by Father John P. Cush
ONE OF THE MORE brilliant reformations of the liturgy since the Second Vatican Council was the reinstitution of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The final preparations for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist) come during the season of Lent during the Scrutinies.
These scrutinies take place during Mass on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. The instruction of the RCIA on the scrutinies explains clearly what they are intended to do:
“The scrutinies, which are solemnly celebrated on Sundays and are reinforced by an exorcism, are rites of self-searching and repentance and have above all a spiritual purpose. The scrutinies are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good. For the scrutinies are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. These rites, therefore, should complete the conversion of the elect and deepen their resolve to hold fast to Christ and to carry out their decision to love God above all.”
The Church gives us the option on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent of using the readings not from year C but from year A, in which we read from the Gospel of John.
For this fifth Sunday of Lent, I have chosen to reflect on the readings from the RCIA scrutinies because they feature the Gospel on which I wrote my thesis for my Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) degree: John 11: 1-45.
For the better part of a year, I read, studied and reflected on this particular Gospel pericope, and every time that I have the opportunity to preach on the raising of Lazarus, I take it! Each time that I read this Gospel, I find something new and profound!
These 45 verses from John are a theological and spiritual masterpiece. In a very short space, we see a perfect example of deep Christology. In this Gospel, we see Jesus as who He truly is: True God and true Man. Jesus is one Divine Person, with two natures, human and divine. Jesus is the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. He is fully Divine, yet He is a man like us in all things but sin.
In no other section of John’s Gospel, with the exception of the Passion narrative, do we see Jesus as human as we do in today’s Gospel. In the shortest verse in all of Sacred Scripture, we read: “Jesus wept.” He who is Lord, He who is Messiah, He who is God Eternal, present as the Eternal Word from the beginning of reality, mourns the death of His close friend. The translation in the current lectionary in English reads that Jesus comes to the tomb of Lazarus “perturbed.” A better translation might read “he shuttered with anger.”
In the midst of the sheer humanity exhibited by Jesus, we see Christ at His most Divine. He raises the three-day long dead Lazarus. The Evangelist John emphasizes the fact that Lazarus was not just resting but dead as indicated by the curt phrase: “Surely there will be a stench.” In the King James Version of the Bible, it is very bluntly translated: “He stinketh.”
The One who weeps at the death of His close friend is the One who rejoices in the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. The One who was present at the creation of the stars of night is the One troubled in spirit at the depth of His soul as He mourns the passing of Lazarus.
The preface of the Mass of the Fifth Sunday of Lent phrases this very well in the new translation from 2011:
“For as true man he wept for Lazarus his friend and as eternal God raised him from the tomb, just as, taking pity on the human race, he leads us by sacred mysteries to new life.”
Today, as the days of Lent begin to dwindle down, may we reflect on who Jesus is: True God and true Man. He is Lord, He is Savior, He is our brother. Nothing human, except sin, is foreign to Him.
May we place our sadness, our fears, our anxieties on Jesus and know that Jesus understands them. Like Lazarus, it is Jesus and Him alone who can untie us and let us go free, truly free, living in the freedom of the children of God.[hr]
Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent — RCIA Scrutinies
Ezekiel 37: 12-13
Psalm 130: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Romans 8: 8-11
John 11: 1-45
Father John P. Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a doctoral student in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.