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Questions and Answers

I tend to prefer the traditional Mass, but I also accept the Novus Ordo Mass. I agree with you when you talk about abuses in the Novus Ordo Mass. But I have had people use Matthew 23:27 (“on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing”) to justify abuses (not their word!), saying that we should be concerned with the intent of things, not with “obsessive” ceremonies. What does this Biblical passage really mean?

Outline of the Answer
• Introduction
• The Text
• The Interpretation
• A Contemporary Example
• From the Heart

Let us remember here that Jesus was not some sort of “Protestant Jew” who took constant liberties with Jewish tradition. Evidence from the Gospels tells us that He was careful to observe proper ceremony in His liturgical actions.

So let’s look at the text to which you refer to see what it really says.

The Text

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean. . . . [O]n the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Matthew 23:25-26;28).

The Interpretation

In the passage from Matthew, Jesus is at a private dinner, not in the Temple or in a synagogue. When He points out to the Pharisees the difference between the “outside” of a vessel and the contents “inside” it, He is explaining that acts of ritual purification are entirely different from the forgiveness from sin that He Himself offers.


Let’s be clear here that Jesus is not saying that we should not care whether our hands are clean when eating. Jesus is not saying that countless mothers through the ages who have told their children to “wash your hands before coming to the table” have been mistaken. Jesus is not speaking about sanitary habits.


No, Jesus is not speaking about sanitary habits. Jesus is speaking about acts of ritual purification that the Pharisees developed as human traditions over time. Jesus makes the point that these ritual purifications, which are themselves external human acts, have no value to the soul. Only heartfelt contrition can purify us because it works inwardly through the divine Sacraments that Jesus Himself instituted in the New Covenant.

Moreover, this distinction between outer and inner also reveals the difference between two sorts of motivation: outwardly recognizable behaviors that bring us praise, and, in contrast, spontaneous love from within the heart. It’s as if Jesus were saying that things done just to demonstrate to others that you know something (that is, making a show of cleaning the outside of the cup) are useless compared to things done quietly, and often unseen to others, from the purity of heartfelt love.

An Contemporary Example

Here is a true example of how this distinction can ironically play out in daily life. (Some minor details have been altered out of compassion for the guilty.)

The Homily That Shouldn’t Have Been Given

Before Mass, on a memorial specific to a certain religious order, the nuns had set out, in the sacristy of the monastery, the lectionary for their order, with the readings proper to the memorial.
     The Master of Ceremonies (MC) walked in and looked at the lectionary.
     “What’s this?” he wondered. “This isn’t what I saw on the Internet last night for the readings of the day.”
     He looked at the texts and then remembered the memorial. He began to study the readings, impressed with their beauty. While he was reading, the deacon walked in and looked at the lectionary. 
     “What’s this?” he said scornfully. “This isn’t the Gospel that I prepared my homily
 [1] for.”
     “These are the proper readings,” replied the MC, explaining about the memorial.
     “I don’t want them! This isn’t what I prepared for,” the deacon said impatiently. “Get me the regular lectionary!”
     “The nuns have it.”
     “Well, get it from them!” he snapped.
     The nuns had already assembled in choir, so they had to be disturbed, and everything was set behind a few minutes. The Mass began with an uncomfortable tension.
     The Gospel reading for the day—the reading for which the deacon had prepared his homily—was Matthew 23:23-26.
     After the Gospel reading, the deacon gave his homily. He began by talking about how life often presents us with unexpected events and how we need to respond to them with an inward trust in God. He continued developing the theme of “inner versus outer” by making some clever comparisons with the way certain persons, in contemporary life, focus too much on outward appearances (including religious devotions and liturgical “fussiness”), and how this attitude can work like a cancer to destroy holiness, eating its way from the inside out. 
     But after the first few sentences, the MC had heard enough. It was a clever homily, all right, but everything the deacon was saying had been invalidated by his own behavior earlier in the sacristy.
     “He speaks about openness to the unexpected and trust in God, but where were these things 15 minutes ago?” the MC wondered. “If he really understood what he was saying, he would, at this very minute, not be giving this homily, however clever it may be. He would have set it aside in quiet humility and would be speaking from his heart to the nuns about the meaning of this day in reference to the readings proper to it. But instead, in his desire to make an outward show of his cleverness, he is in danger of being consumed by the very cancer he preaches against.”

From the Heart

So there you have it. That’s the inner versus the outer that Jesus was talking about. It’s far easier to speak about something intellectually than it is to live it from the heart. It’s far easier to preach about the Gospel than to preach the Gospel.

And, I will add, it’s far easier to celebrate a Mass irreverently, thinking you are being clever, than to celebrate a Mass with reverent attention to detail, motivated by pure, heartfelt love for the divine mysteries that the rubrics and Tradition seek to conserve. Catholic liturgical traditions, after all, are not human traditions meant to ritually purify us; instead, they help us express our love for God.

Blessed be God in His love for us and in our love for Him!


Who wrote this web page?


1. Under normal circumstances, a deacon should not be preaching at a regular Mass if a priest is available; if the deacon does preach, it shows that the priest is shirking his responsibility. Sadly, that’s what happened here.

2. About nine months after this event, the deacon fell ill and nearly died. Let’s say he was poisoned by the unconscious anger (especially resentment at his parents) brewing within himself.


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