Nov 26, 2011

Advent: a season for you and for many

A season of expectant delight

The Word for the First Sunday:

“And, so it begins.” That may sound like an intriguing line for the beginning of a novel or a mystery story. Yet, it may also be an opener for this new liturgical year that is once again upon us. What “begins” for us is our yearly journey through the rich season of Advent. That time in which we prepare to remember the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the mystery of the incarnation fulfilled, so may centuries ago. Many voices will speak to us over the next four weeks: the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. Then, Mary the Mother of our Lord, for these were the principle players in the grand plan God initiated for humanity: our Salvation. It is ultimately his own Son we long for who was and for ever will be the sign of divine charity among us.

The new Roman Missal we will now be praying from in our Eucharistic liturgies describes this season as one of: “expectant delight” as we “run forth to meet” Christ in our midst.

If you happen to be a Catholic who has not heard of the new Roman Missal and the new English translation by now, I may venture to say, “Welcome back to planet earth!” It has been the talk of the Church for this past year and I sense we are ready to move forward. If it has been awhile, there may be no better time than now to return to the Church and the sacraments. Let something new begin in your faith life.

The Advent season is one markedly different from Lent as it is not particularly penitential. “Expectant delight” does not sound very penitential to me. That emotion is one a mother may feel as she anticipates the birth of her child. As the People of God we await the remembrance of a child who was born for us – a savior for all.

That expectancy holds even greater weight as we begin a new choice of liturgical color for Advent in lieu of violet (Roman purple), a new tone in language as we introduce in its fullness the new English translation, and a new opportunity to speak words that are both ancient yet living for us in the Scriptures and now in the prayers of the Mass itself.

We also look forward to Christ's return. As we hear in the Gospel for this 1st Advent Sunday: “”Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning . . . I say to all: “'Watch!'”

While there is this future sense, we all must pay attention to see the Lord in our midst in this moment in which we now live. Our new translation of the Mass is like that urgent call of Isaiah and of Jesus. One might say it is a season for many.

Among the many new expressions of the Mass in our new translation will be that spoken by the priest in the words of Consecration (Institution) over the chalice of wine on the altar. A change that could be missed not by the priest but by the congregation if distracted. It may be significant enough to surely bring some raised eyebrows so all must, “watch.”

The words of Consecration, the words of Jesus himself we read in both the Gospel of Matthew 26: 27-28 and Mark 14: 24, will speak of, “. . . the Blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and FOR MANY . . .” The previous translation gave us, “. . . for you and for ALL. . .” I was struck by the change, a more literal translation of the Latin, as I'm sure many will be but there is a kind of Advent theme here as well.

The obvious question which has already been asked is that, “I thought Christ came for everyone?” The change to “for many” in the words of institution sound as if Jesus may be more selective. Yet, we might say that if Jesus spoke these words, who are we to change them? That could be reason enough.

But, the intention is more universal than it is limited. This savior we long for during Advent has indeed come to all and the word “many” implies that. Jesus never says how many nor implies just a few. Neither does the Church of course. It implies many more than just those twelve around the table with him on that fateful night. For many will indeed come to believe in Christ as the centuries go on and on from that night forward. So it is a faithful expression directly from the words of Jesus in the scripture and a word that is broad in its implication. Yet, many will reject him and history has show us that as well.

Even more, it does not imply that salvation automatic. I recently read, “Everyone has been given a time card and has been guaranteed a job. However, if you never punch in at work, you should not expect a pay check.” In other words, though Jesus came for all, not all will accept the message of salvation. Some will reject it though they've been hired for the same job and been given the same opportunity.

Such a thought should give us all pause. Though we have all been offered the hope of eternal life, that gift comes with a task that we work out our salvation in our daily walk with the Lord. The Gospel this Sunday reminds us, “. . . he places his servants in charge, each with his own work, . . .”

To come to know him, to recognize his voice and presence in the needs of our brothers and sisters, to deepen our spiritual life by participation in the grace that is offered to us in prayer and the sacraments is our “task” before the Lord. As St. Paul reminds us in our second reading, we are, “. . . called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord . . .”

So, “Be watchful! Be alert! . . .” as we all pray to be counted among the MANY who will come to see the light of Christ and follow that light to “run forth to meet your Christ.”

A blessed Advent and may your “expectant delight” give birth.

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect: 1st Sunday of Advent)