Advent Week 3 – Joy

And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said,

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. Luke 1:39-45 (KJV)

We light the third Advent Candle for Joy. Joy that our God loves us so much as to send his only Son to save us from our sin. Joy that Jesus comes as the Messiah and is the Lamb of God, freely giving Himself for our salvation. And joy for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, when we will all come together in praise of our Lord.

Joy is much more than happiness but at the same time it is not an increase of happiness in any way. In fact, joy and happiness are two completely different things. Happiness can be achieved through many means. It can be achieved while doing good things and while doing bad things. This is why giving some money at Christmas makes us happy, and so does drinking a glass of fine whiskey. Getting rich and living comfortably can also make us happy. But none of these things on their own bring us joy. Happiness is fleeting, joy is everlasting. That is certainly a major difference between the two.

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Joy erupts when what makes us happy is coupled with satisfaction. And not the shallow satisfaction that is linked with gratification in our modern consumer culture, but the true satisfaction of a held need– not to be confused with desire. We have a need for food and sustenance, we feel a certain sense of joy when that need is met with good, healthy food and even better when that food is joined with good company. This is when two needs of ours are met, which is undoubtedly why food and company go hand in hand.

The baby John inside of Elizabeth leaped for joy at the presence of the Lord. This was because even the child John was aware of its purpose to herald the coming of the Lord to the people of Israel. He didn’t know in the sense of knowledge and being able to articulate it– that would be silly, he is a mere baby in a womb at this point. But his spirit is alive and it is in his spirit that we find the deep need for God that the presence of the Lord immediately fills. This filling of the deep spiritual need is what draws the baby to leap with joy inside of his mother.

We approach this Gaudet Sunday with our hearts, minds and souls transfixed on the joy that the Lord brings by His mere presence. We are reminded in the Gospel reading of Christ demonstrating that He is in fact the Messiah, the one spoken about by John, because of the things He has done– things we can all bear witness to ourselves. The joy that comes from Christ is rooted in His incarnation and presence here on Earth as man, that is the meaning of joy within the season Advent.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has looked with favour on His lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name. He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation. He has shown the strength of His arm, He has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has come to the help of His servant Israel, for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and His children for ever. Amen.

Advent Week 2 – Faith

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (KJV)

We light the second Advent Candle for Faith. Faith that all things are possible with God, faith that He has a divine plan for each and every one of us that sees salvation for every man willing, and faith that we who repent and seek the Kingdom of Heaven will one day live everlasting with God, our Father.

While are first movements toward the birth of Christ come in the fuel of hope, the rhythm and cycle that we move into becomes our faith. Faith is much more than the belief in something that cannot be proven. Faith is about knowing by means which otherwise give us little indication of how the world works. I know my mother and father love me, I have faith that they love me, I cannot see this love, I cannot feel this love, I cannot even measure this love, but I am aware of it being present and its impact in my relationship with my parents. Faith and love share a unique relationship (more on that in a future Advent post).

Mary had faith in spades. When she was visited by an angel from the Lord she did not refute what was being told of her, no matter how wild it seemed from a logical perspective. Mary was a virgin and yet Mary was to have a child. And an elder of the area, a previously married man, is to take Mary and they are to have a son together that will be named Jesus. And not just that but her cousin, who is barren, will also have a child. She doesn’t question, she doesn’t waver– no doubt there are parts of her that want to– she simply says, “be it unto me according to thy word.” That is faith.

Sailors have faith. They depart safe harbours which are close to their family and friends and head out on small islands into wild seas. They have faith that their ships will keep the deadly water out. Faith that their captain can keep them away from trouble no matter what the weather throws at them. And faith that with each passing day they get closer and closer to being back in a safe harbour, with family and friends. Mary’s journey with Joseph feels a lot like a sailor departing on a long sail without little knowledge of where they are going and what they are doing while out there. But they have faith, and put that faith into the hands of their captain. To stress the analogy, Mary’s captain is God Himself. That is faith.

Almighty and merciful God,
let neither our daily work nor the cares of this life
prevent us from hastening to meet your Son.
Enlighten us with your wisdom
and lead us into his company.
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. Amen.

Advent Week 1 – Hope

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian. For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Isaiah 9:2-7 (KJV)

We light the first Advent Candle for Hope. Hope for our Saviour, Emmanual, whose coming was foretold by the prophets. Hope for His coming again in glory. And hope for the life of the world to come. The first movements of our preparation toward Christmas and the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ is the acknowledgement of the hope that pours our from God’s covenant with His people throughout the ages. We do not start our journey at the birth of Christ Himself and celebrate from there, rather we start hundreds of years before the man of Jesus when the prophet Isaiah said to the people of God, “there is a voice that cries out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” And since that time we as God’s people have been striving to prepare the way of the Lord. That voice in the wilderness continues to call out– and in this world we need to stop, pause, reflect and listen closely to hear that voice. We light the first Advent Candle for hope, the source of our faithful movement toward Christ.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:1-11 (KJV)

All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Reign of Christ

Otherwise known as the Feast of Christ the King– was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. He rightfully saw a rise of nationalism within European countries at the time and instituted the feast to remind Christians of the divine sovereignty of Jesus Christ. In 1970 the observance of the feast was moved to its present location within the calendar on the final Sunday of ordinary time (the last Sunday before the start of Advent). The purpose of the feast day and its modern placement within the liturgical calendar gives the Reign of Christ a doubled-edged meaning, which is extremely fitting considering all of Christianity is riddled with double-edged meanings.

Father Travis spoke eloquently today about the first meaning of Christ the King. Jesus as the “visible face of the invisible God” is king of the universe and one day every knee will bow at His Name. Whether this majesty and power be rested in fear or love is a constant story within the entire Bible and all of Christian history for that matter. God is love, and Jesus is the action of that love and we in turn become that love and that action when we attach ourselves to the Body of Christ. Both physically through our shared Eucharist but also spiritually when we gather with the entire catholic church in communion during mass. And we live our lives in such a manner that Christ is the centre. As Fr. Travis put it so well, “our theology becomes our politics,” it becomes our whole lives.

The second meaning of Christ the King is less obvious and is due almost entirely to its placement before Advent and the preparations for Christmas. Ordinary time, or the X Sundays After Pentecost, are a dole-drum period within the liturgical calendar. There are feasts for certain Saints but for the most part it is a very quiet part of the season of the church. And this matches within the period within life, going through the long days of summer and back into school and the change in weather, etc. Suddenly winter is upon us, the days are short and we are smack in the middle of all of the preparations that come with Christmas– both temporal and spiritual. This feast is a reminder before the roller coaster dives down that all of this is for a meaning and purpose– we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the One who will go on to save the entire world. Christ the King!

“Christ has dominion over all creatures, …by essence and by nature.” His kingship is founded upon the hypostatic union. “…[T]he Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.”

Saint Cyril of Alexandria

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Prayer Before Mass

Do you have a ritual of preparation before mass? For some people fasting one hour prior to consuming the Body and Blood of Christ is important– however this traditional Roman Catholic observation has fallen out of practice among the vast majority of those attending mass regularly. Some people pray the Rosary either alone or as a group before mass. Others I’ve seen lighting votive candles for loved ones or specific prayer requests in and around the church.

In preparation for mass I like to pray St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer before mass. I find that it has a very direct and almost hilariously blunt formula for preparation. Aquinas reminds us in the prayer that we come to mass a sick people, who are in need of the “physician of life” and his “fountain of mercy.” He then asks that such healing take place during the mass and goes on to request that his faith bring him salvation and not punishment when the day comes that he can look on Christ not through the veils of bread and wine but as Himself in glory.

Almighty and everlasting God,
behold I come to the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ:
I come as one infirm to the physician of life,
as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, a
s one blind to the light of everlasting brightness,
as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.

Therefore I implore the abundance of Thy measureless bounty
that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to heal my infirmity,
wash my uncleanness,
enlighten my blindness,
enrich my poverty
and clothe my nakedness,
that I may receive the Bread of Angels,
the King of kings,
the Lord of lords,
with such reverence and humility,
with such sorrow and devotion,
with such purity and faith,
with such purpose and intention
as may be profitable to my soul’s salvation.

Grant unto me, I pray,
the grace of receiving
not only the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood,
but also the grace and power of the Sacrament.

O most gracious God,
grant me so to receive the Body of Thine only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
which He took from the Virgin Mary,
as to merit to be incorporated into His mystical Body,
and to be numbered amongst His members.

O most loving Father,
give me grace to behold forever
Thy beloved Son with His face at last unveiled,
whom I now purpose to receive
under the sacramental veil here below.
Amen

I like to end mass with St. Thomas’ prayer for the end of mass as well but that is a topic for another post. Let me know what sort of rituals or routines you have before you attend mass that you use as a means of preparation in the comment section!

Two Liturgies; One Mass

Undoubtedly most of our readers here are aware of the basic parts of the catholic mass we participate in each Sunday. However, most may not be aware of the fact that our Sunday Mass, although one liturgy itself, is actually made up of two main parts.

The first part of mass is called the Liturgy of the Word. During this portion of the liturgy there are one or two readings (always two on Sunday) given with a psalm sung or recited. The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is the Gospel reading which is presented with the Gospel acclamation followed by a gradual hymn. In many high churches, the Gospel is read from among the people with candle light illuminating the text. The closing of the first portion of the mass is the prayers of the people which follow the homily and reciting of the Creed.

The second part of mass is called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It begins with the preparation of the altar and the presentation of the gifts. Once the gifts are blessed by the priest, they bring our attention toward the sacrifice that Christ made and our imminent imitation of His institution. The bread and wine offered become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and are offered in communion with the faithful. This portion of the liturgy is called the Communion Rite. The final liturgy portion ends with the Concluding Rite.

The opening of the Liturgy of the Eucharist is particularly important in the sacrifice of the mass. The gifts are brought forward from among the people and the food which we have harvested and grown is given to God and turned into spiritual food that feeds our soul and our bodies in a way that no man could ever make with the material brought forward. That is the essence of the transformation at the altar, to become the food of the world through the physical gifts brought up to the altar by the people.

During the Liturgy of the Word the First Reading is taken from the Old Testament (including the Deuterocanonical Books) and the Second Reading is taken from the Epistles (more often than not Pauline). During Eastertide the First Reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles which carries forward the anticipation of the Resurrection of Christ. The Gospel Reading is given particular importance for the obvious fact that it contains the Words of Christ and His testament here in earth. But there is also a logistical reason for the weighty importance given to the Gospel being present at the mass. In the early church, just as our foundational liturgies were being developed, the Liturgy of the Word was part of the gathering as a direct Jewish import from Temple worship. However, not many gathering groups had access to the written accounts of Christ’s life, what would become the Gospels within the Bible— now the most published and widest available book in human history. But that wasn’t the case in the few hundred years after Christ left and the Gospels had been recorded. Often the travelling Apostles brought letters that were read, as did travelling Deacons and leaders from other churches in communication with the Bishops. And some had the Gospel texts, which is why when they were present it was a big deal. And still to this day remains a big deal within the liturgy.

The opening of mass is called Introductory Rites and during this portion faithful sing or recite the Kyrie which is one of the oldest prayers in Christianity. Also, in most liturgical seasons, the Gloria in excelsis Deo is sung.