Advent Liturgy: December 2007 Archives

The Last Collect of Advent

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December 24
Collect at the Hours and at the Mass in the Morning

Come quickly, we beseech you, Lord Jesus,
and do not delay,
so that those who trust in your loving mercy
may be lifted up by the consolations of your coming.

Come, Lord Jesus

Today, in the last Collect of Advent, the Church addresses the Lord Jesus. It is as if she can no longer contain her longing. The last Collect of Advent is inspired by the last page of the Bible. There, Christ speaks, saying, “Surely I am coming soon.” And the Church replies, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Ap 22:20).

Domine Jesu

Whereas all throughout Advent the Church, according to her custom, has, for the most part, addressed the Father in her prayers, today she appeals to the Son directly. She calls the Son by his human name — Jesus — and to that name revealed by the Angel she adds the divine vocative, Lord. Domine Iesu. Hers is a prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Apostle says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).

Do Not Linger on the Way

Today’s Collect is remarkably concise. Three lines only. The first line is inspired, not only by the final cry in the Apocalypse of Saint John, but also by Psalm 39:18: “Do not tarry, O my God” or, as the Douai translation puts it, “O my God, be not slack!” Ronald Knox translates the same with a certain courtesy: “My God, do not linger on the way.” The two words borrowed from Psalm 39 — ne tardáveris — should make us want to review the whole psalm. What do we discover? That the psalm begins with a verse that sums up the whole Advent experience. Expectans, expectavi! With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and he was attentive to me” (Ps 39:1).

Et vocabit nomen eius Iesum

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Fourth Sunday of Advent A

Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 23:1-6. R. cf. vv. 7. 10
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Mary and Joseph

Today’s Gospel presents the Virgin Mother through the eyes of Saint Matthew, who has a very particular interest in Saint Joseph. Mary is betrothed to Joseph; she is his promised bride and spouse. If ever a marriage was made in heaven, it was this one. God had, from all eternity, prepared this one man, Joseph, for this one woman, Mary.

The Virgin of the Sign

Then the unthinkable happened: Mary was found to be with child, not of Joseph, for they had not yet begun to live together, but of the Holy Spirit. What conflicts rose in Joseph’s heart? He could not doubt his Mary, nor could he deny that there was life in her virginal womb. The nearness of the Thrice-Holy God in Mary, the Virgin of the Sign, left him astonished and fearful. Recall the experience of the prophet Isaiah in the temple:

I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts. And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me” (Is 6:1-8).

Depart From Me

Saint Joseph’s first impulse was to put a distance between himself and Mary, rather like Saint Peter who, after the miraculous draught of fish, said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was wholly astonished” (Lk 5:8). The ark of the covenant, the tabernacle of the Most High, reasoned Joseph, belongs not in my house but, rather, in a hidden sanctuary where the miracle wrought by God will not be exposed to the disbelief and irreverent cynicism of men. Saint Joseph knew well the words of the Angel Raphael to Tobias and his father: “For it is good to hide the secret of a king: but honourable to reveal and confess the works of God” (Tb 12:7).

Holy Fear

Saint Matthew tells us that the very idea of cohabiting with Mary filled Joseph with fear. Whenever Saint Matthew uses the word “fear” in his Gospel, it means the sacred terror that every mortal feels in the presence of the power and paradox of a divine mystery. Saint Thomas Aquinas sums up this particular exegesis of the text when he says, “Joseph wished to give the Virgin her liberty, not because he suspected her of adultery, but because, respecting her holiness, he feared to live with her.”

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Yes, today, December 18th, is one of the liturgy's loveliest old Advent festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that of the Expectatio Partus. It was kept by nearly the entire Latin Church. The Marquess of Bute calls it, in his fine old translation of the Breviary, "The Blessed Virgin Mary Looking Shortly To Be Delivered." It was also called in Spain, and elsewhere, Nuestra Señora de la O, and this because, after Vespers, the clergy in choir used to give voice to a loud and protracted "O" to express the yearning of the universe for the advent of the Redeemer.

Looking first at the Office for the feast, one discovers that the Invitatory Antiphon is the greeting of the Archangel to the Virgin of Nazareth: "Hail Mary, full of grace, * the Lord is with thee." The antiphons on the psalms of Matins are all taken from the Advent Office. The lessons are Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child (Is 7:10), a passage from Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo on the Maidenhood of Blessed Mary, and one from the Venerable Bede on the Annunciation Gospel. The final responsory is the glorious Fourth Mode Suscipe verbum, "Receive, O Virgin Mary, receive the word of the Lord, which is sent thee by His Angel."

The Collect throughout the day is that of Lady Day in March:

O God who didst will that Thy Word should,
by the message of an Angel,
take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grant unto us, we beseech Thee,
that all we who do believe her to be in very deed
the Mother of God,
may be holpen by her prayers in Thy sight.

At Lauds and the Hours, the antiphons are those of Lady Day, while the hymns remain those of the Advent Office. The Magnificat Antiphon is the lovely O Virgo Virginum, composed in the same Second Mode melody as the Great O Antiphons:

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O maiden of maidens,
how shall this be,
since neither before nor henceforth hath there been,
nor shall be such another?
Daughters of Jerusalem,
why look ye curiously upon me?
What ye see is a mystery of God.

I would venture to suggest that the Office and Mass of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are today, more than ever before, worthy of celebration and meditation, given that the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is roundly mocked by many. Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies.

All of this makes me want to open my Processionale Monasticum to page 146 and sing, Gaude Maria, Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti:

Rejoice, O Mary,
by whose mighty hand the Church hath victory
over her foes [every heresy] achieved,
since thou to Gabriel's word of quickening power
in lowliness hast listened, and believed
— thou, still a virgin, in thy blessed womb
hast God Incarnate of thy flesh conceived,
and still, in heaven, of that virginity remainest
after childbirth unbereaved.
V. Blessed art thou that hast believed,
for there is a performance of those things
which were told thee from the Lord.

The Great O Antiphons

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How delightful to see in this painting both little Johns, the Baptist and the Theologian, together with the Incarnate Word, Holy Wisdom. Note that the little Evangelist is already writing the opening words of the Prologue of his Gospel.

Reflections on each of the Great O Antiphons are available in my Advent archives from 2006. At the Monastery of the Glorious Cross where I serve as chaplain, the Great O's are sung not only at Vespers each day, their traditional place, but also during the Gospel procession of the Mass as the Alleluia Verse.

We know that in the reform of the Lectionary, the O Antiphons, formerly sung only at Vespers, were also given a place within the Mass itself, becoming the verse of the Alleluia before the Gospel. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal emphasizes the importance of the procession with the Book of the Gospels. It is a kind of parousia, the glorious appearing of the Lord “amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy” (Ps 41:5). It is the arrival of the Bridegroom; His advent is greeted with jubilant alleluias and with lighted lamps. It is the descent of the all-powerful Word from the royal throne “into the midst of the land that was doomed” (Wis 18:15). The Gregorian Alleluia, with its streaming jubilus, is the Church’s ecstatic cry of welcome; it is an eschatological song. The arrival of Christ in the sacramental Word anticipates His arrival in glory upon the clouds of heaven (cf., Mt 24:3

This year I am not preaching specifically on the Great O Antiphons as I have done in past years, but readers of Vultus Christi might find last year's homilies helpful.

A Mother Ever-Virgin

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O SAPIENTIA

Genesis 49:2, 8-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 3-4ab, 7-8, 17
Matthew 1:1-17

The Wondrous Exchange

O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in the womb of a mother ever-virgin,
look graciously upon our prayers,
that your only-begotten Son,
having taken our humanity to Himself,
may deign to make us partakers of His divinity.

The first Collect of the seven-day preparation for Christmas englobes the whole magnificent plan of the Incarnation and Redemption. It goes straight to the heart of the mystery: God, having taken our humanity to Himself in the womb of a virgin, makes us partakers of His divinity.

Partakers of His Divinity

We already hear today what we will pray in the Collect of the Mass of Christmas Day:

O God, who in a wonderful manner
created the dignity of human nature,
and still more wonderfully renewed it;
grant that we may be made partakers of His divinity
who deigned to become partaker of our humanity.

This same prayer is echoed in every Mass at the preparation of the chalice. The priest, adding water to the wine, says silently:

By the mystery of this water and wine
may we be made partakers in His divinity
who deigned to share in our humanity.

Rosy Reminder

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Did you get 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.

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Second Saturday of Advent

Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11
Psalm 79: 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19
Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

The Splendour of Your Glory in the Face of Christ

Almighty God,
let the splendour of your glory, we pray,
rise like the dayspring in our hearts
to dispel every darkness of the night;
that the advent of your only-begotten Son,
may reveal us to be children of the light.

Today’s Collect is the fruit of a long contemplation of the light that shines from the Scriptures: another example of the oratio — prayer — that is the fruit of lectio —hearing the Word — and of meditatio — repeating it. The splendour of the Father’s glory that rises like the dawn in our hearts is Christ, “the reflection of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3). “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

O Dayspring

The Jews of old expected the advent of the Messiah in the radiance of a rising sun. Isaiah cries, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist blesses God, saying, “The Orient shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78-79). The Church, on December 21st, will sing, “O Dayspring, brightness of eternal Light and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

The Light of Bethlehem

Christ’s first advent in the cave of Bethlehem, marked by the rising of a star in the night, was a mystery of light. “In Him was life,” says Saint John, “and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5).

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December 14
Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Isaiah 48:17-19
Psalm 1 (R. Jn 8:12)
Matthew 11: 16-19

Liturgical Coincidences

It often happens that the sacred texts given us in the Lectionary for the occurring ferial day correspond wonderfully to the saint whom we are commemorating. And so it happened today, on this feast of Saint John of the Cross.

The Light of Life

Did you hear — I mean really heed with the ear of the heart — the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm? It was taken not from Psalm 1 as one might expect, but rather from the eighth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. There Our Lord says: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

It is the allusion to darkness that invites us to relate this word to the life and teaching of Saint John of the Cross. Did not Saint John embrace the mystery of the Cross in the obscurity of a dark night? Does not he come to us just one week before the longest and darkest night of the year? Is not Saint John of the Cross our best guide through the darkness of the night, which no one of us can avoid, or delay, the dark night of faith?

One Little Word Changed

Now, be attentive! What does the Church do with this word of Our Lord when she chants it in her liturgy? She changes one single word. Our Lord says, “He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). The Church, having heard this word of Our Lord (lectio), and having repeated it over and over again in the recollection of her heart (meditatio), turns it into a prayer (oratio) addressed directly to Him who pronounced it, by saying: Qui sequitur te, Domine, habebit lumen vitae, “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

Lectio Divina

We have everything to learn from this procedure. It is the Church’s own way of praying. All prayer begins not with our word or words to God, but with the word that He addresses us. Prayer begins in the hearing of the word, and this is what the tradition calls lectio. Once heard, the word has to be remembered and, in order to remember it, we must repeat it over and over again. This is what the tradition calls meditatio. The same word, heard, and then repeated, becomes the word by means of which we lift our mind and heart to God, and this the tradition calls oratio. “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). One who prays in this way will find himself drawn into a mysterious inner stillness. There all becomes silent. There we experience a sweet and irresistible force that compels us to adore. Tacere et adorare. To be silent and to adore in the presence of the Thrice Holy God.

Inter-Abiding in Love

If we yield to this sweet and irresistible force — the action of the Holy Spirit — we will find that the silence that is the fruit of the word heard, repeated, and prayed, becomes the sacrament of a mysterious union with God, of what I can only describe as an “inter-abiding” in love. And this is what the tradition calls contemplatio.

Holy Violence

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Thursday of the Second Week of Advent
December 13
Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Isaiah 41:13-20
Psalm 144: 1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab
Matthew 11:11-15

And the Violent Bear It Away

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Mt 11:12). What exactly is Our Lord saying in today’s Gospel? What does Our Lord mean when He tells us that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away”? Are we, then, to be violent? Is there such a thing as a holy violence?

Swift and Intense Force

The dictionary defines violence as swift and intense force. Although the word has acquired a negative connotation in common usage, violence is not, of itself, sinful. The moral quality of violence — a swift, and powerful application of energy — derives from the object for which, or against which, it is expended. Violence can be virtuous. The Kingdom of Heaven is worthy of our violence. All the saints understood this. One who would bear away the Kingdom of Heaven must be prepared to act swiftly, intensely, and forcefully.

Holy Violence

Holy Violence is the virtue opposed to the vice of the spiritual dilly-dallier, the feeble, indecisive, spineless, ineffectual milquetoast. Holy violence is an expression of the virtue of fortitude. It is related to the boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit.

The Tolerance of the Relativists

There are those, even within the Church, who think that peace — or what they would like to call peace — is worth any price. They will go to any length to avoid confrontations, to appear to agree when they disagree, to approve when they disapprove, to keep everyone happy. The moral relativism pandemic in society today fosters this attitude. The relativists would have us believe that there are no absolute truths, that nothing is absolutely wrong or absolutely right. They preach a wishy-washy adaptability to whatever the prevailing trends happen to be, and they call it tolerance. The relativists are forever saying, “To each his own.” The idea of going against the social or political grain fills them with horror. There are no martyrs among them.

Strengthen Ye the Feeble Hands

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Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 84:8ab and 9, 10-11, 12-13 (R. Isaiah 35:4f)
Luke 5:17-26

The Promises of God

Again today, the Word of God is rich in promises for those who receive it with attention and with open hearts. First, an announcement full of hope:

Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees.
Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not:
behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense:
God himself will come and will save you (Is 35: 3-4).

Then came the promises:

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as a hart,
and the tongue of the dumb shall be free:
for waters are broken out in the desert,
and streams in the wilderness (Is 35: 5-6).

How can one hear such things and not be inwardly quickened? We are all feeble, weak-kneed, fainthearted, fearful, and in need of salvation. We are all of us, in some way, blind, deaf, lame, and without the living water for which we thirst.

For Priests

These are promises, certainly, for the whole Church and for each one of us. At the same time, I seem to hear in the words of the prophet promises that are destined, first of all, for the priests of the Lord. If Jesus’ chosen instruments are to be effective in His service, if His anointed ones are to do “the works that He did and greater works than these” (cf. Jn 14:12), then it is their feeble hands that must be strengthened, their weak knees that must be confirmed, and their faint hearts that must be emboldened.

Risking Grace

I hear today’s promises in this way because the Word of God never comes to us in a void. It is uttered in a particular context made up of circumstances and events. I am profoundly moved by the ecclesial events of these past few days. It would seem that the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Solemn Opening of the Jubilee of Lourdes have released a torrent of graces in the Church. Our Lord respects, of course, our freedom. Torrents of graces can indeed pass over us, leaving us untouched and unchanged. There is a risk involved in saying, “yes” to a particular promise or grace and, sadly, there are many souls who, out of lukewarmness, or fear, or self-interest, or inertia, simply refuse the risk.

Whatsoever Things Were Written

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Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3: 1-12

The Comfort of the Scriptures

Today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans is, every year in the classic Roman Rite, the Epistle of the Second Sunday of Advent. As such, it also recurs in the classic Divine Office as the Chapter at Vespers, Lauds, Tierce, Sext, and None. Last evening when I stood in my little domestic oratory to chant First Vespers of the Second Sunday of Advent, I was very nearly swept off my feet by the beauty and power of the Chapter:

Brethren, whatsoever things were written were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom 14:4).

Read the Encyclical

“That we might have hope.” Immediately my mind went to the Encyclical Letter of our Holy Father, Spe Salvi. I hope that by now you have all read the Encyclical at least once. If not, what in the world are you waiting for? You have received a letter from your Father, from the Father of all Christ’s faithful? When one receives a letter from one’s father, one doesn’t leave it in a drawer or on a shelf. One opens the envelope with a trembling hand and rapid heartbeat. One cannot wait to read what Papa has written. It is inconceivable that the children of the Church should receive the Holy Father’s Encyclical Letter with indifference, that one should content oneself with a glance at the headlines or with a superficial summary written, more often than not, from a highly subjective perspective.

The Flower of the Root of Jesse

Back to the Second Reading. I see it as the centerpiece of an Advent triptych. In the first panel we contemplate the magnificent artistry of the Prophet Isaiah. I say, “contemplate,” and not, “hear,” because Isaiah presents us with images, with a vibrant tableau of the Kingdom of God restored and renewed in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the flower rising up from the root of Jesse. Look at Him as John the Baptist saw Him at His Baptism in the Jordan: the love of the Father shines on His Holy Face, the Holy Spirit hovers over His noble head in the form of a snow white dove. A sevenfold anointing rests upon Him, drenching His Head and His entire Body in wisdom and in understanding, in counsel, and in fortitude, in knowledge, and godliness, and fear of the Lord.

Stirring Up the Power of God

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Friday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 29: 17-24
Psalm 26: 1, 4, 13-14
Matthew 9:27-31

Stir Up

Today’s Collect, addressed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, is one of a whole series of advent prayers that begin with the word, Excita — which means “Stir up.” There is an English folk tradition that associates preparing the Christmas pudding with these prayers because the pudding has to be stirred up. But the Collect is not about stirring up pudding; it is about asking God to stir up his strength. Today’s Collect is used in the classic Roman Rite on the First Sunday of Advent. In the Missal of 1970 it is found on the First Friday of Advent.

John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute, translates today’s Collect this way:

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Stir up, O Lord, we pray Thee, Thy strength,
and come among us,
that whereas through our sins and wickedness
we do justly apprehend Thy wrathful judgments hanging over us,
Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us.

Say It Again

In the classical Roman Rite this same Collect is repeated every day of the First Week of Advent, not once a day, but eight times a day, that is to say, at the Canonical Hours and at Holy Mass. According to my calculations, that means 38 times. What does this tell us about the liturgical pedagogy of the Church? The Church, a wise mother and accomplished teacher, understands the value of rhythm and repetition.

Sin

For the third time this week the Collect speaks of sin. On Tuesday we prayed to be “untainted by the contagion of our old ways.” Yesterday we prayed that God’s bountiful grace and mercy would hasten “that which our sins impede.” Today we describe ourselves as “ever-threatened by the peril of our sins.”

The liturgy is clear-sighted and realistic. The prayer of the Church does not sidestep the evil of sin; it exposes it, names it, and brings it to God. “Thou hast set our misdeeds before Thee,” says the psalmist, “and our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance” (Ps 89:8). In a culture that looks at many sins softly, that teaches us to make excuses for our sins and to explain them away, the directness of today’s Collect delivers a salutary shock.

Lest We Faint in the Way

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First Wednesday of Advent

Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 22: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Matthew 15:29-37

The Eucharist

The liturgy of the Wednesday of the First Week of Advent is entirely illumined by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Even before the readings, the Church alludes to the mystery of the Eucharist in the Collect. We pray that, “at the coming of Christ . . . we may be found worthy of the banquet of eternal life, and ready to receive the food of heaven from His hand.” This refers not only to the “hidden manna” (Ap 2:17) of heaven, but also to the Bread of Life given us from the altar by the hand of the priest who, in feeding us, is an icon of Christ “nourishing and cherishing” (Eph 5:29) His Body the Church.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

In the First Lesson Isaiah prophesies that the day will come when God Himself will be “a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress; a refuge from the whirlwind, a shadow from the heat” (Is 25:4). And on that day “the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people . . . a feast of fat things, a feast of wine” (Is 25:6). In the Responsorial Psalm, the Lord “prepares a table” (Ps 22:5), opening to us the hospitality of His house “unto length of days” (Ps 22:6).

Lest They Faint in the Way

Thus prepared by the Collect, the First Lesson, and the Responsorial Psalm, in the Gospel we encounter Our Lord moved by compassion on the multitudes. The words He spoke then for those people, He speaks today for us: “I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (Mt 15:32). For us there is a greater mystery than the multiplication of loaves and fishes, for to us He gives His adorable Body as food and His precious Blood as drink.

The Eucharistic Advent of Christ

Mother Church wants us to grasp that every celebration of Holy Mass is an advent of the Lord. He who came in the lowliness of our flesh, born of the Virgin, the Same who will come in great glory at the end of time upon the clouds of heaven, comes to us sacramentally in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic advent of Christ is in every way as real as was His advent in the flesh, and as real as His advent in majesty will be.

Consolation

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Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Luke 10:21-24

Today’s Saints

We celebrate the Holy Mysteries today in the company of Saint Barbara, virgin and martyr enlightened by the brightness of the Three Divine Persons — which is why she is represented holding a tower pierced by three windows, and of Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Rightness of Making and Venerating Sacred Images. Today’s two saints and, indeed, all the saints, are witnesses to the hope that does not disappoint.

Familiar With the Saints and With Their Stories

Attentive readers of Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope, are struck by the importance he gives to the witness of the saints. This is characteristic of Catholic theology. It is a theology that springs out of the experience of God and stimulates one to seek His Face. It is a theology springing out of holiness and bearing the fruits of holiness. Consider just this: the Holy Father presents the life experience of Sudanese Saint Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, as an authoritative illustration of what hope means. Pope Benedict XVI is one of the great theological minds of our age, precisely because he is familiar with the saints, with their stories, and with their experience.

The Collect

Today’s Collect comes from the rotulus or scroll of Ravenna and, according to some scholars, could date from as early as the fifth century. It too bears witness to the experience of the saints of every age:

Lord God,
be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your strong and tender love;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now, by the contagion of our old ways.

Supplication

The prayer makes two requests of God. The first is, “be gracious to our supplications and in tribulation, grant us we pray the help of your pietas, your strong and tender love.” The tone of the prayer is humble and full of confidence. We ask God to be gracious to our supplications. Supplication comes from the Latin verb supplico, meaning to kneel down or to bend low. We approach God humbly, making ourselves close to the dust of the earth from which we were created (cf. Gen 2:7).

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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I posted this homily last year, but decided to offer it anew this Advent. Both Dom Vital Léhodey and Mère Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus continue to play a significant role in my own spiritual journey, and both were disciples of the Infant Christ.

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Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21-24

Grace Upon Grace

Saint John, in his Prologue, declares us that we have all received of the fullness of the Word made flesh, “and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). The prophet Isaiah tells us today just what this fullness of grace is: “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2-3). There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven graces, or seven “spirits” as the prophet calls them. The number seven, as you know, signifies a superabundant fullness. It is of this fullness that “we have all received, and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

The Same Spirit

All who belong to Christ are given a share in the Spirit of Christ. As the psalmist says, the anointing of the Head runs down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, and reaches even to the hem of his garment (cf. Ps 132:2). Saint Paul says, “Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another, faith in the same Spirit; to another the grace of healing . . . but all of these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will” (1 Cor 12:4-11).

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The Order of Holiness

Isaiah goes on to describe the effects of this anointing with the Spirit of the Lord. A new order appears: one characterized by justice, by equity for the meek of the earth, and by fidelity. In a word, the new order is the order of holiness: participation in the very life of God. What are the signs of this new order? “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together” (Is 11:6). (This is an apt description of most monasteries.)

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

A monastery is the cohabitation of wolves with lambs, of leopards with kids, of calves with lions and sheep. The most important piece of the prophecy, however, is the last phrase: “and a little child shall lead them” (Is 11:6). Who is this Child? The psalm describes Him for us. This little Child “shall deliver the poor from the mighty: and the needy that had no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy: and he shall save the souls of the poor” (Ps 71:12-13).

Yea, Father

Are we willing to be led by the Child? The Child is misunderstood by all, save by other children. Listen to the prayer of the Child in the Gospel: “In that hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost, and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and Thou hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight” (Lk 10:21).

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Dom Vital Léhodey (1847-1948)

I cannot help but recall two figures radiant with holiness who allowed themselves to be led by the Child. The first who comes to mind is a great Trappist monk of the last century. Dom Vital Léhodey was the abbot of Bricquebec during the tumultuous period of the expulsions of religious from France. He was, at the same time, charged with the economic affairs of several other monasteries and with a foundation in Japan. He was obliged to be an astute business man; he traveled extensively and, all the while, found the time and energy to write books that have become spiritual classics: The Ways of Mental Prayer and Holy Abandonment. What was Dom Léhodey’s secret? This very capable man, even in the eyes of the world, was utterly smitten by the Child Jesus, becoming tender and docile and wholly abandoned to Him. Read his biography if you can find it. The Child Jesus was his life. A Little Child led Dom Vital; the same little Child who led Saint Thérèse along the path of littleness and confidence.

Spes Nostra

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Monday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 4:2-6
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5, 6-7), 8-9 (R. 1)
Matthew 8:5-11

Isaiah’s Gift

Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope can be read as a commentary on the readings given us in the Advent liturgy. In fact, given the timing of the publication of the Encyclical and his own sensitivity to the liturgy, I rather suspect that the Holy Father had just that in mind. The particular gift of the prophet Isaiah is to instill hope into hearts burdened by fear and discouraged by the desolation that seems to surround them on every side. Isaiah’s gift was not for the Jews of the eighth and seventh centuries before Christ alone. Were that the case, the reading of Isaiah in our liturgical assemblies today would be an exercise in literature with no real bearing on our lives here and now. Isaiah’s prophetic gift is for all generations.

God Speaking Here and Now

When the Church reads Isaiah, she receives his message in all its immediacy and freshness for today. This is why we say Deo gratias — Thanks be to God — at the end of a liturgical reading: not because God spoke through His prophet once upon a time, but because God is speaking to us here and now.

The Promises of Christ

What causes hope to spring up in a heart? What makes me hope? What makes you hope? A word of promise. A promise made by one faithful enough and powerful enough to keep it. In a sense, we live in hope because of the promises that have been made to us. Is this not why the Church has us so often pray, “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”? What makes us worthy of the promises of Christ? The hope that we place in them.

The Act of Hope

When I was a schoolboy we used to say the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity every day upon our return to class after the noonday break. The Act of Hope made an explicit reference to the promises of God: “I hope . . . because Thou didst promise it.” What are the promises of God to us in today’s First Lesson from the fourth chapter of Isaiah?

Conditor Alme Siderum

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"At the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free."

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

This is my homespun translation of Conditor Alme Siderum. When Advent rolls round and I sing this hymn in Latin or in English translation, I see in my mind's eye Van Gogh's Starry Night. In the little church with the tall steeple at the bottom of the painting there must be a lingering scent of incense. Advent Vespers will have been sung. The Creator of the Starry Night is glorified.

O Light unconquered, Source of Light,
Whose radiance kindles stars and sun,
Shine tenderly on us this night;
Creation groans until you come.

Immense your grief to see our plight:
When sin had shrouded all, you came.
True Dayspring bursting death’s dark bands,
Emmanuel, your saving name!

Night weighed upon a weary world
When silently you pitched your tent,
Enclosed within the Virgin’s womb
True man, true God from heaven sent.

So to the darkened world in need,
Eternal Word, you came as man.
You came as Bridegroom, swift and strong,
To claim the prize the course you ran.

Until your glory fills the skies,
Until the stars in welcome sing,
Until you judge both small and great,
From sin, protect us, Sovereign King.

To God the Father, God the Son,
To God the Spirit ever be
Glad songs of praise throughout the night
While faith adores the mystery. Amen.

Ad Te Levavi and Spe Salvi

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An Introit and an Encyclical

There is an immense hope in the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, making it perfectly consonant with Spe Salvi, the Encyclical given us by Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of Saint Andrew. Today’s Introit, Ad te levavi, is a great sweep upward and away from all that would hold bound our hope. The Introit, resonating with Spe Salvi, sets the tone, not only for this the first Mass of Advent, but also for the rest of the Advent season and, indeed, for the whole new liturgical year. “To you, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1) or, as Ronald Knox translated it, “All my heart goes out to my God.”

Breaking Down the Encyclical

As I prayed over it early this morning, the Holy Father’s Encyclical became for me a theological commentary on the implications of today’s Introit and, indeed, on all the liturgy of Advent. Fortified by several cups of strong coffee, I attempted to condense Spe Salvi into 52 propositions or, if you will, subtitles. I share them as a way of inviting you to take the Encyclical in hand, and to study it, meditate it, pray it, and be changed by it during this Advent Season.

Own It and Read It

The Encyclical has 50 articles. There are 24 days in Advent this year. Here is your Advent program: 2 articles of the Encyclical each day, and on one day of your choice, 3. Every Catholic should have his own copy of the Encyclical. Don’t be cheap. Don’t be stingy. Buy the text of the Encyclical or download a copy off the Internet and then make photocopies. One copy of the Encyclical cost less than the daily newspaper. Looking for an Advent penance? Give up reading the newspaper — or cut down your online time — during Advent and study Spe Salvi instead. It will be salutary for your soul.

First Sunday of Advent

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Entrance Antiphon

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Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed. V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths (Ps 24:1-4).

Act of Penitence

In the words of the psalmist, the longing of every human heart finds expression. “All my heart goes out to you, O my God, in you I trust” (Ps 24:1).

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth (Ps 79:1).
Kyrie, eleison.

Stir up your might, and come to save us (Ps 79:2).
Christe, eleison.

Give us life, and we will call upon your name (Ps 79:18).
Kyrie, eleison.

Collect

Almighty God,
grant to your faithful, we beseech you,
the will to go forth with works of justice
to greet your Christ at his coming,
that they, being found worthy of the kingdom of heaven,
may be given a place at his right hand.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Spes Nostra, Salve!

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The Holy Father's Encyclical Spe Salvi ends in a splendid prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Spes Nostra, Our Hope. One of the high points of my recent travels in France was a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de la Sainte Espérance at Le Mesnil Saint-Loup, founded by the Benedictine Père Emmanuel André in 1864. In response to a sermon preached by Père Emmanuel, his parishioners spontaneously cried out, "Notre Dame de la Sainte Esperance, convertissez-nous! Our Lady of Holy Hope, convert us!" The entire parish was converted to hope, becoming a beacon of Christianity and of full, conscious, and actual participation in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

Mary, Star of Hope

49. With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella. Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

Humble and Great Souls of Israel

50. So we cry to her: Holy Mary, you belonged to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, “for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Your life was thoroughly imbued with the sacred scriptures of Israel which spoke of hope, of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Lk 1:55). In this way we can appreciate the holy fear that overcame you when the angel of the Lord appeared to you and told you that you would give birth to the One who was the hope of Israel, the One awaited by the world. Through you, through your “yes”, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

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With the Hope of the World in Your Womb

When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history. But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendour who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable. The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk 2:35), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world.

The Hour of the Cross

Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus's ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26).

Did Hope Die?

From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary!” (Lk 1:30). How many times had the Lord, your Son, said the same thing to his disciples: do not be afraid! In your heart, you heard this word again during the night of Golgotha. Before the hour of his betrayal he had said to his disciples: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “Do not be afraid, Mary!” In that hour at Nazareth the angel had also said to you: “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:33). Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus's own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning.

Mother of Hope, Star of the Sea

The joy of the Resurrection touched your heart and united you in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. In this way you were in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of Pentecost. The “Kingdom” of Jesus was not as might have been imagined. It began in that hour, and of this “Kingdom” there will be no end. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 30 November, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, in the year 2007, the third of my Pontificate.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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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