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V is for...

There is another of those interesting occasions in life that appeals to me for the neat way in which things sometimes come together: this V.E. Day Bank Holiday weekend is also V3 Gospel Sunday. Never heard of it? Well it isn’t really surprising; it is a small part of a mnemonic I was given in the seminary, as an aid to remember the various ‘I am …’, ‘ego eime’(Gk.) or ‘ego sum’ (Lat.) sayings of Jesus in the Gospel.

You may recall that we encountered one in the Gospel for last Sunday [Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A], (John 10:1-10) when Jesus twice says of himself, ‘I am the gate (of the sheepfold).

In the Gospel for this Sunday [Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A] (John 14:1-12) we hear the Lord describe himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. In the original Greek of the Gospel according to John, the three nouns are hodos (ὁδός), aletheia (ἀλήθεια) and zoe (ζωή) or in the Latin, via et veritas et vita – hence V3 Gospel Sunday.

* * * * *

Have you ever been to Budapest? If so, you may have been into St Stephen’s Basilica on the Pest side of the Danube where you pass under those graven words, high up above the portal entrance to the church. Seeing the words carved in stone, saying them aloud (using church Latin pronunciation with the hard ‘v’ sound rather than the classical softer ‘w’ sound), makes them sound like hammer blows on the soul, pushing you down upon your knees, not at all welcoming. (Personally, for architecture and ambience, I much prefer the Matthias Church on the Buda side of the Danube.)

Anyway, these three words that Jesus applies to himself are not plucked out of nowhere. As with the rest of his teachings, his witness, his actions and what is said of him by others, the roots go back always to the Jewish scriptures. As you can see below, each of the three words occurs frequently throughout the Hebrew scriptures and especially within the Psalms:

‘way’, or path, in Hebrew is derek (דרך) 706 OT; 66 Ps

‘truth’ in Hebrew is ‘emet (אמת) 330 OT; 84 Ps

‘life’, in Hebrew is chayim (חַיִּים) (& var.) 777 OT; 81 Ps

* * * * *

This particular dominical saying is reflected within the liturgy of the Mass. The third edition of the Roman Missal that came into use in 2011 includes option VI of the Sample Invocations for the Penitential Act:

Lord Jesus, you have revealed yourself as the way to the Father …

You have poured out on your people the spirit of truth

You are the Good Shepherd, leading us to eternal life

(emphasis mine)

In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for Use in Masses for Various Needs III (titled Jesus, the Way to the Father) are the words:

He is the way that leads us to you,

the truth that sets us free,

the life that fills us with gladness.

(emphasis mine)

This particular Gospel is a perennial favourite when it comes to the selection of a suitable Gospel for Requiem Masses or funeral services; indeed, it has been the Gospel of choice in three funerals over the last fortnight alone.

As a Gospel it speaks to us clearly of resurrection, especially during Eastertide. We have part of it as the Gospel of the day for the Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter, and then in full on the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A).

As always, we can be thankful to Thomas for his question which allows Jesus to reveal to us more of who he is for us.

* * * * *

Given the current limitations, I hope you manage, nonetheless, to enjoy this Bank Holiday weekend. For myself, I intend adding another ‘v’ to the proceedings – ‘vino’ – in moderation, of course! Salute!

Fr Alistair

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