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quod pro nobis traditum est

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent, again . . . O King of all the nations . . . come

Christianity is both material and spiritual all year round so I am not of the thinking that Advent somehow drags us down or steals away from the joy of Christmas.

An obvious emphasis of Advent is the Second Coming, the Day of Judgement. This may seem a bit frightening or too abstract or too far away from us but the Scripture readings in Advent always come around to Christ. "The Lord is near" is a comforting message, a sacramental and liturgical message that aids us in the preparation of the way of the Lord. He is preparing us. In Him we are prepared. John the Baptist plays a big role in Advent and although he has some quirks he does nothing less than point us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In short, when we downplay Advent we downplay many Scripture readings that are not heard at other times of the church year.

This brief apology for Advent may or may not address what bothers some about the season but we cannot separate any season or the liturgy from the Gospel and Sacramental realities and joys that they bring. Let the hesitation toward Advent not be that we do not need or desire to be humbled at the coming of the Lord (is it that only the Lord needs to humble Himself for us?) It may also be that the Gloria in Excelsis, which is omitted in Advent, may have greater meaning and expression at the joyous Christmas celebration, much like, but not to the same extent of the Resurrection joy following the somber spirit of Good Friday. Neither celebration omits us from the daily and weekly celebrations throughout the year of the Lord who comes to us and gives us His gifts that we may have life in Him.

One Scriptural emphasis during Advent that is associated with the office of Vespers but that which may be enjoyed by Christians who do not have the opportunity is that of the "O Antiphons." These are the basis of the well known hymn, "Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel." The antiphons are appointed for each day from the 17th through the 23rd day of December:

Dec. 17 - O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

Dec. 18 - O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

Dec. 19 - O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and A On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

Dec. 20 - O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” Isaiah had prophesied, AI will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

Dec. 21 - O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

Dec. 22 - O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4) .

Dec. 23 - O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (7:14). Remember “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.” (description of each antiphon comes from: CERC, Dec. 17, 2008)

Advent again, one last time before the Christ-Mass!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Repeated pursuit

"And because a path is a way trodden down by those that have gone before, and which former men have worn away, the word bids those who depart from the zeal of their predecessors repeatedly pursue it."

- Basil on Luke 3:3-6 (cited by Aquinas, C.A., III, 111)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ember Days in Advent - a quick look

The Ember Days are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday found at four times of the year in connection with the four seasons. At this time of year, nearing Winter, the Ember Days come after the Third Sunday of Advent. These days are also called the "Ember Fasts." Traditionally Ordinations take place during the Ember Days.

An advantage of the practice of daily Mass or Low Mass is that one benefits from the extra Scripture readings that are available on these days, here in connection with Advent and Christmas:

Wednesday: Isaiah 2:2-5, Isaiah 7:10-15, Luke 1:26-38
Friday (today): Isaiah 11:1-5, Luke 1:37-47
Saturday: Isaiah 19:20-22, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Luke 3:1-6
(optional additional lessons: Isaiah 35:1-7, Isaiah 40:9-11, Isaiah 45:1-8,
Daniel 3:47-51, Daniel 3:52-56)

Fasting is the traditional practice on these days. Nowadays, where fasting is not the usual practice, it may be encouraged as an aid according to one's own devotional practice.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Meditation on Holiness

The following meditation for Gaudete (Advent 3) is excerpted from a sermon of 1826 by John Henry Cardinal Newman which was based on Hebrews 12:14 and called "Holiness Necessary for Future Blessedness."

"Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what {5} it is much more like,—a church. For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church. Here we hear solely and entirely of God. We praise Him, worship Him, sing to Him, thank Him, confess to Him, give ourselves up to Him, and ask His blessing. And therefore, a church is like heaven; viz. because both in the one and the other, there is one single sovereign subject—religion—brought before us.

"Supposing, then, instead of it being said that no irreligious man could serve and attend on God in heaven (or see Him, as the text expresses it), we were told that no irreligious man could worship, or spiritually see Him in church; should we not at once perceive the meaning of the doctrine? viz. that, were a man to come hither, who had suffered his mind to grow up in its own way, as nature or chance determined, without any deliberate habitual effort after truth and purity, he would find no real pleasure here, but would soon get weary of the place; because, in this house of God, he would hear only of that one subject which he cared little or nothing about, and nothing at all of those things which excited his hopes and fears, his sympathies and energies. If then a man without religion (supposing it possible) were admitted into heaven, doubtless he would sustain a great disappointment. Before, indeed, he fancied that he could {6} be happy there; but when he arrived there, he would find no discourse but that which he had shunned on earth, no pursuits but those he had disliked or despised, nothing which bound him to aught else in the universe, and made him feel at home, nothing which he could enter into and rest upon. He would perceive himself to be an isolated being, cut away by Supreme Power from those objects which were still entwined around his heart. Nay, he would be in the presence of that Supreme Power, whom he never on earth could bring himself steadily to think upon, and whom now he regarded only as the destroyer of all that was precious and dear to him. Ah! he could not bear the face of the Living God; the Holy God would be no object of joy to him. "Let us alone! What have we to do with thee?" is the sole thought and desire of unclean souls, even while they acknowledge His majesty. None but the holy can look upon the Holy One; without holiness no man can endure to see the Lord."

(HT: The New Liturgical Movement; text from Newman Reader)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Passing on the faith

As you can see I do not post very regularly. There are obvious reasons for that - family, pastoral ministry, part-time teaching, Advent, Christ-mass. Yesterday was a "snow day" as many of us in the midwest experienced. This meant shoveling the wet heavy snow before it froze. (Now we have the frigid temperatures to deal with.)

Of course, the church calendar does not slow down either. The Second Sunday of Advent was also the Feast of St. Nicholas of Bari, Bishop and Confessor. On that day I had the honor to be involved with a house blessing at Deacon Gaba's new apartment and attend a St. Nicholas party there afterward (my first). Monday was the Feast of St. Ambrose, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church. We heard an excerpt from the good doctor on the topic of faith in the daily liturgy (Low Mass) in which he discussed the Holy Trinity and the two natures in Christ, referring to the Christ Child in the cradle.

The church calendar is a blessing in so many ways. First and foremost, it helps direct the prayer life of the Church. Also it helps to teach us Christian history, the great leaders of the faith and their examples for us today. The church calendar is an ongoing means of catechesis. Some favor faith and some favor reason. The church calendar, I think and believe, is one of those places where faith and reason can interact and work together.

Speaking of Christian history here is an interesting article on the general audience of Pope Benedict XVI where he discusses the medieval theologian, Rupert of Deutz and his teaching on the Real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Praiseworthy curiosity

"In this wide and spacious sea so perish those unhappy ones, who, clutching hard at transitory things, lose what is enduring . . . You, therefore, Brethren, to whom as to little children, God reveals what He has hidden from the wise and the prudent, dwell in earnest reflection upon the things that are truly salutary, and diligently seek out the reason of this season of Advent, asking namely: Who is it that is coming; whence He comes and how He comes; to what purpose; when, and where, does He come? Praiseworthy indeed is this curiosity, and most salutary: nor would the universal Church commemorate so devoutly this present time of Advent unless that there was contained within it some deep significance, some sacred mystery." (Toal, I, 21)

- St. Bernard (1090 - 1153)

Friday, December 04, 2009

"Golden-worded"



Peter Chrysologus, (c. 380 - 450)

Peter Chrysologus is not well known but what little is known about him is certainly worthy of remembrance. Although he is given the Greek name "Chrysologus" or "golden-worded" for his homilies he was from Italy. Originally ordained a deacon he eventually became archbishop of Ravenna in about A.D. 433, a position he held until he died.

He was involved in upholding orthodox Christianity. He wrote to Eutyches to submit to Leo, the bishop of Rome. He spoke against Arian and Monophysite teachings which he condemned as heresies.

His homilies are of interest for their content, elegant style, pastoral approach and historical value. He explained a number of topics including the Apostles' Creed, John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the mystery of the Incarnation. He advocated daily reception of Holy Communion and urged confidence in the forgiveness of sins through Christ.

His homilies also provide documentation of the liturgy and culture of his area. Quasten, citing Saenz, writes, "A more complete picture of the course of the liturgical year is not to be found in the works of any other bishop of the time." (Quasten, IV, 576-7)

In the 8th century, Felix preserved 176 of his homilies and in 1729 he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIII. Traditionally, his feast day is today.