Consider where we have been so far in Advent. On the first Sunday of Advent, we heard in the texts of Holy Mass that the Lord was still distant, but that He was coming. Then the pace picked up. In the Second Sunday’s Gospel, Christ explained that John the Baptist’s followers should tell the great herald of the Lord about the signs which showed that the time was near: the blind see, the lame walk and the dead rise from their graves. These are all signs also of what will happen at the end of the world.
On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, bathed by the chants of Holy Mass which call us to rejoice and to be glad, we are again with John the Baptist who originally pointed to Christ in our midst. Our Introit antiphon says, “prope est… He is near.”
Then, liturgically, after observing the Advent Ember Days during this coming week, next Sunday, the last before Christmas, Holy Church teaches us about the end of the world, again with John the Baptist quoting Isaiah 40.
This Sunday’s Gospel passage from John 1 seamlessly connects with last week’s Matthew 11, when John from prison sends his own followers to ask about Jesus’ identity. You will remember that after Christ responded, he turned to the listening crowd to quiz them about who John was. The Lord quotes Malachi indicating that John was greater than other prophets for he was the precursor of the Coming of God Himself. Moreover, in the verses that followed the Gospel passage, Christ calls John His own “Elijah,” who was prophesied to return before the Coming of God at the end of things. This Sunday, in our Gospel passage, John says he is not the historical Elijah returned, but he does quote Isaiah 40 saying that he is the voice crying, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Before going on I will say, “GO TO CONFESSION!”
When the Lord returns, He is going to come by the straight way, whether you have helped to straighten it or not. Right now, that straightening can be gentle and merciful, even if there are repentant tears and the burdens of repairing wrongs and doing penance. However, when the Lord returns as Just Judge, King of Fearful Majesty, it will not be with gentle mercy. This week’s Gospel and next week’s coordinate in Isaiah 40 about the ultimate Advent.
A voice cries:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
Go to confession and get to work now. Later, the Straightener will do the straitening for you.
As harrowing as that thought might be, it is nevertheless the cause of great joy. Thanks be to God, this is not all there is. There is Heaven and then the summation of all things so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).
We are drawing closer and closer to the reason for our joy. Rather, the reason for our joy is drawing closer to us, both liturgically and chronologically.
There is a Latin adage that sums up much of the human experience: in finem citius, otherwise, motus in fine velocior. The closer we get to the end, the faster things seem to go. Our perception of the passing of time accelerates as we draw closer to the end. This certainly applies to our lives, for as we get older, time seems to flash by. It applies also to our liturgical observance of the year. If we follow the structure of the year carefully, observing the connections from season to season and week to week, we see how Holy Church draws us into the sacred mysteries we celebrate, swiftly and sweetly propels us into an encounter with mystery. The Mystery is the cause of our joy.
How rich is the treasury of the Church’s sacred liturgical worship! How replete with glories; rich veins of incomparable gems are her ancient formularies and orations! For an example, we might take the opening chant for Sunday’s Mass, which gives to this day its nickname. It begins, with Paul’s happy shout to the Philippians 4:4-6, “Gaudete in Domino semper … Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Rejoice. What happiness we have in being Catholics. Are there rough patches, confusing moments, downright irritating, and even disgusting antics in the Church? Of course. It has ever been so, even as we are daily being driven to admit that perhaps our days are troubling as no others have been over the last two millennia. Even while our time is confusing and sometimes discouraging, each set back we hear about or experience ourselves are opportunities to suffer and bear witness but also to know and review the Faith and practice it in the freedom and glory of the children of God (cf. Rom 8:21). We have so many reasons to be happy.
There comes to mind the stark correction of Romeo by Friar Lawrence in his cell (III, ii). The miserable youth works himself up about his plight to the point that he dramatically hints at suicide, which brings out Lawrence’s stern reprimand: “Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art: thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote the unreasonable fury of a beast!” He then ticks off the dark points of Romeo’s state, but counters each one with the positive:
What, rouse thee, man! thy Juliet is alive,
For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead;
There art thou happy: Tybalt would kill thee,
But thou slew’st Tybalt; there are thou happy too:
The law that threaten’d death becomes thy friend
And turns it to exile; there art thou happy:
A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout’st upon thy fortune and thy love….
We have Holy Church and, if you are reading this online, probably a certain level of material well-being. Not very long ago, there were no sites like this, no alternative to the progressivist, modernist dominated small-c catholic media. Yes, there are problems. But what an honor it is to have been called by God to be His hand-picked team hic et nunc, here and now, according to a plan He had from before the orderings of the cosmos.
Traditionis custodes has been cruelly launched in an attempt to kill off in the Church’s life those attached to the traditional forms of sacred worship. But in doing so, the hearts and minds of many have been roused and attendance is up at Traditional Latin Masses. There are we happy. Powers that be would exile us from the Church altogether, but by and large the document’s diktats are not being implemented through the wise application of canon 87 of the Code of Canon Law. There are we happy. Numbers of men entering traditional groups and women finding communities of sisters are increasing. There are we happy. A pack of blessings doth light upon our backs, dear readers.
Rejoice. Rejoice … in Domino… in the Lord. We don’t just revel in worldly things or temporal advantages, or even ultimately in the splendors or flaws of the Church but in Christ, who is Alpha and Omega, the same yesterday, today, tomorrow (Heb 13:8). We are united to Christ in grace and love through His Incarnation and His Nativity. We will be even more closely united in the life to come.
Rejoice in the Lord … semper … always. Really? How is that possible? Do we never struggle? Are we never sad? In earthly terms, yes, of course. After all, Jesus wept over Jerusalem even as He foretold that the Romans would destroy her in forty short years. Even that prophecy was given in the context of the message of ultimate joy, namely, the Coming, the Parousia of the Son of Man in glory.
Our Introit chant from Philippians 4:4-6 begins, “Rejoice in the Lord always” and goes on to sing, “for the Lord is near. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
That’s the core of the Introit but remember that the short quotes of Scripture in our antiphons were meant to be pointers to a larger context. Our forebears who collected these gems and gave them song were immersed in Holy Writ. Just a few words could remind them of a larger passage. Let’s take this Introit antiphon one more verse to 4:7. As a matter of fact, that is exactly what the Epistle reading does. It goes one more verse than the Introit, vv. 4-7.
… And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz