Advent Liturgy: December 2006 Archives

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Today is Our Lady’s Sunday in Advent.
Pope Paul VI, influenced, no doubt, by the ancient practice
of the venerable Church of Milan,
desired that the Fourth Sunday of Advent
should become a veritable festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He wanted to envelop the Christmas mystery
in the gentle presence of the Virgin Mother.

By designating the Fourth Sunday of Advent our Lady’s Sunday
and by restoring to January 1st
its ancient title of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,
Pope Paul VI sought to give us the Infant Christ, the Redeemer of the world,
circled round by the tenderness of the Blessed Virgin.

The liturgy celebrates the Virgin Mother
before Christmas Day and again eight days after it.
This is the Church’s way of teaching us
that the Blessed Virgin Mary is indispensable to every advent of Christ.
If you would welcome Christ, welcome Mary.
If you would receive Christ, seek Mary.
If you would know Christ, know Mary.
If you would love Christ, love Mary.

The Blessed Virgin is present in every part of today’s Mass.
The Introit, for example, is her song before it is ours.
It can only be ours because it was first hers.
“Send down dew from above, you heavens,
and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One:
may He, the Saviour, spring from the closed womb of the earth” (Is 45:8).
There is no prayer that does not begin
in an intense longing for the dew from above.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness;
they shall have their fill” (Mt 5:6).

The Collect is familiar and worn like a thing much loved
because it is the prayer that, three times each day,
concludes the Little Office of the Incarnation
that we call the Angelus.
It sums up the whole economy of our salvation:
the message of an angel to the Virgin;
the immensity of her “Yes”;
the bitter Passion and the Blood outpoured;
the Cross, the Tomb, and the triumph of the Prince of Life.
Of all these mysteries, Mary is the mystical portress
and the keeper of the gate.
This is why the saints teach that love for Mary
is a sure sign of predestination.
Understand this aphorism as the saints did:
one who loves Mary
is destined to imitate her “Yes”
and to follow her through the passion and cross of her Son
into the glory of His resurrection.

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Almighty and ever-living God,
seeing that the birth of Thy Son according to the flesh
is drawing near,
we beseech Thee that Thy Word
may grant mercy to us, Thy unworthy servants,
for He deigned to become flesh of the Virgin Mary
and to dwell among us.

The Realism of the Liturgy

You may have noticed that the Collects of Advent, as well as the Prayers Over the Offerings and the Postcommunions, make frequent mention of sin. Like heavy chains bound to our feet, sin impedes our going forward to meet the Lord. This is the realism of the liturgy. The Church never pretends that we are not engaged at every moment in spiritual combat. The joy of Advent is not about denying the things that keep us from God; it is the acknowledgement of those things and, then, their surrender to the all-powerful mercy of the Word made flesh.

Saved for Joy

Today’s Collect looks to tomorrow and the next day.

Almighty and ever-living God,
seeing that the birth of Thy Son according to the flesh is drawing near. . . .

The words of this first phrase of the Collect are those that we will hear solemnly proclaimed tomorrow in the Martyrology: Nativitas Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundum carnem, “the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.” It is the custom in some Benedictine monasteries for the Cantor to don a rose-coloured cope to sing the Announcement of Christmas, the dawn of our salvation.

Our liberation from sin is a liberation for joy. Christ comes not only to save us from sin, but also to save us for joy. “I will not leave you desolate,” says the Lord, “I will come to you” (Jn 14:18); and again, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn 16:24).

The Word Became Flesh

Here is the petition of today’s Collect:

We beseech Thee that Thy Word may grant mercy to us, Thy unworthy servants,
for He deigned to become flesh of the Virgin Mary and to dwell among us.

The Church speaks of the Word; she uses the language of the sublime Prologue of Saint John, the very Gospel that we will hear at the Mass of Christmas Day. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

23 December, O EMMANUEL

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Murillo's painting of the Infant Christ distributing bread to pilgrims is an invitation to consider the mystery of the Eucharist, God–With–Us, the Child of Bethlehem, the House of Bread. An Angel assists the Infant Christ. Behind Him (not visible in this detail) is His Mother, her body forming a kind of Eucharistic throne, a variation on the Sedes Sapientiae motif. Perhaps the sequence of the Mass of Corpus Christi provided a subtext for this painting:

Ecce, panis Angelorum,
Factus cibus viatorum:
Vere panis filiorum.

Behold, the Bread of Angels sent
For pilgrims in their banishment,
The Bread for God's true children meant.

O Emmanuel (Is 7:14; 8:8),
our King and Lawgiver (Is 33:22),
the expectation of the nations and their Saviour (Gen 49:10):
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

The Last of the O Antiphons

On December 23rd we come today to the last of the Great O Antiphons. We are accustomed to seven, but, in other times and places, and even now, there are nine or even as many as twelve.

O Virgo Virginum

O Virgo Virginum, the last of the Great O Antiphons in the old English liturgy of Sarum , occurs on December 23rd. Its structure is quite different from all the other Great O Antiphons. The first part is a question addressed to the Virgin Mary; in the second part she replies with another question, and then, gives her answer.

“O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
That which ye behold is a divine mystery.”

It is touching that the Anglican Church, despite all the vicissitudes of her history, remains attached to this lovely Great O addressed to Our Lady.

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O Emmanuel

In today’s Roman liturgy the O Antiphon is, like the six that preceded it, addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems to me that, with each succeeding day, the O of our invocation, and the Veni of our supplication has grown more confident, more intense and, in a sense, more urgent.

Afraid Never Again

Mother Marie des Douleurs, writing in 1964, offers us a somewhat anguished meditation on today’s Great O. It appears to come out of an experience of weakness, fear, and uncertainty. Some would dismiss it as deeply pessimistic and too gloomy for Advent. I sense something else in it: the prayer of woman wrestling with her inner demons, as we all do, and confident nonetheless in the mystery of God-with-us. This is what she wrote:

Preaching on the Propers — Again

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The Bambino clasping His Mamma's hand is by Michelangelo. Already, I see in this something of the Pietà.

December 22

1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd
Luke 1:46-56

Preaching on the Propers

Some of you have asked why I so often preach on the Collect of the Mass. There are several reasons for this. First, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal recommends that priests preach not only on the Gospel of the day or on the other readings, but also on the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass, that is, on the other parts of the Mass, both those that change according to the season and day, and those common to every celebration.

Devotion to the Collect

The Collect of the Mass is a privileged element of the sacred liturgy. It instructs us in the mysteries of our faith and articulates the prayer of the whole Church, a prayer that that is the fruit of the Word of God heard (lectio) and repeated in antiphons and responsories (meditatio). In the great seasons of the Church Year and on feasts, the same Collect is repeated at Mass and at all the Hours of the Divine Office, except Compline. This repetition of the Collect is intended to anchor it our hearts. Dom Guéranger, the restorer of Benedictine life in nineteenth France, once told a novice bewildered by the vast variety of pious devotions, that a single one was indispensable and sufficient: devotion to the Collect of the day.

An Inspired Prayer

The Collect of the day is a distillation of the Church’s own reflection on the Word of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Collect rises in the soul of the Church. At Mass and the Divine Office, it comes to flower on the lips of her children to bear fruit in their lives.

Unspeakable Groanings

None of us know how to pray rightly. Often in our prayer we ask for things according to our own dim lights. We ask God for the things we think we need or for the things we think we want. But our needing and our wanting are, more often than not, obscure and flawed. This is the “infirmity” of our prayer. Saint Paul says: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God” (Rom 8:26-27). The Collect articulates for us the unspeakable groanings of the Spirit. When we pray the Collect, making it our own, we are asking according to God, and not according to our own dim and limited perceptions.

22 December, O REX GENTIUM

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O King of the Gentiles,
and the Desired of all nations(Hag 2:8),
you are the cornerstone (Is 28:16)
that binds two into one (Eph 2:14).
Come, and bring wholeness to man
whom you fashioned out of clay (Gen 2:7).

The Desired of All Nations

Today we lift our voices to Christ, calling Him King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all nations. The O Antiphon draws upon the second chapter of the prophet Haggai. With the temple still in ruins after the Babylonian exile and the project of rebuilding it daunting, Haggai speaks a word of comfort to Zerubbabel, the governor; to Joshua, the high priest; and to all the remnant of the people.

“Take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord;
take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozodak, the high priest;
take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord;
work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,
according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt.
My Spirit abides among you; fear not.
For thus says the Lord of hosts:
Once again in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth
and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations
and the Desired of all nations shall come;
and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts” (Hag 2:4-8).

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The O Antiphon uses but one phrase from this passage: the Christological title “Desired of All Nations.” In order to grasp the significance of the title we must listen to Haggai’s message of comfort and hope in its entirety, repeating it and praying it over it until it inhabits us.

The Beauty of the Infant Christ

The “Desired of all nations” will indeed come to the temple to fill it with His splendour. Simeon, recognizing the beauty of the Infant Christ, will call Him “a light of revelation to the gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel” (Lk 2:32). The prophetess Anna will “give thanks to God and speak of the Child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). The arrival of the Infant Christ in the temple is the long-awaited arrival of “the desire of the everlasting hills” (Gen 49:26).

Aspirations Toward Christ

By calling the Messiah the “Desired of all nations,” Scripture and the liturgy recognize the aspirations of every nation and culture toward the good, the true, and the beautiful, as aspirations toward Christ. Every time a human being seeks the splendour of the truth, the radiance of beauty, the purity of goodness, he seeks Christ, the “Desired of all nations.”

21 December, O ORIENS

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O DAYSPRING (Zech 6:12; Lk 1:78),
Splendor of Eternal Light (Heb 1:3),
and Sun of Justice (Mal 4:2):
Come, and enlighten those that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death (Is 9:2; Lk 1:78-79).

The Orient From On High

O Oriens! Oriens: the word is familiar to those who chant the Benedictus in Latin every morning. “Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri — literally, through the inmost heart, the secret places of the mercy of our God — in quibus visitavit nos Oriens ex alto — in which the Orient from on high has visited us” (Lk 1:79).

Oriens was the name of the ancient Roman sun god, the source of warmth, energy, and light. At the same time, Oriens means the rising sun, the victory of light over the shadows of the night.

Ad Orientem

From the earliest times, Christians at prayer have turned towards the East. Christ is the Dayspring, the rising sun who dawns upon us from high “to give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:9). The eastward orientation of churches and altars is a way of expressing the great cry of every Eucharist: “Let our hearts be lifted high. We hold them towards the Lord.” When, in the celebration of the liturgy, the priest faces east, he is “guiding the people in pilgrimage towards the Kingdom” and with them, keeping watch for the return of the Lord. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

The Eastern Churches follow to this day (and the Western Church is in the process of recovering) the apostolic tradition of celebrating the Eucharist towards the East in anticipation of the return of the Lord in glory. A powerful witness is given in the prayer of a priest and people who stand together facing eastward and giving voice to the same hope. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come’” (Ap 22:17).

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Our King and Our Priest

The prophet Zechariah is another source of the antiphon. The Vulgate gives a shimmering image of Christ, the Orient who is our King and our Priest. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, saying: Behold a Man, the Orient is his name. . . . Yea, he shall build a temple to the Lord: and he shall bear the glory, and he shall sit, and rule upon his throne: and he shall be a priest upon his throne” (Zech 6:12-13).

Sun of Justice

“Splendor of eternal light” comes from the Letter to the Hebrews. Christ is called “the brightness of the glory of God, and the figure of his substance” (Heb 1:3). “Sun of Justice” comes from the prophet Malachi. “For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Mal 4:2).

Veni!

Today’s O Antiphon is carefully constructed; after three invocations of Christ the Light, the petition begins. But — surprise! Today’s Great O departs from the familiar pattern: the Veni coming, as it were, out of the depths: do-fa-mi. Today, our Veni has a certitude, a note of triumph, the beginning of a jubilation. It is as if the first rays of the Dayspring are already illuminating our eyes and warming our faces. Today, our cry Veni is sung on la-sol, right after the musical summit of the whole antiphon. Picture this: you have climbed to a mountain peak before sunrise and there, as you survey the dark horizon, you catch the first rosy glimmers of the dawn. From your mountain height you give voice to the cry of your heart: Veni! But the cry comes from one who already sees the light.

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Just look at this tabernacle! It is found in the monastic church of the Recluses Missionnaires, a Canadian community, inspired by Montréal's saintly recluse Jeanne Le Ber (1662–1714), and dedicated to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Although my own taste goes more to the baroque, I love the underlying inspiration of this tabernacle: it illustrates the teaching of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God's Word. The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood.

As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” ( Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin's faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.

“Blessed is she who believed” ( Lk 1:45). Mary also anticipated, in the mystery of the incarnation, the Church's Eucharistic faith. When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle” – the first “tabernacle” in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary. And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?

Ave, gratia plena

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Deus, aeterna maestas. cuius ineffabile Verbum,
Angelo nuntiante, Virgo immaculata suscepit,
et, domus divinitatis effecta, Sanctus Spiritus luce repletur,
quaesumus, ut nos, eius exemplo,
voluntati tuae humiliter adhaerere valeamus.

O God, Eternal Majesty,
at the announcement of the angel,
the immaculate Virgin received your ineffable Word within herself
and, having become the dwelling of the divinity,
was filled with the light of the Holy Spirit;
we beseech you, that following her example,
we may be able to adhere humbly to your will.

If we are to profit fully from today’s Collect, we have to listen to it with the ears of the heart and look closely at the images it sets before us. In addition to the Father and the Son evoked in every Collect, in today’s there are the same three persons present in Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation: the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the Archangel Gabriel.

Aeterna maiestas

Today’s prayer addresses God, as Eternal Majesty. This form of divine address is very rare in the liturgy. Why does the Church use it in her prayer today? It sets the opening of the prayer in the heights of heaven. One can only think of Isaiah’s vision in the temple: “In the year that King Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple” (Is 6:1).

The painting of the Annunciation by the Florentine Dominican Fra Bartolomeo (1472–1517), a convert of Savonarola, shows us the Father of Eternal Majesty blessing with His right hand while, with the other, He sends the Holy Spirit, under the form of a dove, into the house of the Virgin at Nazareth.

There can be nothing brashly familiar in our approach to the mystery. We begin the Collect today in holy amazement, in the fear of God that is a mixture of face-in-the-dust adoration and speechless awe. We describe God as we experience him: aeterna maiestas, eternal majesty. The eternal majesty of God in heaven penetrates the little house of Nazareth to reach the Virgin, ravishing in her humility.

The Missa Aurea

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A glowing radiance surrounds the Mass of December 20th. During the Middle Ages, the Mass of the Missus Est — the first words of the Gospel of the Annunciation — on the Ember Wednesday of Advent was celebrated very solemnly as a kind of festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stational church in Rome is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; this choice signifies that today’s Mass is equal to that of the greatest feasts of the Mother God. It was called the Missa Aurea, the “Golden Mass.” In manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the capital letters of the text of the Annunciation Gospel were written in gold. The letters of gold were but a sign of the secret grace hidden within the words of the Angel Gabriel and within the response of the Virgin Mary.

Then too there is the tradition of celebrating today’s Mass in the glow of candlelight. The “Golden Mass” was especially popular throughout Europe where the faithful hastened to their churches before dawn, bearing lanterns, confident of obtaining on this day whatever special grace they asked through the intercession of the Virgin of the Annunciation.

The Gospel is sung today to a particular melody: the same ancient melody used to sing the Gospel of Pentecost. The Annunciation is the Proto-Pentecost. The Virgin Mother, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, is the living image of the Church overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

20 December, O CLAVIS DAVID

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To illustrate the antiphon O Clavis David, I chose Bartolomeo Bermejo’s magnificent painting of the Harrowing of Hell. It depicts the Risen Christ descending into the dreary dungeon of Hades where Adam and Eve, Methuselah, Solomon, and the Queen of Shebah await Him. The Risen Christ descends into the darkness, radiant in the light of his glory. Psalm 106 expresses the mystery of the moment: “Then they cried to the Lord in their need and he rescued them from their distress. He led them forth from darkness and gloom and broke their chains to pieces” (Ps 106:13-14).

O Key of David
and Sceptre of the House of Israel ,
who opens and no one can shut,
who shuts and no one can open (Is 22:22; Rev 3:7):
Come and bring the prisoners forth from the prison cell,
those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death (Is 42:7; Ps 106:13-14; Lk 1:9).

The Yes to Love

On December 20th we stand in the doorway of the humble dwelling where the Blessed Virgin Mary receives the Angel’s message. We are all ears, all eyes . . . listening, looking, and trying to take in something of the mystery that unfolds before us. The mystery of the Annunciation is, in essence, the Virgin’s utterly simple “Yes” to Love; through her “Yes” l’amore che move ‘l sol e anche le stelle, the light that moves the stars and even the sun, encloses itself in her womb. We enter the mystery of the Annunciation, not by any effort of the imagination, but by an utterly simple and penetrating act of faith, by the “Yes” to Love.

Love Conceived, Love Crucified, Love Risen

One does not approach the Virgin of the Annunciation without discovering the Mother of Sorrows. The joyful “Yes” to Love conceived beneath the Virgin’s heart flowers into the sorrowful “Yes” to Love crucified, and the glorious “Yes” to Love risen from the tomb. Standing in the doorway of the Holy House of Nazareth, listening and looking, we have only to believe in Love, in the Love to whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37).

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Annunciation

Today’s O Antiphon is closely tied to the Annunciation Gospel. “He will be great,” said the Angel Gabriel, “and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33). We lift our voices to Christ, calling him “Key of David and Sceptre of the House of Israel.”

The Key of the House of David

The antiphon draws its invocation from the twenty–second chapter of Isaiah. The Lord says to Shebna, the master of the household of King Hezekiah, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Helkias, and I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father” (Is 22:20–23).

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A Key Borne on the Shoulder

Eliakim, whose name means, “God has raised up,” is a figure of Christ. Christ is Lord and Master over the household of the Father. On the shoulder of Christ was placed the key of the Cross, the key that opens what no mortal can open, and that closes what no mortal can close. In the image of the great key placed on the shoulder we recognize a figure of the Cross placed on the shoulder of Christ, the key by which heaven is opened and hell vanquished.

He Will Be Silent in His Love

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Did anyone else notice the discrepancy in today's First Lesson between the Latin lectionary and the English lectionaries currently in use? The Latin text contained this wonderful phrase: "Gaudebit super te in laetitia, silebit in dilectione sua, exsultabit super te in laude" (Soph 3:17) — "He will rejoice over thee with gladness, he will be silent in his love, he will be joyful over thee in praise."

In none of the current lectionaries is the phrase, silebit in dilectione sua, translated with a reference to silence. This, however, is the text given in the editio typica of the lectionary, and it rather left me breathless. "He will be silent in his love." Ponder it. I did allude to the phrase today in my homily on the Introit Gaudete (see below).

Rosy Reminder for Gaudete Sunday

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If you haven't given it any thought yet, today you might look into getting pink (or rose) flowers for Gaudete Sunday. Rose–coloured roses may be your first choice, but I like carnations — one single huge bouquet — for Gaudete Sunday.

It is always distressing to see flowers dispersed about the sanctuary in multiple little bouquets. It is even worse when such bouquets are placed in glass vases from the jumble sale and balanced on odd little tables and metal stands. Why do people do such things? A dozen or more flowers arranged in a single bouquet offer an intensity of colour that is lost when one attempts to use them in multiple arrangements.

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After the Second Vespers of Sunday when the sanctuary returns to its Advent austerity, consider offering the Gaudete bouquet to the Blessed Virgin at your Lady Altar or, at least, keep the flowers until 20 December for the lovely Golden Mass of the Missus Est. It is fitting to flower the principal image of Our Lady during Advent, especially when it is located in a Lady Chapel or outside the sanctuary proper.

Also, remember to prepare your rose–coloured vestments for Sunday Mass and Vespers.
I always found it exhilarating when the Hebdomadarius would intone the Deus in adjutorium at First Vespers of Gaudete Sunday, resplendent in a rose–coloured cope. My heart would respond with little leap of joy. La vie en rose n'est pas toujours réaliste, mais un dimanche en rose — que ça fait du bien!

Saint John of the Cross

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Advent is marked by two saints of the Cross. At the beginning of Advent there is Saint Andrew (30 November) who greets the mystery of the Cross in the light of faith, and right in the middle of Advent, there is Saint John of the Cross (14 December) who embraces the mystery of the Cross in the obscurity of a dark night. The advent of Christ is marked by the sign of the Cross. Let us receive its imprint humbly, knowing that by it we are healed and set free.

Let us pray today that those called to seek God in Carmel
may remain, like Saint John of the Cross,
faithful to the meditation of the Word and to prayer
by day and by night,
until their consummation in the Living Flame of Love.

O God,
who endowed your priest, Saint John,
with a spirit of utter self-denial
and a surpassing love of the Cross;
grant that, by ever holding fast to his example,
we may attain to the contemplation of your everlasting glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

O God,
who by Thy living flame of love,
didst sustain Saint John of the Cross even in the darkness:
shed Thou Thy light, we beseech Thee,
on all who love Thee though it be night
and give them to drink their fill of that deathless spring
that in the living Bread lies hidden.
Through Christ our Lord.

Our Lady in Advent

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The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the liturgy of Advent is like the fragrance of roses in December. Mary is everywhere, drawing us after her into the mystery of Christ. The monastic tradition signifies her presence by singing the Missus Est Angelus, a Solemn Responsory at First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent: “The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary.” The Alma Redemptoris Mater invites us every evening to look to Mary even as, falling in our weakness, we seek to rise again through grace. December 8th shone for us with the brightness of the Immaculate Conception of Mary full of grace. On the 9th Saint Juan Diego called us to the contemplation of Mary in poverty of spirit. On December 12th, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of our Lord visits us again and we, like Elizabeth, are filled with wonder.

On December 20th, we will celebrate Advent’s Golden Mass and hear again the solemn singing of the Missus Est, the Gospel of the Annunciation. Finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Virgin Mary will emerge from the sacred texts as the Cause of Our Joy. In 1974 Pope Paul VI, of blessed memory, called Advent “a season singularly suited to offering veneration to the Mother of God” (Marialis Cultus, art. 4).

The outward expressions of a childlike and tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin are many. It is always possible, even in Advent, to flower the images of the Mother of God in our churches and to burn candles in her honour. Apart from the many allusions to the Blessed Virgin in the sacred liturgy, there are other forms of prayer particularly suited to the stillness and longing of the Advent heart: first among these is the Rosary which can always been enriched by meditating the ten mysteries of the Blessed Virgin's own life and of the Divine Infancy:

— the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne;
— the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
— the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple;
— the Betrothal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph;
— the Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
— the Visitation and Expectancy of the Blessed Virgin Mary
— the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
— the Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord
— the Adoration of the Magi
— the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple

There is also the Little Crown of the Immaculate Conception, a simple prayer dear to many saints. The Mother of Christ is sensitive to smallest expressions of our love for her. Her response to them is magnificently disproportionate. For a very little thing, she gives great graces in return or, as Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort put it, "pour un oeuf elle donne un boeuf — for an egg, she gives a whole cow."

In domum Domini ibimus

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On this Second Sunday of Advent, the liturgy focuses on Jerusalem, the mystery represented by the ancient Roman stational church. Stational churches are those churches in Rome designated on given days during Advent and Lent, and on the great festivals of the year, as the destination of a solemn procession and the place of the Pope’s solemn Mass. On the day of a stational Mass the faithful would assemble in one church — that of the collecta or gathering — and then go in procession, singing the Litanies of the Saints, antiphons, and psalms, to the church where the Bishop of Rome, surrounded by his clergy and throngs of the faithful, would celebrate the Holy Mysteries.

These stational Masses were, in fact, the great manifestations of the Eucharistic unity of the City and of the world, Urbis et Orbis. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in the stational churches, and this for two reasons. First: one cannot really understand the choice of the antiphons and other texts of a given Mass without referring to the particular context, the stational church, that inspired them. The texts of these Masses form an organic whole with their native context, the stational church in Rome. Second: we are Roman Catholics. Rome is our mother Church. From the Holy Roman Church we receive our liturgy, the expression of all that we believe and hold dear.

In laetitia cordis vestri

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The painting of Saint John the Baptist (1513–1516) is by Leonardo da Vinci. The Holy Foreunner is youthful; his smile reveals a secret joy. The raised finger illustrates the incipit of the Introit: "People of Sion, behold!"

Second Sunday of Advent

People of Sion, Behold

People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come for the saving of the nations; and the Lord shall make heard the glory of his voice in the joy of your heart (Is 30: 19, 30). The first thing that struck me about today’s Mass is that the Introit is addressed not to God, as was last Sunday’s, but to us. Last Sunday we prayed, “To you, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24). Today’s Introit is taken not from the Psalter but from the prophet Isaiah, and straightaway it engages us: “People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come for the saving of the nations” (Is 30:19).

Inhabitants of the City of God

Who is speaking in today’s Introit? The text is borrowed from the prophet Isaiah but the voice is that of “one crying in the wilderness” (Mt 3:3): John the Baptist. “People of Sion!” he thunders. We are the people of Sion, sons and daughters of the Church, inhabitants of the City of God. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “You have come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, and the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22).

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Behold

Again, there is that little compelling little word, ecce, behold. It is one of Saint John the Baptist’s favorite words. He who saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), today says, “Behold, the Lord shall come!” Try to hear all that he puts into his behold: “Stand up straight, open wide your eyes! Look, and looking see! You cannot afford to be sleepy, unaware, or preoccupied with other things.” The Lord shall come and indeed is coming already for the saving of the nations. He comes to rescue. He comes to give peace. He comes to make whole all that is broken. He comes to assemble what has been scattered.

Missus est Gabriel Angelus

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In the Cistercian liturgy the center piece of First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent is Missus est Gabriel Angelus, a magnificent Great Responsory in the seventh mode. It places all of Advent under the sign of the Virgin who conceives and brings forth a Son.

The angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a virgin espoused to Joseph,
to bring unto her the word of the Lord:
and when the Virgin saw the light she was afraid.
Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with the Lord.
Behold, thou shalt conceive and bring forth a son,
and He shall be called the Son of the Highest.
V. The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David,
and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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