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Advent Liturgy Archives

December 2, 2006

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.

December 9, 2006

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.

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December 10, 2006

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.

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December 11, 2006

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."

December 14, 2006

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.

December 15, 2006

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!

December 16, 2006

17 December, O SAPIENTIA

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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.

Beginning today, I will offer reflections on each of the Great O Antiphons. 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.

The Arrival of Holy Wisdom

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 Alleluia 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 24:30).

Make Known to Us Your Ways

“O Wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the Most High God, Your lordship is over all that is, stretching from the beginning to the end, You who order all things with might and with sweetness, come teach us the path of prudence. Make known to us Your ways.” You see how, in the context of the Gospel procession, the age-old text shines with a new and immediate meaning.

Prudence

We acclaim Christ the Logos in His appearing as Holy Wisdom, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, and we make a very specific petition: “Come, teach us the way of prudence.” What is prudence? It is the habit of using our reason, in every circumstance, to discern what is our true good and of choosing the means to achieve it. Saint Thomas calls prudence “right reason in action.” Prudence is an austere virtue because it means that we will not allow our decisions, our course of action, or our reactions to be determined by our emotions.

When we allow our choices to be determined by fear — fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of making a mistake, fear of failure, fear of the future, or any other fear — we are not being prudent. When we allow our choices to be determined by an unwise love, a disordered love — we are not being prudent. When we choose impulsively, we are not being prudent. When we delay choosing and put off acting, we are not being prudent. Prudence has to do with choosing wisely so as to act wisely. And so today, we cry out to Wisdom, begging to be taught the way of prudence.

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Gaudete in Domino semper

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The image of Saint John's vision in the Apocalypse (1360–1390) is by Jacobello Alberegno. I chose it because the Eternal Father is vested in a lovely rosy pink garment. Gaudete Sunday in heaven?

Third Sunday of Advent
A Homily on the Introit

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God (Phil 4:4-6).

Rejoice in the Lord Always

We began Advent on the crest of a surging wave, an immense welling up of hope that lifted us out of ourselves and carried us Godward: “All my heart goes out to you, my God; I trust in you” (Ps 24:1). Last Sunday, the Introit did not address God at all; it was a clarion call, a trumpet blast to wake us up, to shake us up, a summons to open our hearts to the joy of the glorious voice of the Lord (Is 30:30). Next Sunday, the Introit will again become pure prayer, a cry wrenched from the depths of human experience, a plea for the dew from heaven, the dew that refreshes and makes fruitful. “Send down dew from above you heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One” (Is 45:8).

Today’s Introit is one of the few drawn from Saint Paul. It is an exhortation to joy, but its mood is quiet and reflective. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God” (Phil 4:4-6).

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Grace, and Loveliness, and Joy

What the Latin gives as, “gaudete,” and the English as “rejoice,” is astonishingly rich in Saint Paul’s Greek. Any one translation would be inadequate. Paul says, “chaírete.” It is the very same word used by the angel Gabriel to greet the Virgin of Nazareth. “Chaire, kecharitoménè!” “Joy to you, O full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). The word is untranslatable. Just when we think we have seized its meaning once and for all, another door opens inside it. “Chaírete” was the ordinary greeting of the Greeks. It embraces health, salvation, loveliness, grace, and joy, all at once. In the mouth and in the ear of Christians, the taste of the word is indescribable. “Grace to you, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord; again I wish you grace, and loveliness, and joy” (Phil 4:4). Paul’s greeting is not so much an imperative — a command to be joyful — as it is the imparting of a gift in the Lord. “What I wish for you, what I send you, what I give you in the Lord is grace, and loveliness, and joy.”

The Lord is at Hand

The second sentence becomes more intelligible in the light of the first. Paul says, “Let your gentleness — or your modesty, your courtesy, your forbearance, your serenity, your meekness — be known to everyone” (Phil 4:5). In other words, give evidence around you of the gift you have received: grace, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord. Show each other faces that are serene and peaceful, radiant with joy, faces that reflect the loveliness of God. And he adds, “the Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5). This is the great central affirmation of the liturgy today, and every day. “The Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5).

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December 17, 2006

18 December, O ADONAI

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This is the central panel of a triptych painted by Nicolas Froment in 1476. It depicts Moses awestruck before the Burning Bush and the appearance of the Angel of the Lord. The Burning Bush — here a rose bush all ablaze with radiating flames — surrounds the Virgin Mother holding her Divine Son. The Child Christ holds a mirror in his hand in which both of them are reflected. The painting illustrates a mystical antiphon of the Office of January 1st to which I refer below.

A Precarious Note

Again today the great cry goes up, a cry wrung from the depths of our being, a cry framed between two expressive words: O and Veni. The musical treatment of both words is the same: do-fa-mi. The interval do-fa is a stretching heavenward. We hardly reach the dominant fa of our confidence when we fall to the precarious mi, an unstable note in the second mode, one that suggests just how fragile we are. The mi is suspended: we have cast our prayer upward into the heavens. The uncertainty of the mi obliges us to hope against hope, to believe without seeing, to abandon our prayer once we have thrown it into the heavens, trusting that the hand of God will receive it and take it to heart.

ADONAI

Yesterday we called to the Christ, naming Him Wisdom, Sapientia; today we call Him ADONAI, Sacred Lord, Master of All, Majesty. Today we have the most Jewish of the O Antiphons: ADONAI, Moses, and Sinai — the Lord God, the man of God, and the mountain of God are named in a single brief prayer. ADONAI is used frequently in the Hebrew scriptures. The Jews use it in place of the holy and unutterable name, the name that it is forbidden to pronounce. You see, then, the significance of this name given to Christ. Christ is the “angel of God” who appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush (cf. Ex 3:2). “And, lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt’” (Ex 3:2-3).

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Apparuisti

The center and summit of today’s antiphon is the appearance of God to Moses in the burning bush. The most important word of the antiphon is apparuisti – “thou who didst appear.” It is on this word that the melody soars to the heights of “Horeb, the mountain of God” (Ex 3:1), giving to its last syllable the astonishing treatment of a double torculus: six notes in all!

The Virgin Mother of God

Flash ahead, for a moment, to today’s gospel. When Saint Joseph was confronted with the inexplicable mystery of Mary, his betrothed, being found with child, he was very much like Moses before the burning bush. “Lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Ex 3:2). An antiphon of January 1st makes exactly this comparison: “In the bush which Moses saw burning and yet not burnt, we recognize your virginity gloriously preserved. O Mother of God, intercede for us.” Man before the mystery. “I will turn aside and see” (Ex 3:3)

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The Call of God

Moses’ experience before the burning bush is a paradigm of all prayer. God drew Moses out of himself, and captured his attention by means of the burning bush. “And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I!’ (Ex 3:4). Just when we think that prayer is about our calling to God, we discover that it is really about God calling to us. Just when we think we have put our whole heart into saying, “Come!” to God, we discover that ceaselessly God puts His whole heart into saying “Come!” to us.

Adoration

God wants us close, very close to himself, but in the intimacy of adoration, in a wondering awareness of the Mystery. Adoration carries us into the infinity of God, into depths where our senses and our reason cannot go. And this is the reason why Moses is ordered to remove the shoes from his feet. “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). Only then does God reveal Himself as the Maker of covenants (Gen 17:1-8), the Giver of Blessings (Gen 26:12), the Mysterious Wrestler in the night (cf. Gen 32:24-30). “And He said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex 3:6).

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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).

December 18, 2006

19 December, O RADIX IESSE

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I could have chosen one of the many medieval images of the Tree of Jesse to illustrate this O Antiphon, but instead I chose this 18th century Gesù Bambino from Southern Italy. Now, this may be because I have a not so secret affinity for all things Neapolitan, but it is also because there is something in this Gesù Bambino that goes to the heart of the O Antiphon I am meditating. The Child Christ is holding a little wooden cross. He is gazing at it intently and there is a mysterious sorrow in his eyes. He is also offering the cross to anyone willing to receive it from His hands. This is the Child before Whom kings shall shut their mouths and Whom the nations shall seek. "Lifted up from the earth, He will draw all things to Himself" (cf. Jn 12:32).

O Root of Jesse (Ac 13:22-23),
standing as a sign to the peoples (Is 11:10),
before whom kings shall shut their mouths (Is 52:15),
and whom the nations shall seek (1 K 10:24; 2 Chr 9:23):
Come and deliver us and do not delay (Hab 2:3; Rev 22:20).

O Root of Jesse

The image of the Root of Jesse comes from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah where he says, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of His root” (Is 11:1). It is the passage that enumerates the gifts of the Holy Spirit; from the Vulgate, the Catholic tradition counts seven gifts. “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). This means that when we cry out, “Come,” to the Root of Jesse who is Christ, we are, in the same prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit who, in His sevenfold gift, comes to us with the Son.

The Tree of the Cross

Isaiah goes on to say in the tenth verse of the same chapter: “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of Him.” The Root of Jesse is given, not only to Israel, but as a signal to the nations, a standard around which all peoples will rally. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus says of himself, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Root of Jesse is already the profile of the Cross: a figure of the glorious standard of the King, the Vexilla Regis of which we sing in the Vespers hymn of September 14th. Today’s O Antiphon opens onto the paschal mystery: the Root of Jesse announces that the advent of the Son is ordered to the mission of redemption that He will accomplish on the Tree of the Cross.

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Like a Root Out of Dry Ground

The mystery of the Cross is brought into focus more clearly in the next line: “before whom kings shall shut their mouths.” The text, taken from Isaiah 52, leads directly into the Song of the Suffering Servant. “So He shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him” (Is 52:10). This silence of the kings of the earth expresses numbed astonishment. They are dumbstruck by the humble Root of Jesse gloriously exalted, all the more because, “He grew up before the Lord like a young plant a like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Is 53:2-3).

The Verbum Crucis


The silence of the kings of the earth is their amazement before the triumph of the Cross. The verbum Crucis, the “word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18) shuts the mouth of every earthly king. The psalm given us for the Introit of the Christmas Mass During the Night will describe the machinations of earthly powers against the Christ of God: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His anointed” (Ps 2:2). But already, in today’s O Antiphon, we see them judged from the Cross; they have no judgments to give, no verdicts, and no decrees, “for the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25).

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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.

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December 20, 2006

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.

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.

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Ave, verum Corpus natum, de Maria Virgine

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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?

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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December 21, 2006

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.”

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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.

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December 22, 2006

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:

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The Heart of God Beating in the Breast of a Little Child

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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).

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December 24, 2006

Ave, Maria — Our Lady's Sunday in Advent

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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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December 1, 2007

The First Sunday of Advent

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 in the form of a newborn baby, the new liturgical year! 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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First Sunday of Advent of the Year A
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

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 the Responsorial Psalm, 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).

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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

December 2, 2007

First Sunday of Advent

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Entrance Antiphon

GR
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.

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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.

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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.

December 3, 2007

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?

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And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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.

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December 4, 2007

Saint Barbara and Her Three Windows

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Saints in Advent

We celebrate the Holy Mysteries on December 4th in the company of two saints, both of them lights from the East: Saint Barbara, Virgin and Martyr, and Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church. Today I will remember at the altar the friends named Barbara whom God has placed in my life. Saint Barbara, according to the legend, was enclosed in a tower (some accounts say it was a bathhouse) by her pagan father. There were two windows in this improvised prison cell.

Three Windows

Taking advantage of her father's temporary absence, Barbara instructed the servants to make a third window in honour of the Most Holy Trinity. The light poured into Barbara's cell from three windows; her soul, meanwhile, was flooded by what Saint Benedict calls "the deifying light" of the Three Divine Persons. Thus was Saint Barbara found "vigilant in prayer and joyful in singing the divine praises" at the hour of her martyrdom. I can only imagine Saint Barbara praying, in her solitude, the sublime prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.

God is Light

In this, Saint Barbara speaks to all who feel hemmed in and imprisoned by the circumstances of life. To all who feel shut in and imprisoned, to all who live behind walls, Saint Barbara says, "Lift your eyes to the light of the Most Holy Trinity. Let the glorious radiance of the Three Divine Persons shine in your solitude." Her message is that of Saint Paul who says, "Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you shall appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:2–4). Her message is that of the Apostle John: "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness" (1 Jn 1:5).

At the Door

Captivity became for Saint Barbara a time of "eager anticipation" for the advent of Christ her Bridegroom. Today's Collect would have us await the advent of Christ, "untainted by the contagion of our former ways," and already "consoled by the presence of Him who is to come," in such wise that waiting becomes the adoration of His Face. Then when Christ knocks at the door, He will find us turned toward Him, vigilant in prayer, and joyful in singing His praises. "Behold," He says, "I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Ap 3:20).

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).

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December 5, 2007

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.

December 6, 2007

Saint Nicholas

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First Thursday of Advent

Isaiah 26:1-6
Psalm 117: 1, 8-9, 19-21,25-27a
Matthew 7:21, 24-27

Saint Nicholas Between East and West

The Church in East and West commemorates today Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The very first journey of Pope Benedict XVI as Supreme Pontiff in May 2005 was to the southern Italian port city of Bari, home to the relics of Saint Nicholas. At the time, few American Catholics realized the profound significance of that gesture. Orthodox Christians, however, were sensitive and attentive to the presence of the Pope in a city that John Paul II had called “a bridge to the East.”

The Slammer of Heretics

Saint Nicholas is celebrated for his role at the First Council of Nicaea. According to legend, he became so incensed upon hearing the views of Arius that he rushed over to the hapless heretic and gave him a mighty blow on his ears, sending him sprawling. That, of course, was when the testosterone of Catholic bishops was proportionate to their orthodoxy.

Saint Nicholas at the Altar

To my mind, the most important thing to remember about Saint Nicholas is the spirit of godly fear and adoration with which he stood before the Holy Altar at the moment of the Divine Liturgy. Everything else in his life — including the countless miracles attributed to him — flowed from the Holy Mysteries. The Divine Liturgy served by Saint Nicholas must have been like the Mass of Padre Pio. While the holy gifts were being carried in procession to the altar, the people sang of Our Lord’s Eucharistic advent among them: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the life–giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts. alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The Saints in Advent

Saint Nicholas and the other saints of Advent surround the Eucharistic Advent of the Lord just as they will surround Him with the angels in the glory of His Advent at the end of time. How important it is to acknowledge the saints of Advent, to seek their intercession, to rejoice in their lives. Those who would banish the saints from the celebration of the Advent liturgy are misled and mistaken. The mission of the saints of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christ: for His final advent as King and Judge, yes, but also for His humble daily advent hidden under the species of bread and wine. In no way do the saints detract from the intensity of the Advent season. Each of them is given us as a companion and intercessor, charged with making ready our hearts for the advent of the Bridegroom–King.

Saint Nicholas in New Amsterdam

Saint Nicholas arrived in America with the Protestant Dutch settlers in 1624 in what was then called New Amsterdam. As much as the gloomy Protestant Reformation in Holland tried to suppress the cult of the Saints, the Dutch would not give up their beloved Saint Nicholas. Dutch customs, expressions, and even language persisted in New York right into the opening years of the last century, but by that time others had come through Ellis Island, New York’s port of entry — Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Greeks. They came bringing icons of Saint Nicholas lovingly wrapped in the trunks that contained all their worldly possessions. They came bringing prayers to Saint Nicholas learned as little children, and armed with a confidence in the intercession of Saint Nicholas that withstood poverty, prejudice, hunger, sickness, and all the vicissitudes of a new life in a strange land.

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December 7, 2007

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.

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For my friend, Zadok the Roman

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Seek the Face of Christ

As my friend Zadok rightly observed, this First Friday of Advent, falling on December 7th, coincides with the memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. I will be taking the Collect of Saint Ambrose at the beginning of the Mass, and I will conclude the General Intercessions with the Collect of the day. Saint Ambrose invites us to seek the Face of Christ in his mysteries, that is to say, in the Sacred Liturgy. When the Church opens the Lectionary, it is to discover the Face of Christ shining from its pages. When, in obedience to the command of the Lord, she breaks the Bread and offers the Chalice, all her joy is in the contemplation of His Eucharistic Face.

I Have Found Thee in Thy Mysteries

When I had the opportunity to choose a text for the card commemorating my ordination to the priesthood, I didn’t hesitate. Immediately, the words of Saint Ambrose came to mind: “Face to face, thou hast made thyself known to me, O Christ; I have found thee in thy mysteries.”

Living Face-to-Face With Our Lord

We encounter Christ face-to-face if we persevere in seeking Him — in all circumstances and in every place — but especially in his Mysteries: in His Word, in the Adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood, in the prayer of His Bride, the Church. This is the supreme motive for every investigation of the liturgy. It is not about acquiring knowledge, or satisfying a certain curiosity. It is about living face-to-face with Our Lord.

December 9, 2007

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.

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December 10, 2007

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.

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December 13, 2007

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.

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December 14, 2007

Qui sequitur te, Domine, habebit lumen vitae

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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.

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December 15, 2007

Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light

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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 16, 2007

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.

Grace, and Loveliness, and Joy

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Gaudete Sunday

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
Psalm 145: 7, 8-9a, 9bc-10 (R. cf Is 35:4)
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

The Four Introits of Advent

We began Advent on the crest of a surging wave, an immense welling up of hope that lifted us out of ourselves and carried us Godward: “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God; I trust in Thee” (Ps 24:1). Last Sunday, the Introit did not address God at all; it was a clarion call, a trumpet blast to wake us up, to shake us up, a summons to open our hearts to the joy of the glorious voice of the Lord (Is 30:30). Next Sunday, the Introit will again become pure prayer, a cry wrenched from the depths of human experience, a plea for the dew from heaven, the dew that refreshes and makes fruitful. “Send down dew from above you heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, him, the Just One” (Is 45:8).

The Gift of Joy

Today’s Introit is one of the few drawn from Saint Paul. It is an exhortation to joy, but its mood is quiet and reflective. “Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy. Give proof to all of your courtesy. The Lord is near. Nothing must make you anxious; in every need, make your requests known to God, praying and beseeching Him, and giving Him thanks as well” (Phil 4:4-6).

What the Latin gives as, “gaudete,” and the English as “rejoice,” is astonishingly rich in Saint Paul’s Greek. Any one translation would be inadequate. Paul says, “chaírete.” It is the very same word used by the angel Gabriel to greet the Virgin of Nazareth. “Chaire, kecharitoménè!” “Joy to you, O full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). The word is untranslatable. Just when we think we have seized its meaning once and for all, another door opens inside it. “Chaírete” was the ordinary greeting of the Greeks. It embraces health, salvation, loveliness, grace, and joy, all at once. In the mouth of Christians, the taste of the word is indescribable. “Grace to you, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord; again I wish you grace, and loveliness, and joy” (Phil 4:4). Paul’s greeting is not so much an imperative — a command to be joyful — as it is the imparting of a gift in the Lord. “What I wish for you, what I send you, what I give you in the Lord is grace, and loveliness, and joy.”

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December 17, 2007

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.

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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.

December 18, 2007

Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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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.

December 19, 2007

O Radix Iesse

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You can find my other commentaries on the Great O Antiphons in my Advent Liturgy archives. O Radix Iesse is one of my favourites because it brings together the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Cross, the Holy Face, and the promise of Christ Himself that, indeed, He is coming soon. It wasn’t easy to choose an image for this reflection. In the end, I decided on Murillo’s Infant Jesus Sleeping on the Cross. What do you think, Terry?

O Root of Jesse (Ac 13:22-23), standing as a sign to the peoples (Is 11:10), before whom kings shall shut their mouths (Is 52:15), and whom the nations shall seek (1 K 10:24; 2 Chr 9:23): Come and deliver us and do not delay (Hab 2:3; Rev 22:20)!

O Root of Jesse

The image of the Root of Jesse comes from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah where he says, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of His root” (Is 11:1). It is the passage that enumerates the gifts of the Holy Spirit; from the Vulgate, the Catholic tradition counts seven gifts. “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). This means that when we cry out, “Come,” to the Root of Jesse who is Christ, we are, in the same prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit who, in His sevenfold gift, comes to us with the Son.

The Tree of the Cross

Isaiah goes on to say in the tenth verse of the same chapter: “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of Him.” The Root of Jesse is given, not only to Israel, but as a signal to the nations, a standard around which all peoples will rally. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus says of himself, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Root of Jesse is already the profile of the Cross: a figure of the glorious standard of the King, the Vexilla Regis of which we sing in the Vespers hymn of September 14th. Today’s O Antiphon opens onto the Paschal Mystery: the Root of Jesse announces that the advent of the Son is ordered to the mission of redemption that He will accomplish on the Tree of the Cross.

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December 20, 2007

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.

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.

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December 21, 2007

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).

O Oriens

Oriens: the word is familiar because every morning the Church sings: “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.

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.”

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December 22, 2007

O Rex Gentium

The connection between today's O Antiphon and the "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization," published on December 3, 2007 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prompted me to illustrate my reflection with pictures of missionary martyrs: Saint Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, Saint Théophane Vénard, and the Franciscan Missionaries of China.

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O Rex Gentium

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 Shall Come

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 here the Vulgate translation used by the liturgy differs from the Hebrew text — 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).

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

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December 23, 2007

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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December 24, 2007

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.

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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).

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About Advent Liturgy

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Vultus Christi in the Advent Liturgy category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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