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The Drills of a Militant Church

The essence of a cliché is that it is unoriginal and often repeated. However, as the old Latin phrase goes, repetita iuvant… repeated things help. Allow me to get an initial cliché out of the way: with the 1st Sunday of Advent we begin a new liturgical year. There.

But wait. Perhaps it isn’t cliché to begin in this way. The fact is that, year in and out, century in and out, millennia in and out, Holy Mother Church unfolds again and again the whole of salvation history and the mysteries of the life of our Savior through lovingly polished cycles of seasons and feasts. For a child or older student repetitio est mater studiorum, repetition is the mother of all learning. We, as neophyte liturgical children or as seasoned Catholics, by frequenting – in the classical, Latin sense both of crowding together often and also of recapitulating or summing up separately stated arguments – the celebration of the sacred mysteries, especially on Sundays, are helped in the ongoing transformation of our lives by grace and by doctrine. Liturgy is doctrine. To create what I hope becomes a “cliché,” in the sense of it being oft repeated, “We are our rites.”

Think of our entrance into a new liturgical year of grace in philosophical terms. St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) lays down the dictum (another kind of cliché) that, “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur… Whatever is received, is received according to the ability of the one receiving it” (cf. STh, Ia, q. 75, a. 5; IIIa, q. 5, etc.).

To illustrate, were I to write the rest of this in Latin, some of you would get it while most of you would not. However, were you to learn Latin and then come back to read it, you would get it. Another illustration. Point a hose at a paper cup and most of the water is not going to wind up in the cup: it is not proportioned to receive what is being given. Point that same hose at a swimming pool and there is a different result.

Consider your own participation in the sacred mysteries at the beginning of a new liturgical year. The sacred mysteries we are exposed to in our liturgical worship don’t change. That is one of the advantages of a perennial, nay rather, millennial and traditional manner of worship. The mysteries don’t change but we do. Each year we are little different, changed by our defeats and accomplishments, our expanding experiences and our pains and sufferings, our growth in knowledge and grace and our physical struggles against the march of time.

On the 1st Sunday of a new Advent we are not the same receivers as we were last year.

What are you going to do with your new opportunities? What is your plan for this new liturgical year of grace? Will it be the same ol’ same ol’, or perhaps something more expansive and, therefore, more receptive? More receptive in passivity or, better, in activity? The essence of what the Council Fathers wanted at Vatican II in their proposals for reforms of sacred worship was a people who were active participants, in the sense of being actively receptive to what the Lord, the true High Priest, offers to the baptized during the sacred mysteries of Holy Mass and other liturgical rites. Reminder: we are our rites. Our participation in them shapes who we are. Having been shaped by them, we are more and more able to receive what God wants us to have. Quidquid recipitur. Repetita iuvant.

Allow me to repeat a suggestion I’ve made before in these columns and on the blog.

A good way to prepare for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday is to begin to look at the antiphons, orations and readings – the Mass formulary – a few days ahead of Sunday. On Thursday you might start looking, for a few minutes each day, perhaps with your morning coffee, the Mass texts for the upcoming Sunday or great feast. That way, when you are in church for Sunday Mass, you are a better active recipient of what is being annually repeated to you for your own good. Then, having received your gifts at Sunday Mass, review them on Sunday evening and again for a few days, Monday through Wednesday, so that they sink in. On Thursday, repeat the process. Try it.

After these hectoring suggestions, here are a few orienting words about this 1st Sunday of Advent.

Advent is mainly focused on our preparation for our personal encounter with the Just Judge and King at the Second Coming (or at our death, whichever comes first). This season is also about other ways in which Our Lord comes to us. For example, the Lord comes to us when the priest says, “This is my Body.” He comes in Holy Communion, actual graces, the words of Scripture, the person of the priest, and in all who need our “righteous deeds,” especially corporal and spiritual works of mercy. With His help we must “Make straight the paths!”, as the liturgy of Advent cries out with the words of Isaiah and John the Baptist.

Adventus translates Greek parousía, which is the term for the Second Coming, the day of the “visitation” of the Lord. In Latin, a visitatio, also known as an adventus, was when the governor or emperor came to take account of the state of things. For those who are well-prepared ahead of time, the visitatio could be less frightening than the contrary state of lack of preparation. Think of the somewhat archaic meaning of the phrasal-verb “visit upon,” as in “the Lord visited a great plague upon the city.” Whether it is the wrath of God or the ineffable joy of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (the adventus of the Man-God King of the Universe still in the womb which made pre-born John leap with joy) a sacred arrival – a divinely informed Advent – must never be taken lightly.

With great wisdom our Holy Mother the Church has given us on this Sunday, century in and century out, the Blessed Apostle Paul’s admonition to “put on the armor of light.” It’s almost as if we belong to a “militant” Church or something. As a matter of fact, week in and out, if we drill down into our orations at Holy Mass we often find military imagery and terms. The Latin content of the traditional orations shapes us. We are our rites. Change the prayers and you change, over time, our identity. Just look at the last 50 or so years of the larger Church’s life.

Notice anything different about the state of the Church?

For those attending the Traditional Latin Mass at least, as well as in quite a few of the altered orations of the Novus Ordo, there are strong verbal reminders that we are members of the Church Militant. In the military you drill a lot: you repeat things. You pay attention to orders for the uniform of the day, communicated or announced in the morning. As Advent begins your uniform of the day is the armor of light.

It might be a good idea to figure out what that means for you, in your God given vocation. To begin that drill, go to confession.

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