￼Today is the first day of Advent, as we begin to prepare for both the celebration of the first coming of Jesus 2000 years ago at Christmas and His second coming at the end of time. As such, it’s also the beginning of a new liturgical year in the life of the Church.
￼Every Advent is an exciting time to be a Catholic, especially as our focus is directed toward Christmas. We look back on Advents and Christmases past, with their many memories of family, friends, decorations, traditions, and gifts. And we also look forward with hope, especially to celebrating Christmas, and making new cherished memories.
We have to admit, however, that while these memories and hopes have a strong pull on our heart strings, in the grand scheme of things they pale in comparison to the true meaning of the Christmas we prepare for and anticipate with joy. As Christians we believe that the first Christmas, 2000 years ago, radically changed the world, as God became man and dwelt among us. Without His birth, Christ could not reveal the depth of God’s love for us, and there would have been no Cross or resurrection, and the font of grace and the gates of heaven would remained closed to us.
This Advent, then, must be more than a time to buy presents, decorate trees, and spend time with ￼loved ones. All that is fine and good, but our true focus must be preparing to celebrate the Birth of Christ, and to meet Him when He comes again in glory.
This necessarily means Advent must be a time of increased awareness of our sins, and repentance. While the birth of Christ is joyful news, that joy is soured by the reality of our sins: God humbles Himself to become a vulnerable baby in order to save us from sin, how can we come to him without humbly repenting our many sins against Him.
It must also be a time of increased self-giving. And by this I don’t mean merely giving presents, or even giving to the poor—although that cannot be overlooked. God the Son came at the first Christmas to give us Himself. We in turn must give ourselves to Him. This, of course, begins with our avoidance of sin, but it must also manifest itself in our sincere love for others: “as you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.” So Advent must be a time of kindness and patience with everyone we meet—whether friend, stranger, or enemy—seeing each of them as one who Christ loves as much as He loves us. This is often very difficult, but by the grace of Christ we can and must love one another as He has loved us—humbling ourselves before each other as He humbled Himself in the manger.
And above all, Advent must also be time of increased prayer: St. John reminds us that ￼“The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Jesus came to speak to us—and to listen to us. Do we talk to Him, do we listen to Him? That is what prayer is—conversation with God. What will you do in this regard in the next few weeks? Will you come to Mass, confession, or Eucharistic Adoration more frequently? Will you pray the Rosary or read Scripture or holy books more often, perhaps as a family?
All this—repentance, self-giving love, and prayer—are essential to having a truly Catholic Advent. And all of these find their ultimate perfect expression in Holy Mass. Because the Mass is the framework, if you will, that holds in place and time the miraculous and eternal event of the actual life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, made present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Here Christ becomes truly, really and bodily present: the Word becomes flesh, and dwells among us. Is this not the mystery of Christmas?
Here we repent our sins (“I confess…that I have sinned….” “Lamb of God …have mercy on us”). ￼Here we talk to Him and praise him, and listen to Him; we shower him with adoration as He showers us with grace. Here we give ourselves to Him and, through Him, to His Father. And He gives Himself to us in Holy Communion, where we receive the grace to give His love and our love to others.
￼How fitting that on this first day of Advent, the beginning of new liturgical year, we introduce a new Translation of the Mass. I know that many of us will struggle with this translation. But perhaps some of this struggle will come from focusing on memories of the past that have to do more with our ￼￼￼personal comfort than with our true worship of Christ—not unlike the way our attention in Advent is too often focused on traditions that make us feel good, here and now, and not on truly striving to draw closer to Christ. We have been “saying” Mass a certain way, and we’re comfortable with it. But now the Church offers us something objectively better: the same prayers we’re used to, but now in a more accurate translation that will correspond more closely to the prayers said in different languages by 100s of millions of Catholics throughout the world. And more than that, a new translation that reveals a richer meaning and clearer awareness of the mystery we celebrate.
St. Paul tells us: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, …; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” I’m sure all of our families have enduring Christmas traditions that have matured over the years: a child wants his parents to give him lots of toys for Christmas, an adult is happy just to be with his parents at Christmas. Traditions stay, but they can still evolve, becoming better, richer, and more meaningful.
￼Today, the Church gives us an early Christmas gift: the same cherished tradition, with new richer texts. Let’s not cling to the past just because it makes us comfortable, but let us accept this “new” and wonderful gift, trusting that it will bring us a new appreciation of the Mass we have so long cherished. And in this Advent season may these changes remind us of our constant need to focus less on what makes us feel good for a little while, and focus more on the mystery of Christ’s everlasting love.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles