Advent Liturgy: November 2010 Archives

The First Sunday of Advent

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Ad Te Levavi

In this illuminated miniature Saint Bernard is intoning the Introit of the First Sunday of Advent, Ad te levavi animam meam. He is lifting up his soul (and the new liturgical year) in the form of a newborn baby! God the Father, surrounded by angelic hosts, thrones in glory above him. To his left a choir of monks sings the Introit that Bernard has intoned.

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All My Heart Goes Out To Thee

There is movement in today’s liturgy: a great sweep upward and away from all that holds us bound and confined “in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79). This is the ecstatic movement of prayer, of all right worship: out of self, upward, and into “the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). The Introit 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 Thee, my God.”

Ready for the Leap of Hope

The heart, in going out to God, leaves much behind and cannot look back. This is the law of prayer, this is what it makes it costly, sacrificial and, at the same time, unspeakably sweet. The things we leave behind are mere trifles but, oh, the hold they can have on us! The old self, fearful and anxious about many things, grasps at every illusory promise of security, clings to things, arranges them in great useless piles, looks on them caressingly and takes inventory of them. The loss of any thing, even the most insignificant, represents for the old self, the loss of control, the loss of power, and of comforting familiar pleasures. All of this in incompatible with the prayer that the liturgy places on our lips today: “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God” (Ps 24:1). The upward flight of today’s Introit has nothing to do with cheap pious sentiment. It is an uncompromising call to detachment, to poverty of spirit, and to an obedience that is off and running with all speed, ready for the leap of hope.

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The Will to Go Forth

The movement of the Introit emerges more clearly in the 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.” We ask God to give us “the will to go forth.” The nuance is significant. We do not have in ourselves the will to go forth. All our inclination is rather to hold back. The “will to go forth” is itself God’s gift to us. We ask furthermore for “the will to go forth with works of justice.” The works of justice are those that free the old self from the bondage to sin and demonstrate the liberty that comes from the Spirit. (Saint Benedict catalogues them for us in Chapter Four of the Holy Rule.) We go forth because Christ is coming. We go forth like the five wise virgins, bearing lighted lamps, to greet the Bridegroom at his midnight advent (cf. Mt 25:6).

Let Us Go Up to the House of the Lord

The prophet Isaiah delivers the same message: “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. . . . O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:3, 5). In Psalm 121, the movement upward and into God is revealed a joyful thing: “I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the Lord’” (Ps 121:1).

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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