Tomorrow is the 16th June. In Dublin it is a special day. The 16th June is known as Bloomsday – the story of one day in the life of the characters in James Joyce’s amazing novel Ulysses along with a celebration of the city of Dublin itself. The book opens with one of the characters, stately plumb Buck Mulligan, climbing a tower with his dressing gown , ungirdled and sustained behind him by the mild morning air holding aloft his shaving bowl and intoning “Introibo ad altare Dei”.
It is to say the least a slightly irreverent opening as the action of the ‘stately plump’ figure and his action mirrors the action of the priest, as he would have celebrated the Mass of the Tridintine Rite, holding the host aloft with the altar server holding the priestly vestments behind him. And, of course, the words ‘Introibo ad altare Dei’ were the introductory Latin words of the Mass, as it was celebrated, when the book was written. However, apart from the irreverence perhaps a deeper message is being offered to us!
In the old rite when the priest and the server entered into the sanctuary of the church to celebrate Mass – the gates were closed. Symbolically the priest was entering into the presence of God where only the ‘holy’ could enter. The rest were present, looking on from a distance, often with heads bowed. Behind the altar rails was where God was to be found. In Joyce’s novel the ‘altar of God’ is not enclosed but out in the open air. The altar of God is found in the strange, imaginative, complex, even seedy lives both of the characters and city. In the course of one day, a day which takes over 930 pages to describe, the final word to all the complexity, richness and imaginative lives of the characters and city is YES. Yes to life. Yes to the altar of our lives. It is such a great word – Yes. In the words of the poet Brendan Kennelly
“I am always beginning to appreciate
The agony from which it is born.
Clues from here and there
Suggest such agony is hard to bear
But is the shaping God
Of the word that we
Sometimes hear, and struggle to be.”
Both James Joyce and Brendan Kennelly are, knowingly or unknowingly, reflecting the most profound insights of St Paul who, writing to the church in Corinth, has much to say about Yes. “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes”. For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen” to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). Learning that God’s word to us is “Yes” and that that “Yes” finds its fullest expression in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is not necessarily easy. Yet it lies at the heart of the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi, which we celebrated yesterday. When we are offered communion during the Eucharist, the Priest or Minister of the Eucharist holds out the host and says “The Body of Christ” and we answer “Amen” – What we are saying is “Yes! – this is the body of Christ” But we are also saying “Yes – ‘I am’ the body of Christ and ‘we are’ the body of Christ.’
YES – AMEN – let us go into the altar of God – the God of our lives