Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Preparing for Advent

Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep. Rom 13:11

The kingdom of God is at hand . Luke 21:31

The following is an Advent sermon based upon Rom 13:11-14 and Luke 21:25-33, with a thumbnail sketch of the Church’s liturgical year. (Please note that this sermon was preached in 1917 and reflects the liturgy/liturgical year of that time.)

Soon we will be beginning a new ecclesiastical year. As you are aware, the Church calender is different in many respects for that of the state. The latter extends from the beginning of January to the end of December-a purely mechanical arrangement. But, as in everything she does, the Church has a deep and beautiful meaning in her own system. In her calender we see the whole life of our blessed saviour. All her feasts and fasts are arranged in such a way that they represent in graphic form the history of mankind-the fall of Adam, the promise of a redeemer and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, together with the principle events in the life, sufferings, and death of our Divine Master.

With this idea in view she begins her year with the season of Advent (which means “coming”) , four weeks before Christmas. This period represents the thousands of years which intervened between the promise of the Redeemer, made to our first parents after their fall,and the actual coming of our Lord at Christmas. During that long period all the holy patriarchs and prophets, and even the heathen world, longed and prayed for the coming of the Just One and ardently desired to see the Blessed Day.

  • Then comes Christmas, that season of joy, peace, and good will, which speaks so eloquently of the love and goodness of God towards men.

  • Immediately after comes the Epiphany (which means “manifestation”), during which we commemorate the coming of Our Saviour to the Gentiles, represented by the three Magi, or wise kings, who, led by the star of Bethlehem, came from the East to adore Him and present their offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  • The holy season of Lent is designed to prepare us for great feast of Easter. This season begins on Ash Wednesday; and, as it is a time not only of fasting and prayer but also of serious and solemn thought and self-examination, the Church begins early to remind us of the spirit in which we should enter upon it by putting on her penitential garb three weeks before, that is on Septuagesima Sunday-seventy days before Easter.
  • The next great feast in the Church’s calender is Easter Sunday, on which is celebrated Our Lords glorious resurrection from the dead and His triumphant victory over death and hell. But our holy mother the Church does not allow us to forget that Christ entered into his glory only after suffering and death. “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and so enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26). And so she prepares us for the proper celebration of that grand festival by making us imitate, as far as we can, Christ’s won preparation for it. He began his public life by fasting for forty days in the desert.
  • Having, then, by the worthy reception of the sacraments at Easter, risen to a new life with Christ, we celebrate with special fervor the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (fifty days after Easter).
On that and on the following Sundays the Church continues to teach the many lessons which the Holy Spirit of Truth impressed upon the minds of the apostles. One of the principle ways in which she accomplishes this is by presenting for our serious reflection each Sunday and feast day two specially selected extracts from the Holy Scriptures. The first of these is called the “epistle” because it is generally taken from the epistles, or letters, of St Paul or some other apostle who wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the different churches of the first Christians.

Extracts from these letters were usually read in public by the early Christians before the celebration of the Divine Mysteries, after the custom of the Jews, who always began the Sabbath service in the synagogues by reading of extracts from Moses and the Prophets. The second portion is taken from one or other of the accounts of the Life of Our Lord as written by the evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and hence called Gospel, or Good News.

The present arrangement of the Epistles and Gospels was made by St Jerome, at the command of Pope Damasus, in the fourth century (Jerome did arrange the lectionary, but it underwent numerous changes down through the centuries. To speak of him as the arranger of the lectionary in use in 1917 is therefore incorrect).

It is formed on a fixed and definite plan and has a definite spiritual significance, provision being made for each season, feast, and fast of the year by the presentation of appropriate passages from Holy Scripture, “in the selection and collocation of which,” according to even non-Catholic writers, “a richness of variety and an exquisite delicacy of religious and aesthetic instinct has been strikingly shown.”

This applies not merely to the individual extracts, as appropriate to each feast and season, but also to the beautiful sequence of their teaching, the whole collection forming together a consecutive series, each Epistle and Gospel being closely connected not only with each other but with those that precede and follow, in their order.

  • The Epistle is read before the Gospel, as well to follow the ancient custom as to commemorate the practice of Our Lord Himself, who was accustomed to send some of His disciples before Him to those places He was about to visit.
  • It always contains some important lesson appropriate to the season of the year, the event or feast celebrated, or all taken together.
  • This lesson is announced by the Sacred Writer, as it were, in theory, and is followed by its confirmation in practice by some account in the Gospel of a work or miracle of the Master Himself, and sometimes by His very own words.
  • These selections follow in consecutive order the various seasons, feasts, and fasts of the ecclesiastical year, each with its own special warning, pleading, encouragement, or exhortation, the one bearing out and complimenting the other; all combining to fill our hearts and minds with the teaching and spirit of the Master’s Word.

We should, therefore, make a careful study of each holy extract every Sunday and feast day, listening with attention and devotion to the explanation given by the priest; for though St Paul says, “what things soever were written, were written for our learning: that through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom 15:4); and though, according to the same great apostle, “all Scripture inspired of God is profitable" (2 Tim 3:16), yet we must remember that according to the Holy Scripture itself there are contained therein “certain things hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable wrest…to their own destruction” (2 Pet 3:16).

It is not enough, then, to read them or hear them read. We must, as far as we can, seek an intelligent appreciation of their meaning. How familiar to every good Catholic ought to be the many precious lessons contained in the Epistles and Gospels in their prayer-book, and yet how little good they have derived from them, and how little they know about them, although they have been reading them all their lives!

Let us, therefore, on the first Sunday of Advent, begin the New Year with a sincere desire to enter into the spirit of Holy Church, saying with the Prophet: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15).

It is to this resolve that she exhorts us in the Epsitle and Gospel of today. She tells us in the Gospel, in the very words of our Divine Master Himself, of the terrors of the Last Day, when “there will be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations by reason of the confusion of the raoring sea and of the waves, men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole earth.”

And she reminds us of the General Judgment which follows, when we “shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty,” to judge the living and the dead, for she is convinced of the value of that salutary advice of Holy Scripture: “In all thy works remember thy last end and thou shall never sin” (Eccl 7:40).

“That day of wrath, that dreadful day” (Zeph 1:15) may now seem to us to be far distant; but not so, for it is at hand for each of us. “The Kingdom of God is at hand” and “our generation shall not pass until all these things be done,” “till all things be fulfilled.” Nay, it is “near, even at the door’ (Mt 24:33), for, as far as we are concerned, our fate on that dreadful day will be decided by our actions now. “As a man lives so shall he die,” and “in what place soever a tree shall fall, there it shall be” (Eccl 9:3). And we shall die much sooner than we expect, for Christ has warned us that “the day of the Lord shall so come, as a thief in the night" (1 Thess 5:2), and according to St Peter, “one day with the Lord is a thousand years, and a thousand year as one day” (2 Pet 3:8), who concludes by asking: “What manner of people, then, ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?” (3:11)

The answer is clearly given in every word of the Epistle of the first Sunday of Advent, which we should well weigh and consider: “It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep,” it says. We have indeed been asleep in the past, unmindful of all that concerns us. Let us now awake, for “the night is past, the day is at hand.”

Instead of waiting for that terrible day, when the “trumpet shall sound and the dead rise again” (1 Cor 15:52), and the voice of the Angel shall be heard crying out that awful summons, “Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment,” let the voice of Holy Church ring in our ears and awake us to the true sense of our position: “Rise, you who sleep, rise from the dead: and Christ shall enlighten you” (Eph 5:14).

Let us enter into her spirit and strive to be animated with her sentiments. We are to prepare during Advent for he coming of Our Lord at Christmas. The prophets of old longed for His coming. Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the crowds rain the Just; let the earth be opened and bud forth a saviour’ (Is 45:8). But the privilege was denied to them. We are more fortunate than they, for, like holy Simeon, “our eyes have seen His salvation” (Lk 2:30). We serve Him with love. He has called us to be children of His Kingdom, members of His Holy Church, having “made us worthy to be partakes of the lot of the saints in light,” and “has delivered us from the power of darkness and has transferred us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col 1:12-13).

Let us, then, “cast of the works of darkness” of our sinful habits and “put on the armor of light” of true repentance and bright virtue, so that instead of being afraid to meet the Just Judge amid the awful surroundings of the Last Day, we can joyfully look forward to meeting Him as Our Saviour at Christmas, as gentle, kind, and loving as the Divine Infant in the stable at Bethlehem.

(From THE MASTER’S WORD IN THE EPISTLES AND GOSPELS by Father Thomas Flynn)

sources: The Divine Lamp

Storybook of Saints & Animals, by OU student Brianne L.Webb

Blog Widget by LinkWithin