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).
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).
It is always a very great pleasure for me to come to this parish and to visit a place that has such a wonderful and rich liturgical life. Your Pastor has helped to create for you here a place in which we can truly experience what a mediæval English carol called “heaven and earth in little space.” In the beauty and reverence of the Sacred Liturgy we come into the realm of the natural and peer into the realm of the supernatural. We catch a glimpse of the reality of heaven through the signs and symbols of the liturgical celebration on earth, and so understand more and more what it is to be members of the mystical Body of Christ, joined as we are in our worship to the worship of the saints in the kingdom of heaven. We experience in the “little space” of our church building the worship of heaven here on earth.
As we come to the end the great swathes of green Sundays of the Year, over the course of the past few weeks the Church has begun to hint at the arrival of a new liturgical season. Next Sunday she will celebrate the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, and the following Sunday she will be clothed in violet as she begins that majestic season of Advent; the time when those who are one with Christ in baptism celebrate his threefold coming. As Saint Bernard says: “In the first coming he comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, he comes in spirit and in power; in the third, he comes in glory and in majesty.”
As we have already mentioned, the winter Ember Days having moved from their traditional position in the third week of Advent, Divine Worship: The Missal makes available certain Mass formularies proper to the weekdays from 17 to 24 December. In this article we will consider how these days are commemorated in Divine Worship and what we might gain from their inclusion in the liturgical life of the personal ordinariates.
In five days’ time the Church will once again take up the joy and festivity that is characteristic of her annual celebration of the Lord’s first coming in his nativity. After four weeks of intense spiritual preparation, we will have the chance to recognize the advent of our Messiah—Christ, the true God and true Man—and to keep festival with our brothers and sisters across the world, and indeed throughout the ages, as we mark once more that birth which is at once like any other, and yet unlike any other at all. At the threshold of so great a feast, the Church pauses one last time to catch her breath that, arriving at the manger, our hearts may be truly ready to offer the worship and adoration that is due our incarnate God, who humbled himself to share in our humanity. As she comes to rest on this fourth Sunday of our Advent journey, the Church’s liturgical texts present us with the person of Our Blessed Lady, she who embodies—in a most literal way—the journey to the nativity of the Lord; she who did not simply prepare for this moment by the nine months of her pregnancy, but was prepared before time for this noble task, by God himself. As the seventeenth-century divine, Thomas Ken, put it: “The Holy Ghost His temple in her built, / Cleansed from congenial, kept from mortal guilt; /And from the moment that her blood was fired, / Into her heart Celestial Love inspired.”
Raise up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us: that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sorely hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
As we come to the threshold of the Lord’s nativity, the strains of the Advent Prose may be heard to echo in the collect given to us by the Church for this day. Indeed, that very text is found in the Introit at the Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and bring forth a Saviour.” And we are put in mind also of another text: “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence” (Is. 64: 1).
Nestled between the feast of the virgin-martyr Saint Lucy and the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church sets aside three days for a particularly acute preparation for the coming feast of the Lord’s nativity. These Ember Days, known in Latin as the Quatuor Tempora, are found (as that name suggests) at four times of the year, fixed not to the liturgical cycle but the seasons. By these Almighty God, whom we recall in this season of Advent as Alpha es et O, the Lord of all things, sanctifies mankind as by his incarnation: blessing with his divine and supernatural presence the human and natural realm in which we live.