Since about September this year, at the start of the Sung Mass on Sundays here at Holy Family we have replaced the opening hymn with a chant that changes each week. If you come to Mass on a weekday you will hear, even before the Priest says “In the Name of the Father,” a similar short text very often taken from the psalms or some other part of scripture. This text, whether sung or said, very often presents the ‘theme’ of the Mass. For instance at a Mass for the Dead we sing, “Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.” And on Christmas Day, “Today Christ is born, today the Saviour has appeared.” The text is called the Entrance Antiphon or Introit, because it is supposed to be sung as the Sacred Ministers enter the church for the start of the Mass.
This homily was given at a Mass preceding the final act in the 33 Day Consecration of Saint Louis Grignon de Montfort, on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the life of the Church there are many things which go by different names. We talk about the Sacrament of Penance, or Reconciliation, or Confession. And in a similar way there are times when we describe different things with the same word. We know, for instance, that the blessing invoked by us over our breakfast cereal is different from that given by the Priest at the end of the Mass.
During the season of Advent we fix our minds on the two “comings” of Christ. First, and most obviously His coming amongst us as the Word made Flesh in His Nativity. Even the world outside the Church acknowledges this. Despite its best efforts to sanitise Christmas and to denude it of its essential message, even the world sees that there is something that speaks to the heart of what it means to be a human being in that little baby in a stable stall. So, first of all, Advent is about our journey toward Christ in His first coming at Bethlehem in Judaea. Secondly, and perhaps less popularly, the season of Advent looks towards the coming of Christ again at the end of time. This is far less comforting (for believers and non-believers alike) but Christians profess: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” And so He will; Christ will return and will expose the hidden places of our hearts, to judge us and all of mankind according to our deeds. He will come to sort the sheep from the goats (Mt 25:32).
At the back of our church is a very large and very striking stained glass window. It is often the first thing that visitors remark upon when they come through the door, but it is also something that many of us perhaps take for granted. The window is a rich tapestry of light and of colour, but much more than that it is a tapestry of theological truth. Through its forms and design the glass depicts for us a theme that is essential not just to the Christian life, but the entire human experience. This is of course the story of our creation, the covenants between God and Man, and the salvation offered us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in His passion, death, and resurrection.
Today the Church begins a new liturgical year with the start of the season of Advent. The First Sunday of Advent is of course not just the Church’s “New Year’s Day” but the opening of our preparations for the celebration of the Nativity, the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ according the flesh, when God comes to make His home with us at Christmas. As we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, in this season we also recall that, as we affirm in the words of the Creed, “[Christ] will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Just as we look forward to His first coming in the manger at Bethlehem, so also our minds are also fixed on His second coming at the end of time “to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history” (CCC 680). It is for this reason that the gospel for this first Sunday of the season of Advent presents to us those alarming words of the Lord to His disciples from the Gospel according to Saint Mark: “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33).
The feast of Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church, the day on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit and the infusion by that same Spirit of the apostles, thereby continuing the mission of Christ in the world. Last Sunday as we celebrated the feast of the ascension of the Lord we heard Christ promise: “I am with you always.” This Sunday, in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and the supernatural foundation of the Church at Pentecost, we see that promise fulfilled in the first moments of the Church’s life. Jesus stays with us, teaching, governing, and sanctifying us by his ongoing presence in the Church.
C. S. Lewis, who is perhaps best known for his Chronicles of Narnia, was also a profound Christian thinker. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia aware of Lewis’ faith transforms those well-loved children’s stories into a rich narrative of the Christian life. Lewis was a practicing Anglican who, amidst the vast range of theological opinions amongst Anglicans, held views of the sacraments and the Church with which Catholics can (on the whole) be quite comfortable.
The month of May, dedicated as it is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, presents us with an opportunity to reflect upon the readiness of Our Lady to say yes to God. In the annunciation of the Lord’s will by the message of an angel, the young Mary freely and completely gave herself to God. This act we call her fiat, taken from the Latin phrase of scripture: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum; let it be done unto me according to thy word (Lk. 1:38). Mary’s yes to the Lord made possible the great act of the incarnation—the coming amongst us of the Word made Flesh; the person of Jesus Christ. Mary’s selfless act of obedience undid the selfish act of disobedience of Eve, and it is for this reason that the Fathers of the Church often call Mary the new or second Eve.
At the heart of the great Easter Vigil, celebrated last Saturday evening, is the Blessing of the Font and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises. So important is this ritual that in this country the bishops have mandated that the Renewal of Baptismal Promises is to be repeated on Easter Sunday morning in order that those who did not attend the Easter Vigil do not miss out. As an extension of this every Sunday during the Easter Season we will begin the Sung Mass with the Rite for the Blessing and Sprinkling of Water in place of the usual Penitential Act. As we are showered with the water blessed by the Priest we recall the graces showered on us in our washing from sin in the waters of the font, and rejoice that through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, which we have just celebrated in Holy Week, we are restored to paradise and to life in God.
For forty days and nights we have journeyed through the desert of the Season of Lent. Tonight we have reached our Promised Land. In the splendour and joy of this holy night the Church is incapable of restraint any longer, crying out Alleluia over and over again as she rejoices in the salvation brought to us by Christ her Lord. We, the Christian faithful united to Christ through a covenant sealed in his Precious Blood, are filled with that joy as we rejoice with the saints of every age and generation that Christ has saved us from ourselves. In him death is put to death; sin is itself crucified; we are freed from the slavery of our former lives and given eternal life by Christ in the kingdom of his beloved Father.