varying day, festivity, or time of year” (ibid., #79).
For what reason do we thank the Lord today? Because he grants us the joy of celebrating the festival of his city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother. It is a grace, a gift from God. We are usually wrapped up in the cares of life. There is nothing wrong in that: it is natural for us to do so; but, at least once in a while, we are invited—and enabled—to raise our eyes to the heavenly city, the one that the book of Revelation calls the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). It is the Church, still present on earth (the so-called “Church militant”), but already assumed into heaven as well (the so-called “Church triumphant”). The Preface says that she is our mother, because we are children of the Church; we have been begotten by her.
Today we look up at the heavenly Church, “where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives [God] eternal praise.” And it is exactly these brothers and sisters already in heaven that today “we venerate in one celebration” all together. How do they spend their time—so to speak? Praising the Lord. When on earth, they labored for their salvation and for the good of others; now they harvest the fruits of their labor, enjoying the beatific vision and praising the Lord for his glory.
That is also our destination; we too are bound to the heavenly Jerusalem. That is our homeland, toward which “we eagerly hasten as pilgrims advancing by faith.” We should never forget that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come” (Heb 13:14); we are “strangers and aliens on earth … seeking a homeland” (Heb 11:13-14). Earthly life is like a pilgrimage toward the heavenly homeland. The way to advance in this pilgrimage is faith. We know that other brothers and sisters preceded us in this pilgrimage and now, having reached their destination, are waiting for us. Even though they are completely absorbed in the contemplation of God, all the same they are concerned about our destiny and keep following us in our journey. That also is a gift. The Preface says that God, through the Saints, gives us “in our frailty, both strength and good example” (fragilitati nostrae adiumenta et exempla). We have to look at the Saints as models to imitate, and we have to ask them for their help. Their prayer, much more effective than ours, can get for us the grace we need to accomplish our pilgrimage.
So, since the Saints are already assured of immortality—and therefore they are not distracted by other concerns—we can turn to them without hesitation. Let us pray to them with confidence: they are like us; they experienced the same difficulties as us; they know how hard is the journey; so, they are fully willing to help us. Let us allow them to lead us by the hand toward the heavenly homeland.