During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, at the Presentation and
Preparation of the Gifts, the priest holds the chalice filled with
wine and praises God with these words: "Blessed are you, Lord God
of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the
wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it
will become our spiritual drink." And the People of God respond,
"Blessed be God, forever."
Since the priest is acting during the Mass in persona
Christi, or in the person of Christ, this is a profound
mystery to consider. It is together with Christ that we
offer the gifts we have received from God and praise the Father. It
is a participation in the very life, death and
resurrection of Christ, so that we may go out and offerour very
lives - the work of human hands. But at the same time, all
we do, say, or think in the name of Christ is God-given grace,
the fruit of the vine. All that is good which we offer to
God was first given to us. Through Christ, we bear fruit
for the Kingdom of God as stewards of the divine mysteries.
This theme is present throughout Scripture, but perhaps nowhere
more explicitly than in John 15, when Jesus tells his disciples on
the night he was betrayed: "I am the true vine, and my Father is
the vinegrower... Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch
cannot bear fruit by itself as it abides in the vine, neither can
you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart
from me you can do nothing" (John 15:1, 4-5).
The point is clear: we must remain connected to, or tapped into,
the life-giving force (the "sap," as it were) of Christ the True
Vine, to bear an abundant harvest of fruit - our good works - in
building up the Kingdom of God, God's vineyard which he gives to
This vineyard image is common throughout scripture (see, for
example, Isiah 5:1-7). In Matthew's Gospel (21:33-43), Jesus'
parable of the landowner's vineyard and his wicked tenants serves
as an allegory with several purposes: to confront religious leaders
of the time for being unfaithful stewards of God's grace, to point
out the numerous prophetic voices they have ignored, to predict his
own death as the fulfillment of those prophetic voices, and to
fortell the fruition of the Church. You and I are the "other
tenants" to whom the vineyard has now been leased by the owner of
the vineyard, God the Father.
But we are not alone. The vine we tend as stewards also
tends us. Christ joins us in the vineyard of the Church as the
True Vine, giving us life so that we may, in turn, with him
produces abundant fruit praise of the Father - the fruit of the
vine and work of human hands. In short, it is Christ who
gives life to the Church.
It is not a human institution, but was born on the cross, when
water and blood - the very life of Jesus - poured out from his
pierced side. Christ is our sap. And if we remain tapped into him
through the Eucharist, in common with worship, in prayer and
Scripture, in the sacraments and tradition of the Church, we will
bear his fruit as faithful tenants of the vineyard, saying with
him, "Blessed be God forever."
The key to all this is expressed by St. Paul. "Do not worry
about anything," he urges, "but in everything by prayer and
supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to
God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians
Like the religious leaders in Jesus' day, we all have a tendency
to beat down or "kill" the prophetic voices within and around us.
It happens in numerous ways. Ignoring someone who clearly needs our
help because we'd rather not bother, or because the person is
someone we don't particularly like. Becoming so immersed in our
outward activities that we squelch God's tiny whispering sound deep
within and lose focus on what's really important in life. Worrying
to the point of despair rather than trusting in God's providential
care. There are myriad ways of disposing of prophetic vocies sent
by God to help us with care of the vineyard, his Church.
What St. Paul is saying is that thorugh prayer and praise, we
remain connected to Christ the True Vine. We participate in the
mystery we contemplate. We listen to the prophetic voice of God
deep within and around us. Our hearts and minds find the peace that
the world cannot give. We bear abundant fruit - fruit of the
vine and work of human hands - for the world to feast on and
(hopefully) find peace as well.
But without Christ, we can do nothing. Before we can harvest the
grapes, savor the wine, and pour it into the hearts of others, we
must let the True Vine grow within us, give us life, and produce
his abundant fruit.
Then, with the psalmist, we can say:
What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty
to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of
the Lord. - Psalm 116:12-13