This is the first of a series of reflections for Advent, which I aim to post here in the coming weeks:
As she begins again the round of feasts and fasts that decorate her character, the Church today enters once more into the half-light of Advent, groping toward the New Dawn with the voice of the prophets as guide. This season is marked by the twofold coming of Christ: at his nativity and at the end of time; and so these weeks are themselves layered with meaning, pointing toward both the event of the birth of Christ and his coming-again in glory at the culmination of all things. During these days he is very much the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and this is drawn out for us in the very first thing we hear as we come to the altar today.
In the text of the Introit for this Mass, Ad te levavi, the psalmist pleads for the mercy of God, reminding us that ‘all they that look for thee shall not be ashamed’. It is, however, in the chant of the Introit itself that another message is found. Here the notes of the incipit (the opening phrase), although embellished over time, are in fact the same as those we hear whenever the priest sings per omnia sæcula sæculorum—throughout all ages, world without end. We hear in the first notes of the new liturgical year the same notes that we hear each and every time we recall the unending nature of God’s kingdom throughout the year, and so perceive again the dual purpose of our Advent preparation.
Why is this significant? First, as a reminder that the external richness of the liturgy is something that has developed over the centuries and is not a construct of any one era, but rather an organic entity that precedes time itself and will continue for all eternity. The first actions of God are liturgical actions: the creation of the world and of man as means of sharing his infinite love; so also is the eternal worship which we hope to enjoy with the saints with heaven. Thus active participation in the liturgy is just that—immersion into an existing reality, and not an active creativity or manipulation of this great gift to suit our own ends or situation. The sacred liturgy is entrusted to our generation in order that we might enter more deeply and fully into the mystery of Christ’s redeeming love; in order that we might learn what has brought countless others to sanctity, and thus eternal life with Christ in God.
Secondly, as a reminder that the season of Advent emphasises this cosmological meaning; that is it points us beyond the reality of Christ’s birth to the reality of what that birth means. The co-mixture of divinity and humanity, symbolised by the mixing of water and wine at the Offertory, has a profound and irreversible consequence to which we must respond if we wish to enter into the joy of the Master’s house (Mt. 25: 23). We are summoned by Advent, then, to live in the here and now in preparation for the time to come; to exist in the local in order to prepare for the truly universal; to learn about the coming of Christ into our realm in order that we might be made ready to enter into his. As we hear the words of the Introit and begin this new cycle in the life of the Church, let us ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit to open our hearts once more to the Father’s gift of redemption in the gift of his beloved Son, that being sanctified by his presence amongst us we may be made fit to be partakers at the table in his heavenly kingdom.
I am indebted to the insights of Fulvio Rampi in a series of articles which may be found here.