Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

A prefatory note: One may rightly wonder, why now? After six years of a new corrected translation of the Roman Missal isn’t a post like this beating a dead horse? Life just isn’t that simple. Sometimes you realize how wonderful a thing is and it brings you joy; sometimes you realize how much the negligent absence of that thing influenced you and your joy has been mixed with a good dose of pissed. The fact is that the old people of the Church robbed my generation and the succeeding one of much, then in pastoral solicitude scratch their heads at our wanting what was kept from us while telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about and diagnosing us with some sort of neurosis. Bitter? It’s obvious I am, but also hopeful and grateful. So let’s dig in to the season of Advent, its prayers, the translation of those prayers, the effect of translations, and the gratitude that wells in my heart (for it truly does) that we now have this translation, which for all its imperfections is unarguably better than the one of… old? 

Advent night

There’s something about Advent. I am only just realizing this year that it may be my favorite liturgical season. It has such a different feel after the many months of Ordinary Time; the change is striking and immediate. The prayers, the antiphons, and petitions have a different sensation to them. I am convinced that the 2011 ICEL has had a significant impact on coming to this realization for me. The prayers of Advent – now correctly translated – have a richness lost in the 1973 ICEL. For instance, the Collect for the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the previous translation reads:

God of power and mercy,
open our hearts in welcome.
Remove the things that hinder us
from receiving Christ with joy,
so that we may share his wisdom
and become one with him
when he comes in glory,…

The translation we currently have (2011 ICEL) which is a more accurate translation of both the letter and spirit of the Latin reads:

Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company.

The words “set out in haste to meet your Son” first caught my attention. They continue the petition found in the Collect for the 1st Sunday of Advent which asks God to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.” There is a strong persistent impulse in Advent of going forth to meet our Lord, the Love of our heart. In this season we say with the prophet Elijah, “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts.” We are awaiting the advent of the Lord, but we need not wait until He comes again to meet Him. We can meet Him today, now; we can make haste running forth to meet Him. This is not passive, but virile.

Zeal for the Lord does not consist only in running forth to meet Him, but also of what we meet Him with: “righteous deeds” as the Collect for the 1st Sunday of Advent tells us (again, 2011 ICEL). In this past Sunday’s Collect this is expressed through a contrast of undertakings, and this was the second aspect of the prayer that caught my attention. We pray that “no earthly undertaking hinder” us. An earthly undertaking is not necessarily bad. There are a great many earthly undertakings that are important, urgent, beneficial, and done for the glory of God. However, they must be properly ordered. What Martha was doing was important, but Mary chose the better part. During this time of year preparation for Christmas means gift buying, decoration buying, decorating, guests coming over, traveling, larger gatherings with more mouths to feed, in short, a long list of things that put financial strain on most people and add stress to an even greater number of people. In such a condition are we really making haste to meet God’s Son? For my own part, this season also marks the end of the semester and a mountain of grading. Does this valuable earthly undertaking pull me away from running to meet our Lord? Today I ask God in this Collect that the duties of my job may be properly ordered and not be a hinderance to my meeting Jesus Christ.

To rightly order our earthly undertakings and for them not to become a hindrance requires zeal. Our zealousness provides the drive and stamina to turn to the Lord and keep our gaze fixed on Him. This brings us to the second undertaking: “our learning of heavenly wisdom.” It is this undertaking which “gain[s] us admittance to His company,” an undertaking by which we may become His co-heirs. The learning of heavenly wisdom requires first and foremost dedicated prayer, both liturgical and personal. It requires detachment from the world and attachment to divine things. This prayer draws our attention to the necessity of ascesis. (Church Life Journal has a magnificent article on Advent being a time of asceticism and another good article on the positive meaning of asceticism).

All of this comes from the 2011 ICEL. Does the former 1973 ICEL do this? There is no learning of heavenly wisdom. Rather we “share his wisdom.” The difference is subtle, but important. Today we learn so that we may be admitted into His company. The learning is anticipatory to final communion. In the former translation, His wisdom was shared with us a result of that communion “when he comes in glory.” Look at the way the sentences are structured in the two above prayers. The second is clearly preparatory while the first is promise. The former translation also limits our awareness of what hinders us. In the current translation we ask that our earthly undertakings, our earthly work may not hinder us. But in the former, we ask God to “remove the things that hinder us.” This gives a decidedly negative understanding. We ask God to remove our sins, to “lead us not into temptation,” and to remove obstacles. We do not ask Him to remove our earthly undertakings. If you’re asking for that, find a new job! Or a new life for that matter, an earthly undertaking can be maintenance on the house, responsibilities to your spouse and children, school, and other such things. The positive meaning of our various works and the true orientation of all things in life is lost in the 1973 ICEL.

More problematic and that for which I am sore is the lack of a sense of imperative toward the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The prayer of the Church directly affects our understanding of the mysteries of our faith and our response. Advent comes from Latin for “a coming, approach, arrival”. Yes, Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas, the first arrival of our Lord, but the thrust of the season is preparation for His Second Coming.  We do not merely wait for Him though! If you go by the 1973 translations you may very well thing that is what we do. Do good and wait for Him to come. But no, this is not what the Church says to us. She says that we must “resolve to run forth to meet” Him (1st Sunday, 2011 ICEL), not just give an “eager welcome” (1st Sunday, 1973 ICEL). She says we must “set out in haste to meet” our Lord at His coming (2nd Sunday, 2011 ICEL), not merely receive (2nd Sunday, 1973 ICEL, see above). There is an urgency here. We want Him to return. Most people are terrified of the prospect of His returning or give it no mind at all. But Christians should want Him to come, and it should not be a coming that they fear if they “run forth… with righteous deeds,” are not hindered by “earthly undertakings”, and pursue “learning of heavenly wisdom.” I only fear the coming of the One I love if I have not been faithful to Him.

I was raised, “catechized”, formed, studied theology, and began teaching the faith with the 1973 ICEL. My attitude about the Second Coming? Don’t think about it; don’t give it any mind. It’s impossible to know when He will come again so don’t give any thought to it. If we seek Him, live in Him, etc. then we have nothing to worry about when He comes. Live your day for today. It sounds like good advice except that is is not consistent with what the Church exhorts us to. Do not merely live for today and be ready when He arrives. No, live for His arrival anticipated this day. Each day we should run forth to Him, each day we should make haste, and each day we should do so with righteous deeds – the multiplication of our fruits and talents. The first attitude is passive, does not give much thought to our Lord, and is even a little works-centered in that everything is cool as long as I’m doing good. What the Church exhorts us to in the Collects of Advent (current translation) is not passive, very much orients our minds to Jesus Christ, and puts our righteous works in proper order.

Starry night

The picture above reminds me of mystery. There is so much I do not know, so much that is impossible for me to know, to experience, to delight in. God the Creator knows them all and delights in it all. From Him comes the mystery of creation and from Him comes the greater mystery of redemption. The Creator, Redeemer, God Incomprehensible and Ineffable is the One who comes to us, the great Lover coming to His beloved. What wonder and magnificence is in this. It is only in Him that I can know and delight in all that my heart desires and more. Why would I simply make sure my house is in order and wait to receive Him (however joyous and eager that reception may be) when He comes again? Thank you, Lord God, for these prayers which express and embolden my heart , and direct my mind to You and Your coming.


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For the first Sunday of Advent, we hear in the Collect: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming…” Often when one thinks of Advent and our preparation for Christ’s coming, they think of His coming 2,000 years ago. Many know that in Advent we are also preparing for His second coming. There is also a third coming: His present coming. Jesus Christ with the Father and Holy Spirit is ever-present. His coming to us is not just an event of the past nor one to which we look ahead, but one that is always present. His coming in the past enables us now to welcome Him in His present coming, and His present coming prepares us and leads us along the way to His final coming.

This collect calls us to run forth to meet Christ. We run to His second coming, but we do so by running to His present coming. We cannot come with empty hands. Indeed, it is not possible to run to Him with empty hands. There is a requirement here, a condition: we must run to Him with our hands full of righteous deeds. What are these righteous deeds? The context of Jesus’s second coming calls to mind Matt 25 where we hear of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, etc. However, before running to Him with these righteous deeds there are other righteous deeds with which we must run. Those first called to mind are for our neighbor. However, to truly render those deeds righteous we must exercise righteous deeds to God; this is the virtue of religion. The actions of religion are not enough in themselves. The Psalmist reminds us that God desires a contrite heart. This requires that we exercise righteous deeds toward ourselves.

Before continuing, a few clarifications must be made. First, these three groups of righteous deeds are not mutually exclusive. Life requires that all three are exercised as one rather than as a neat step-by-step progression. Where one is in the spiritual life, though, will determine where the emphasis lies. Second, it is God above all else who is loved in all three. Love for God is obvious, but our love for neighbor is rooted in our love for Him in them, and a proper love of ourselves is rooted in love for Him in us. Third, the working of these righteous deeds is only possible by and in God’s grace. Without a desire for Him and an opening of ourselves to Him, we can do nothing.

Where do we start? With ourselves. What might a righteous deed toward ourselves look like? Purification. Every saint, every spiritual doctor of the Church is unanimous on this. The first stage of the spiritual path is purification. Without it, we cannot enter into true intimacy with the Holy One, the Lover. There are certain practices that are universal in this, namely, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The path of purification, though, is not limited to these three. Not only are there myriad ways and degrees to practice each of these, there are also many other practices one will need to include. Each person is different and each person walks the path of purification differently. For myself, I am an incredibly physical person and I glory in the senses. I am also very intellectual and when I attempt to make progress in the spiritual life it is always greatly characterized by intellection. What I have come to realize is that until I address the physical I will have no progress. The problem is I am terrible at fasting (no surprise, considering how physical/sensual I am). My own first little step into mortification of the flesh is weight training. The immediate goal is for my muscles to hurt. It is my hope that beginning with this little step I will progressively make greater strides in the path of purification.

Having been made ready through purification and died to the world, we are able to render truly righteous deeds to the Lord and enter into intimacy with Him. These deeds are all those that entail the giving of our hearts in devotion to Him. This person runs to God in prayer; it is a search. The person, who is now free of the world, seeks God with urgency. He becomes their sole focus, the Lover of their hearts without whom they cannot rest or have satisfaction. When they come to Him it is only then that they stop and their soul is content.

The person who has rendered righteous deeds to themselves and to God is now capable of rendering them to neighbor. Just as Peter, James, and John had to descend Mt. Tabor, so too must the person who has found rest in God. We descend Mt. Tabor in order to ascend Mt. Calvary. Finding rest and love’s fulfillment, we are prompted by love to hear and answer the cry of those in need. We do not do this alone. When Peter, James, and John descended the mountain, they were led and descended with Jesus Christ. We also are led by Jesus and accompany Him in giving of ourselves to all others.

Almighty God, may we run to Your Christ this Advent and always with hands full of righteous deeds given to ourselves, to You, and to our neighbors. In all things, by Your grace, may we ever live what St. Patrick prayed: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me. Amen.


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