advent week i – wednesday
Silence and Listening
Advent Week I – tuesday
The Sacred Act – How He Trusts Us!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus praises the Father:
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
And this is the crux of Fr. Guardini’s meditation on the nature of our sacred act. Throughout natural history, man has responded to God action in the world. In salvation history, more specifically, God takes initiative and invites man to build an altar of sacrifice after encountering him. God has, throughout time, invited us to partake in covenants responding to him. With the coming of Christ though, something changes. The covenant tools he gives us, the sacraments, aren’t bound to a calendar date, but only to doing what we do in memory of him. Jesus has given man the capacity to initiate a sacred act… He has made us, in the words of St. Paul, “stewards of the mysteries of God.” (I Cor 4).
Whether our role in these mysteries is as part of the ordained priesthood of the clergy or the royal priesthood of the faithful, what an awesome responsibility we have to engage in sacred actions well. To use the words of the Second Vatican Council, we are called to engage in “full, active and conscious participation.” (“participatio actuoso”). Now this does not mean being overly raucous or effusive in worship, but rather taking it seriously… engaging with our full selves, SEVEN DAYS-A-WEEK… since – after all – our sacred acts are not specifically bound by time any more…
Do I give worship my all? Do I pray conscientiously, meditatively at home using Scripture and the lives of the saints to guide me? Do I confess regularly to prepare myself for mass? Do I attend mass fully engaged from my dress to my decorum to my attentive prayer and offering of the week’s work to the Lord? Good questions as we engage in sacred action and renew our worship this Advent.
Advent Week I – Monday
Expectation as a starting point for renewing worship
Do I expect the Lord. As Father Romano Guardini – a wonderful forerunner of the Second Vatican Council – points out in his excellent book Meditations Before Mass, expectation is a key component of worship. Certainly, today’s Advent Scriptures bear this out (Is 2:1-5). How often we hear Isaiah’s words, “In days to come…” or, “On that day…”. Throughout Advent, the prophets expect the coming of Jesus in time at Bethlehem. We expect him in our prayer life, and in the sacraments. BUT… do we look forward to and expect him at the end of our lives… at the end of time? Jesus tells us the fullness of the Kingdom is coming… and that the Son of Man will return on that day, but do we really expect that? The rapid fire Christian response is, “of course we do.” But our lives don’t always bear this out.
The first generation of Christians believed that Jesus would return in person, in their own lifetimes. St. Paul’s letters testify to this imminent sense of expectation. As time went on, our ancestors settled in for a longer haul. Still, a deep sense of Jesus’ personal concern for us, and hope that he would be part of our future, deeply marked the experience of the early Church. This sense was very much in display at the time of the Roman persecutions. Only people who fully expect to see the Lord on the other side of death can readily walk into the arena and face the lions with hymns of praise. Expectation was at the foundation of the Christian emotional experience when our ancestors worshipped.
As Fr. Guardini points out however, a subtle shift happened when Christianity became not only legal, but the official religion of the Empire after Constantine. Suddenly, there was security… and the desperate need to look for Christ, the yearning to see him at the end of our lives and the end of time… it all began to cool. To co-opt a contemporary ministry slogan: worship became a mater of daily maintenance instead of daily mission. Going to mass became simply “what we do,” instead of a matter of life and death on which all hope rides.
It’s a worthwhile question to explore: Do I expect Jesus… in my life? after my death? at the end of all time? Looking to and renewing our worship this Advent can be a great way to check-in on this question, and begin to address is for the future.
Consider these words, the verses of the ancient Latin hymn for Monday Morning Prayer during Advent:
Hark, a herald voice is calling;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”
Startled at the solemn warning,
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
Lo, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heaven;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiven.
So when next he comes with glory,
Wrapping all the earth in fear,
May he then as our defender
On the clouds of heaven appear.
Honour, glory, virtue, merit,
To the Father and the Son,
With the co-eternal Spirit,
While eternal ages run.