It was owing to his prayer that Ezechias recovered from a mortal disease and that his people were delivered from their enemies, and it was through His prayer on the cross that Jesus rose from the dead (Epistle), and that He raises His people to a new life by baptism of which the cure of the deaf-mute, due also to our Lord's prayer (Gospel) was a type.
Since it was by the power of the Holy Ghost that our Lord drove out the evil spirit from the deaf-mute and that priests in Christ's name expel the devil from the soul of the baptized, we can understand how the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost is connected with the Paschal Mystery, in which we celebrate, after the resurrection of Christ, the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Church, and when catechumens are baptized with water and the Holy Ghost, so that as St Paul teaches, being buried with Christ they may also rise with Him.
The kingdom of the ten tribes (Israel) lasted about two hundred years (938-726) and had nineteen kings, almost all of whom did evil in the sight of the Lord.
Then God, to punish them, delivered their country into the hands of their enemies. In 722, B.C., Salmanasar besieged Samaria and led Israel captive into Assyria, their place being taken by heathen who themselves became half converted to Israel's God. These were called Samaritans, from Samaria itself.
The kingdom of Juda lasted about three hundred and fifty years (938-586), and had twenty kings. Once only was the royal house on the point of extinction, when it was saved by the priests who hid Joas in the temple in the time of Athalia. Many of these kings were wicked, others, like Solomon ended badly, but four of them, namely, Josaphat, Joathan, Ezechias and Josias, were, up to the very end, great servants of God.
In the divine office for this week we read of Ezechias, the thirteenth king of Juda. " He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign : and he reigned nine and twenty years in Jerusalem." It was in the sixteenth year of his reign that faithless Israel was led into captivity. "King Ezechias," says Holy Scripture, " trusted in the Lord God of Israel: so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Juda, nor any of them that were before him ... wherefore the Lord also was with him: and in all things to which he went forth he behaved himself wisely "
When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, wished to take Jerusalem, Ezechias went up to the temple, and there addressed a prayer to God as pure as any prayer of David or Solomon. Thereupon the prophet Isaias told Ezechias to fear nothing for God would protect his kingdom; and the angel of the Lord struck one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp, so that Sennacherib, terrified, returned by forced marches to Niniveh, where he perished by the sword. When He had annihilated the kingdom of impenitent Israel, God granted more than a hundred years more of national survival to repentant Juda.
However, Ezechias fell seriously ill and Isaias told him that he was going to die; whereupon, addressing almighty God, the King said: " I beseech thee, O Lord, remember how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is pleasing before thee " (Magnificat antiphon). Then Isaias was sent by almighty God to Ezechias with this message : " I have heard thy prayer and I have seen thy tears: and behold I have healed thee. On the third day thou shalt go up to the temple of the Lord."
As a matter of fact Ezechias was cured and reigned for another fifteen years. This cure of the king, who escaped from the kingdom of death on the third day, is a type of the resurrection of our Lord. For the Epistle to-day the Church has chosen a passage where St Paul reminds us that " Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day," and that it is by our faith in this doctrine that we shall be saved, like the apostle himself.
For the same reason the Introit is from Psalm LXVII, in which the same apostle sees a prophecy of the ascension (Ephesians 4:8), which is the complement of our Lord's resurrection, as we say in the Credo : " He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead : He ascended into heaven." The Offertory is from Psalm XXIX which is also applied by the Church to our Lord's ascension, and in which the psalmist actually says : " Thou hast healed me." In its turn the Gradual, speaks of Him whose flesh has " flourished again ".
It was owing to the prayers which Ezechias poured forth to God, and to the tears which he shed on his death-bed, that he was restored to life, " Ezechias was visited by sickness," says St. Jerome, " and was told that he was going to die, so that, turning to the Lord, he might ward off His decree. Therefore the king shed many tears " (2nd Nocturn).
In the same way it was by His prayer " offered with a strong cry and tears " on the cross (Gradual), that Christ obtained His resurrection. Further, as it was due to the prayers of Ezechias that the people of Juda were delivered from the attacks of Sennacherib, so it was through our Lord's prayers that the true people of God were delivered, for, in the words of the Easter Preface, He " by dying hath taken away the sins of the world, and by rising again hath restored our life ". Since it is by baptism that we are buried with Christ and that we rise again with Him to a new life, to-day's Gospel is that of the cure of the deaf-mute, which, while reminding us of the cure of Ezechias, puts before our eyes a rite used by the Church herself in Holy Baptism. Jesus puts his fingers into the ears of the deaf-mute to show that it is by the Holy Ghost " the finger of God " that He drives out the evil spirit; He touches the tongue of the man with saliva to show that He is going to loose his tongue that it may utter words of wisdom; and He raises His eyes to heaven and groans to make it clear that it is from God that He expects the cure of the afflicted man, as the answer to His prayer.
"He raised His eyes to heaven," says St Gregory in effect, "and groaned, not because He thought it necessary to groan, He who Himself gave what He asked, but to teach us to groan to heaven to Him who reigns in heaven, that He may open our ears by the gift of the Holy Ghost, and by saliva from His mouth, that is, by the knowledge of His divine word, may loose our tongue that it may be able to preach the truth " (3rd Nocturn).
Therefore, speaking by the power of God, our Lord says: "Ephpheta, which is, be thou opened: and immediately the ears of the deaf-mute were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed." So, in baptism, the priest, having put a little salt, representing wisdom, into the child's mouth, in Christ's name and by the power of the Holy Ghost, commands the unclean spirit to withdraw from the baptized person. Then he takes a little saliva and touches the ears and the nostrils of the child with it, saying, like our Lord : "Ephpheta," open your heart to the things of faith. And the soul passes shortly after from the death of sin in which it lay buried, and which made it deaf and dumb in the supernatural world, and rises to a new life.
By restoring to us the divine life, baptism unites us with our Lord's resurrection of which the cure of Ezechias was a type. Therefore " all rejoice in God their helper, and sing aloud to the God of Jacob " (Alleluia) who, " out of the abundance of " His " loving kindness ", is wont to go beyond the hopes and desires of the suppliant, and to pour forth His mercy upon them (Collect), by distributing to us in abundance the fruits of the Holy Ghost (Communion).
Deus in loco sancto suo: Deus qui inhabitare facit unanimes in domo: ipse dabit virtutem, et fortitudinem plebi suae. * Exsurgat Deus, et dissipentur inimici ejus: et fugiant, qui oderunt eum a facie ejus.
God in His holy place; God who maketh men of one mind to dwell in a house; He shall give power and strength to His people. * Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered: and let them that hate Him flee from before His face.
(Psalm 67:67,2 from the introit of Mass)
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui abundantia pietatis tuae et merita supplicum excedis et vota: effunde super nos misericordiam tuam; ut dimittas quae conscientia metuit, et adjicias quod oratio non praesumit.
O almighty and eternal God, who in the abundance of Thy loving kindness art wont to give beyond the deserts and desires of those who humbly pray; pour down upon us Thy mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and granting us those blessings which we dare not presume to ask.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Marcum.
In illo tempore: Exiens Jesus de finibus Tyri, venit per Sidonem ad mare Galilaeae, inter medios fines Decapoleos. Et adducunt ei surdum et mutum, et deprecabantur eum, ut imponat illi manum. Et apprehendens eum de turba seorsum, misit digitos suos in auriculas ejus: et exspuens, tetigit linguam ejus: et suspiciens in caelum, ingemuit, et ait illi: Ephphetha, quod est adaperire. Et statim apertae sunt aures ejus, et solutum est vinculum linguae ejus, et loquebatur recte. Et praecepit illis, ne cui dicerent. Quanto autem eis praecipiebat, tanto magis plus praedicabant: et eo amplius admirabantur, dicentes: Bene omnia fecit: et surdos fecit audire, et mutos loqui.
Continuation of the holy Gospel according to St. Mark.
At that time, Jesus going out of the coasts of Tyre, came by Sidon to the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring to Him one deaf and dumb, and they besought Him that He would lay His hand upon him. And taking him from the multitude apart, He put His fingers into his ears, and spitting, He touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, He groaned and said to him : Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened : and immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke right. And He charged them that they should tell no man : but the more He charged them so much the more a great deal did they publish it; and so much the more did they wonder, saying: He hath done all things well; He hath made both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
(St Mark 7:31-37)