Last evening I was chatting with come colleagues, and I noted that unlike any other important season in the liturgical year, Advent really does not have any important feast or event to mark its beginning. Christmas starts with Christmas Day and ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Lent starts with Ash Wednesday and ends with the Paschal Triduum. Easter begins with Easter Sunday, and ends with Pentecost. Advent though, advent just happens. There's no important feast or event, it just happens, the First Sunday of Advent comes along with no fanfare, we just roll from Ordinary time right into Advent almost unnoticed. It's probably the reason we add things to this day, the blessing and lighting of the Advent wreath, just to have some mark. The fact that Advent just "happens" is, I think, very significant, and says something about the nature of the this season, and what we are looking forward to, since the word Advent means that something is coming. As our scriptures point out to us today, we are looking forward to Christ's return in glory, but no one knows when it will take place, there will be no warning, it will just happen. Some years back I began to wonder to myself, why it is that we have two occasions in the liturgical year when we focus on the Second Coming of Christ, after all, we just spent the last four weeks of Ordinary Time focused on Christ's return, and now we spend the first part of Advent doing the same thing. It was only when I realized the slight shift that I understood the reason. As our readings begin to unfold over the next days and weeks, it is clear that we are looking towards Christ's return, but unlike the end of Ordinary Time, we are not looking at the time leading up to His return, but to the time after. We are looking forward to that time of glory and joy, the new creation when God will show us true love and majesty, and we will know joy unlike anything we have ever known or experienced here in this life. I'm sure many have and will continue to use the prospect of Jesus' Second Coming as a reason for fear, for scrupulosity, trying to be perfect in the face of judgement. But the invitation we are being given this day is to "keep awake", not in fear, but in anticipation. We are invited to make ourselves ready, not in expectation of judgement, but eagerly awaiting the joy and glory of what will follow Christ's return, we prepare ourselves, because we want to be a part of it, we want to be there when it happens. Therefore we are invited in this holy season and always to keep awake.
Today the English speaking world inaugurated the new translation of the Roman Missal, in full. In some places the new parts of the Mass have been practiced with congregations for some months already, some places in the world are still using the old translation for a little while yet, but here in Canada, the Missal came in full force today. Presently I find myself in a situation where I don't have the opportunity to preside at Mass with a congregation on a regular basis, but I did have the chance today, and so I thought I'd just offer a couple of my own thoughts about the experience. Some months back I was taking some holidays and went to visit some of my classmates who live and work on the east coast of Canada. As I was travelling with one classmate from New Brunswick to visit two others in Nova Scotia, I decided to pull out the copy of the old Roman Ritual I had brought with me, to offer a prayer for our journey. As I prayed that prayer aloud, and recited a few others for my friend he commented that I was praying with a passion he had not seen before. He actually likened it to a Baptist minister who was 'on fire' in his preaching. The only comment I could make in reply was that it was the words of the text, that the text itself had a passion to it, that it had "teeth" so to speak, that it was not a neutered or watered down text, but it was the Roman Rite in all its splendor and glory. Today, as I prayed the new translation of the Mass for the first time, I noticed something. Certainly I was a little befuddled having heard nothing and prayed nothing but the old translation since my father first brought me to Mass as a child. I was having to navigate new texts and a new book after all. But as the Mass unfolded I found myself saying and praying the texts with a new passion, one which I had not had before. The only thing I could attribute it to was the text. That no longer did we have a neutered and watered down text, but now we had to Roman Rite in splendor and glory (or at least a much better approximation of the original text). I know that there have been many concerns about the new text, it seems much more exalted, the language may be more formal and more complicated. Some have suggested that it will turn more people away from the Church. But I suspect that the opposite may be true, especially if many of my brother priests have a similar experience to my own. If the new text inspires true passion for the liturgy in the priests, that passion will spill out into their congregations. Therefore I urge my brothers to enter into the new words of the text, to find the passion in them, let that passion enter you, and that passion for the text will become a true passion for God, a passion shared with God's people.