Advent always reminds me of my Novus Ordo red pill moment. Years ago I discovered three texts around Advent that finally pushed me over the edge. The first was the collect for St. Nicholas. This prayer petitions God, through the intercession of St. Nicholas to save us “from the flames of hell.” This was censored because “hell” is offensive to “modern man.” The reformers explained that some texts of the Roman Rite that were “shocking for the man of today, have been frankly corrected” (Lauren Pristas, “The Orations of the Vatican II Missal: Policies for Revision”).
The second text I found censored by the New Mass was the Postcommunion from the Second Sunday of Advent. This one petitions God to “teach us to despise the things of earth, and to love those of heaven.” The reformers explained that “[a]n adaptation was imperative that…took account of the modern mentality[.]” (Ibid.)
Finally, not even the Holy Innocents were spared by the reformers. In the collect for this feast on December 28th, the phrase “mortify in us all the evils of sin” was censored. I was examining these things in the original Latin, and I realized that this was not simply a poor translation, but an intentional censorship. When these texts were translated, as the official documents explain, they needed to be censored even further because some of them were “contrary to modern Christian ideas” (Comme le prévoit, 24).
When I discovered that Advent and Christmas were censored, that’s when I understood the whole breadth of destruction. As Dietrich von Hildebrand wrote, “The new liturgy is without splendor, flattened, and undifferentiated…truly, if one of the devils in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters had been entrusted with the ruin of the liturgy, he could not have done it better” (The Devastated Vineyard, 71).
The Advent of our Fathers
After I came to know that the New Mass was by and for “modern man,” I decided to choose the Mass of our fathers instead. Overall the theme which was the biggest target for Advent censorship was the Four Last Things. I think in many ways even the whole Church crisis for two hundred years can be boiled down to a suppression of the Four Last Things. These truths form an essential part of the Gospel, and their censorship explains why conversions have slowed and reversed completely in Euro-America.
This theme is shown clearly when the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent continues the theme from the Last Sunday after Pentecost: the end of the world. To its credit, the New Mass retains this Gospel. But this should set the tone for the whole season, showing us that the Advent season celebrates two Advents of our Lord: one has already passed, and the other is yet to come. The first is the Advent of good tidings of great joy (Lk. 2:10). But we must remember that even at the first Advent, King Herod…was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him (Mt. 2:3).
These contrasting reactions connect the first Advent to the second. For once again the just are beckoned to lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand (Lk. 21:28). But the wicked at His coming bewail themselves because of him (Apoc. 1:7).
Therefore in overcoming sin, we must face the full truth of Advent. For the sin within us causes us to mourn His coming and flee from Him. It is at the Confessional that we fully welcome His Advent. The sin within us wants to separate the Advents and make the first only joy and peace and no judgement. The Confessional combines the two Advents so that they are not separated and censored. This is why the traditional Advent hymns all speak of both Advents.
First, at Vespers I of the First Sunday of Advent, Creator Alme Siderum chants to Him “Whose coming is with dread / to judge and doom the quick and dead.” Then at Matins, Verbum Supernum beseechs the end times Judge that “We be not set at Thy left hand / Where sentence due would bid us stand.” Then at Lauds, Vox Clara Ecce Intonat sings of the time “when again He shines revealed / And trembling worlds to terror yield.” The traditional hymnody brings together the two Advents with a cleansing fire of judgment for the pious soul. But the greatest Advent hymn, in my view, is the one you’ve never heard at Advent.
Day of Wrath
The hymn Dies Irae is now mostly heard at the Requiem Mass, but it was originally composed for Advent. It is the perfect meditation to cure us of our censorship and present us with the whole salutary truth which inspired our fathers to save their souls. This might be scary, but the take the hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary and let her lead you through the whole truth:
Day of wrath and doom impending
David’s words with Sibyl’s blending
Heaven and earth in ashes ending
Oh what fear man’s bosom rendeth
When from heaven the Judge descendeth
On whose sentence all dependeth
This throws into relief the destruction of the Last Days, and makes us remember the words of our Lord: he who endures to the end will be saved (Mt. 24:13). If we cannot endure the Annus Horribilis 2020, how will we endure the Four Last Things?
Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
Through the earth’s sepulchers it ringeth;
All before the throne it bringeth.
Death is struck, and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its Judge an answer making.
This recalls the fullest picture of the last judgement given by the Lord in Matthew, when He says Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire for as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me (Mt. 25:41, 45). This is the part about “helping the poor” that Liberation Theology doesn’t want you to hear.
Lo, the book, exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgement be awarded.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
Every Sunday I say in the creed that our Lord will come to judge the living and the death. But here I must ask myself: how differently would I live my life if I truly internalized this dogma of the faith?
What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
When the just are mercy needing?
King of Majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!
This recalls the passage from St. Peter: if the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (I Pt. 4:18). Then comes the recalling of the first Advent:
Think, kind Jesu! – my salvation
Caused Thy wondrous Incarnation;
Leave me not to reprobation.
Faint and weary, Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Here the hymn begins to transition from the horror of the Final Judgement to the true hope in God’s mercy. This guards against the excess of despair and scruples as well as the presumption of “dare we hope.” We must fear God and hope in Him. Not either/or.
Righteous Judge, for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere the day of retribution.
Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
All my shame with anguish owning;
Spare, O God, Thy suppliant groaning!
Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given
The sin of despair is “conforming our mind to a false opinion about God” (ST II-II q10 a1). Despair is a sin where we accept a lie about God, that He will not pardon penitents. Presumption is the opposite sin where we accept the lie that God will absolve unrepentant sinners. This hymn gives us the remedy for both with the right amount of fear and the right amount of hope:
Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
Yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
Rescue me from fire undying.
With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.
When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded,
Call me with Thy saints surrounded.
Low I kneel, with heart’s submission,
See, like ashes, my contrition,
Help me in my last condition.
Ah! that day of tears and mourning,
From the dust of earth returning
Man for judgement must prepare him,
Spare, O God, in mercy spare him.
When we take Advent uncensored from our fathers and meditate on the Four Last Things, we come to realize just how great is the mercy of God. Then when we celebrate Christmas, we give thanks for His most excellent love for us, He Who has sought after us by becoming man. And the Logos was made flesh and made his tabernacle among us (Jn. 1:14 Greek text). Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes (Apoc. 21:3-4). Therefore let us face the Lord with fear and hope, so that we may greet Him rightly when He comes.
Timothy S. Flanders is the author of Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and four children.