|See Who's at the Door.
The First Sunday of Advent.
Lessons from the tertiary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Jeremiah 33: 14-16.
• Psalm 25: 4-5, 8-10, 14.
• I Thessalonians 3: 12—4: 2.
• Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Romans 13: 11-14.
• Psalm 24: 3-4.
• Luke 21: 25-33.
The Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, the Third of Phillip's Fast; the Feast of the Holy Martyr Paramon; the Feast of the Holy Martyr Philemon; and, the Feast of Our Venerable Father Acacius.
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Ephesians 5: 9-19.
• Luke 13: 10-17.
8:58 AM 11/29/2015 — Those of you who have been coming here for a while know that when I have occasion to quote the Holy Scriptures in my homilies, I typically—though not always—will quote from the Knox Bible, first published in bits and pieces at the beginning of the last century, but finally published in a single volume for the first time in 1954. It was a labor of love done by one man, Msgr. Ronald A. Knox, a priest and convert to Catholicism who was—and probably remains—the greatest classical language scholar who ever lived. He was a fascinating and versatile man, and one day I hope to have occasion to tell you more about him.
Among his many accomplishments—and, believe me, there are many—he was known as a very gifted preacher, and one of the first sermons of his I read was an Advent sermon he preached in 1947.
Everybody knows [says Msgr. Knox] what it is to plod on for miles, it seems, eagerly straining your eyes towards the lights that, somehow, mean home. How difficult it is, when you are doing that, to judge distances! In pitch darkness, it might be a couple of miles to your destination, it might be a few hundred yards. So it was, I think, with the Hebrew prophets, as they looked forward to the redemption of their people. They could not have told you, within a hundred years, withing five hundred years, when it was the deliverance would come. They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only showed, now, like a will-o'-the-wisp on the horizon would broaden out, at last, into the perfect day.*
I don't think anyone but Father Knox could have expressed so clearly, in just a few sentences, what Advent is really all about. We all think we know what Advent is: a preparation for Christmas; but, as Msgr. Knox so beautifully tells us, the Church's intention in Advent is to encourage in us a reproduction of the spirit of the Old Testament prophets calling forth repentance upon the people of Israel as they awaited the coming of the Savior. The readings for the Advent season rely heavily on the prophets, particularly the prophet Jeremiah; even the Gospel lessons chosen frequently present to us those occasions—and there were many—wherein our Lord quotes from the prophets; and, if we take them as a whole, we realize that what most of us think Advent is about isn't really what it's about. Recall the Collect that the priest prayed at the beginning of Mass today: “Grant to 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” (RM3). There's no mention of Christmas there. The Advent we await is not the coming of the Baby Jesus in the Manger; the Advent we await is the coming of Christ the King and Judge of the world. In other words, it's not the first coming of Christ for which the season is preparing us; it's His second.
Advent is not a very ancient tradition in the Church like Lent or Easter. Throughout the history of the Church there have been a variety of different customs for this time of year in different places. The first mention of anything similar to it is from the year 580, when the Council of Saragossa, Spain, directed that, from December 17th until Christmas, no one was permitted to be absent from Divine Services, and in the same 6th Century in Gaul a sort of Lent was observed from November 11th until Christmas; but, there's nothing in the liturgical texts from either place that suggest these observances had anything to do with Christmas as such. It wouldn't be until the end of the 6th Century that Pope Saint Gregory the Great would introduce the current custom of Advent, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of the Apostle Andrew, November 30th. It wouldn't become popular in the Eastern Churches until the 9th Century, except that for them, even today, the season begins on the day after the feast of the Apostle Philip, November 14th; so, their Advent, which is called Phillip's Fast, lasts for six weeks rather than four; and, since I served in the Byzantine Church for twenty years, I'm familiar with that custom very well.
So, now you can stop yawning and wake up the person next to you because the boring part of the homily is over. I plowed through those esoteric facts because I'm afraid we have to remind ourselves that Advent, which begins today, is a penitential season. We have a problem remembering that, I think, because, unlike Lent, nothing specific is required of us by way of penitential practice. But, when Pope Saint Gregory introduced this season to the Church, he never called it Advent;—that's what we call it—he called it the Christmas Lent. That's why the priest wears the color of Lent for Advent. The focus of the season is reflection upon and confession of our sins.
To be fair, Advent today is divided into two parts, what we could call First Advent and Second Advent. Second Advent, which begins on December 17th, is specifically directed toward preparing us for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ; but, if you're inclined to pay attention to the readings and texts of the Mass, you'll notice that First Advent, which begins today, has nothing to do with Christmas; it's all focused on preparing our souls for our final judgment, and prayer, fasting and confession should be our focus. Not only that, but we are soon to enter into what Holy Mother Church calls an “Extraordinary Year of Jubilee,” something that may happen only once or twice in any Catholic's lifetime. Each pope who inaugurates a Holy Year always chooses a theme for it, and for this one the Holy Father has chosen the subject of Mercy. On December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Father will open the Holy Doors of Saint Peter's Basilica, which are normally closed at all times, so that anyone who passes through them can receive the special indulgence granted to faithful Catholics during these special years. On that day, we will mark the occasion here with a special Holy Hour after our usual Noon Mass.
Each bishop around the world also opens Holy Doors in his cathedral, and may also designate other churches in his diocese to have Holy Doors as well. And, thanks to Bishop Bootkoski, our bishop, our Shrine has been designated one of the few places in our diocese which will have a Holy Door. We will be sealing it shut today at the conclusion of Holy Mass in preparation for the commencement of the Holy Year. We can't open it on the same day the Holy Father opens his because the law of the Church is that he must open his first. So, on the recommendation of our bishop, our door will be opened with a solemn ceremony during the Mass on the Feast of the Holy Family, the Sunday after Christmas, December 27th, and it will remain open until the Holy Year closes on the Feast of Christ the King, November 20th, 2016. This is a very significant thing because, during a Holy Year, any Catholic who has made a complete and sincere confession, received Holy Communion in the State of Grace, and prayed for His Holiness the Pope, receives a plenary indulgence when he or she passes through the Holy Door, releasing him from the punishments of purgatory.
And, since making a good confession is one of the three conditions for receiving that very special indulgence, I have decided this year to use my homilies during the Sundays of Advent to focus exclusively on the Sacrament of Confession. Even though this is not a parish church, and many of you are not here every Sunday, given the theme that the Holy Father has chosen for this Year of Jubilee, the Mercy of God, and the fact that Confession is a requirement for receiving the indulgence, I'm going to preach an ongoing series on Confession anyway. Maybe it will encourage some of you who are only visiting us today to make a point of coming back each Sunday during Advent, and could be particularly important for those who may not have been to confession in many years … and you know who you are.
So, as we now enter into this Holy Season of Advent, and begin to prepare ourselves for the commencement of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, I should like to make three recommendations to you. Keep in mind that these are only recommendations, as the Church does not require us to do anything in particular during this season; these are simply three things that I'm suggesting you might consider to help you enter into the spirit of the season as intended by Holy Mother Church:
Number One: embrace the fasting regulations of Lent. If you are one of those who uses the option of replacing the Friday abstinence from meat outside of Lent with some other penance, consider not doing that for Advent. If you are already observing the Friday abstinence all year long and not replacing it with another penance, consider taking a page from the Eastern Churches, and abstain from meat during Advent on Wednesdays as well as Fridays. In the early Church, from the 2nd Century on, they abstained on both days, anyway.
Number Two: add an examination of conscience to your evening prayers. Of course, an examination of conscience is traditionally always a part of a Catholic's night prayers, but—let's face it—how many of us actually do it faithfully? Advent would be a good time to rediscover that tradition.
Number Three: go to confession often. If you're going to confession once a month, during Advent go twice a month. If you haven't been to confession in a while, now is the time to get back into the habit. Remember that confession does two things for us: not only does it offer us absolution from the sins we've committed, but it also gives us a special grace to avoid sin in the future; and, even if we're foolish and brazen enough to believe we don't need the first, we always need the second. And it is a fact that people who confess frequently always find they have more to confess, not because going to confession makes them sin more, but because going to confession makes them more sensitive to the venial sins we all commit every day, that can so easily escape our notice. This is probably the most important recommendation, since making a good confession is one of the requirements for obtaining the indulgence when walking through the Holy Door.
As this Holy Season of Penance and Mercy begins, let us all enter into it in the spirit in which Pope Saint Gregory the Great created it by reproducing in ourselves that for which the Collect of today's mass prays: that we may “resolve to run forth to meet [our Blessed Lord] with righteous deeds at His coming, so that, gathered at His right hand, [we] may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.”
* R. A. Knox, Sermon on Advent, December 21, 1947.