Pride and Humility. Why did Jesus, God the Son, come into the world at the first Christmas? The primary reason was to conquer sin, including the original sin, by being the perfectly obedient man that Adam and Eve failed to be. At the heart of the original sin of Adam and Eve was the sin of pride—they thought that what they wanted was more important than what God wanted. To “undo” this pride Jesus comes to us in humility. Ultimately this humility is shown most sublimely in His Passion and Death— “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8)—but it was first revealed to us when he was born a tiny humble baby in a cold manger in Bethlehem.
So Advent should be a time of considering how the sin of pride corrupts our lives, and working on developing the virtue of humility. Sadly, pride abounds in all of our lives. During the “holiday/shopping season” we see clear examples of this, e.g. in the mall parking lot (or even in the church parking lot) we get angry with other drivers because we’re so important and they should get out of our way; etc.
I’m confronted by my own pride every day. Last week, for example, at 8am Mass on the feast of St. Andrew, I wasn’t feeling well and my mind was “wandering,” so when I gave my short sermon I mistakenly referred repeatedly to St. Matthew, not St. Andrew. I soon realized what I had done, but instead of humbly accepting my mistake, for the rest of the Mass I allowed myself to be distracted by embarrassment—i.e., pride.
In Advent, as we remember the humility of the Baby Jesus, let us thank the merciful Lord for constantly showing us our weaknesses, faults and sins, and for the many opportunities he gives us to repent and amend our lives.
Liturgical Traditions. Folks who are newer to our parish sometimes ask me why we incorporate so many of the “old traditions” in our liturgies. In particular, they frequently ask me why we use so much Latin and why the priest “turns his back to the people” at the 8:45 Mass.
First of all, almost everything in the Mass is an “old tradition” handed down from our ancient Catholic customs or traditions—from the altar, to the vestments, to the prayers, etc. Of course, about 50 years ago, after “Vatican II” many changes were made in the way Mass was celebrated. Two key changes in most parishes were that 1) the Mass was no longer offered in Latin but in the language of the people, and 2) the priest no longer “turned his back to the people.” But what most Catholics don’t realize is that neither of these changes were required by the Church, they were merely options that most priests chose to follow.
Now, there were good reasons priests made those choices. For example, speaking in English makes the Mass more easily understandable for most people, and “facing the people” allows the people to see what the priest is doing.
But there are also important reasons to keep the older practices. Some of the reasons I have exercised the option to use more Latin in our Masses, include:
–Latin is the official language of the Universal Catholic Church, and symbolically unites us to other Catholics throughout the world today;
–Latin unites us to all the Catholics, including innumerable great saints and so many of our own familial ancestors, who for centuries before us were spiritually fed at the Latin Mass;
–Because Latin is not the language of everyday use, it helps remind us that the Mass is not an everyday event, but rather an eternal mystery defying time and space;
–Vatican II, and Popes St. John XXIII, Bd. Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, all called for a continued use of Latin in the Mass, and Pope Francis continues to use Latin in his Masses.
As regards to the direction the priest faces, first, let’s clarify that the priest is not “turning his back to the people,” but rather he’s turning to face “ad orientem,” or “to the East.” This goes back to the early Christians’ practice of facing East when they prayed, symbolically waiting for the second coming of the Son of God, like the rising of the Sun in the East. Eventually this was incorporated into the Mass of the early Church and became the norm for most of Christian history.
In facing “ad orientem” the priest turns with the people to face toward and pray to God together with them. This symbolizes that the priest is no longer talking to or at the people, as he proclaims the Gospel, but rather now he turns with them and leads them in prayer toward God. All this emphasizes the prayerful nature—the adoration and reverence—of the Mass, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
In contrast to this, when the priest faces the people there is a natural tendency for them to focus on the priest, so that it is not uncommon for the priest to become the focal point for many in the congregation. This leads to an overemphasis on the role and importance of the priest, rather than focusing our full attention on God.
So that the bottom line to the use of “ad orientem” is to help enhance the sense of prayerfulness and focus on God. And isn’t that what we want at Mass?
Homilies on the Website. For the last several years, I’ve been posting the texts of my homilies to our parish website (look under the menu for “Priests”). After numerous requests I have now decided to begin recording my homilies and posting the audio to the website as well. I’m just starting to do this, so it may take a while to work out the technical kinks and routine, but I hope this will be helpful to those who are interested.
As Advent Continues… This Thursday evening, I will continue my Advent Series of talks on “Mary, Through the Eyes of Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI”. My topic this week is, “Mary, Mother in Faith.” Please join us.
Please join us also next Sunday, December 13, at 7pm for Lessons and Carols. This is a great evening for everyone, young and old, children and parents, singles and married. Please see the flyer in this bulletin for more information.
Also, all little children (and their families) are invited to “Breakfast with Santa” next Saturday morning, December 12.
And don’t forget to stop by the “Giving Tree” in the narthex, and help to make Christmas a little merrier for some folks who are having a rough time this year—families of our parish and Our Lady of the Blue Ridge parish in Madison.
Finally, remember we have lots of other things going on in the parish during Advent, including daily confessions (6:15pm Monday-Friday).
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles