Editor’s note: This is Part III in a three part series on Advent. Read Part I here and Part II here.
(LifeSiteNews) — In the previous parts we looked at the frequency with which the Advent liturgy point us towards Christ’s glorious coming at the end of time. We considered the different attitudes towards Christ’s coming – ranging from fear to hope.
The conclusions that we have been drawing from the liturgical texts is this:
The Church wants us to long for the final coming of Christ with hope and joy – and she uses the season of Advent to train us in this longing.
This is quite a different paradigm to one which would see Advent as a mere catechetical period, for telling our children about the Nativity story. In this paradigm, we are not longing and praying for something that has already happened – nor for a merely personal union with the Divine Child in our souls.
Union with Christ by grace is essential to the Christian life – and no doubt Advent and Christmas make us focus on this in a special way. But we must also reckon with the fact that the Church’s liturgy has us call, again and again, for Christ to come to us in power and majesty – and that these calls are not presented as mere imaginative sentiments, but with the urgency of a living reality. The Church’s liturgical prayers seem too urgent to refer exclusively to Christ’s historical birth; and they are too universal and communal to refer exclusively to an individual union.
There is nothing wrong with catechizing our children, or meditating on the historical nativity, or calling Our Lord into our hearts – far from it. We want all these things.
But we also want something ecclesial and public – the reign of Christ in the world, and his triumph. And even if we shrink from the longing for the terrible day of Christ’s second coming in triumph, we might be able to see these texts as referring to the public and ecclesial triumph of Christ’s mystical body.
Surely we all want this. We want the star to shine over the stable where Christ, in his mystical body, lies; and for all – shepherds and kings – to recognize him and reverence him in this mystical body.
But we can leave Christmas and Epiphany for now – and instead consider how an Advent spent in longing for the final triumph of Christ may be a great consolation in our time of chaos and encroaching tyranny.
An end of false hope
It is not possible to pray for Christ to come in glory, every day for a period of four weeks, without ourselves being changed. Surely we cannot spend this time proclaiming that the Lord is near to us and will soon come in glory, without coming to believe these truths – and perhaps even living accordingly.
The maxim has become commonplace: “How we pray, is how we believe – is how we live.” Surely a season marked in this way will fill us with the theological virtue of hope – that virtue residing in our will, giving us the certainty that we will finally arrive at our destination, providing that we do not ourselves depart from the road.
This true and holy hope cannot help but displace our many worldly, bourgeois hopes – and purify our desire for the defeat of evil, and the triumph of Holy Church.
The great desire for the second advent of Christ inculcated in us by the Church’s liturgy should detach us from our worldly city, and direct our hearts towards the true city, the City of God. This desire should make us less and less rooted in this world, and more and more in the Kingdom of Christ. In fact, this is what we are taught by Christ’s birth in a stable; and it appears again in the liturgy on the Second Sunday of Advent:
We who have been refreshed by the food of spiritual nourishment, humbly beseech You, O Lord, that through partaking of this sacrament You will teach us to disdain the things of earth and love those of heaven.1
When we reflect over the last three years, this detachment and “disdain for earthly things” has never been more necessary in our lives than it is today.
The heart of the Gospel
Many of us have never seen such open and naked wickedness in the world. Hitherto, such wickedness took place behind closed doors, or was presented under some pretended guise of goodness.
But ever since the physical masks went on, the proverbial masks have been off.
Now, more than ever before, is it easy and necessary to wait for, to prepare for, to long for, and to call for the advent of Christ, as it is presented throughout the liturgical texts. Now, more than ever before, we need to be reminded of the closeness of Christ, and the imminent glory promised in the Advent liturgy.
Natural hope – even the hope for truly good things – has always been a means by which tyrants exercise themselves upon us. It is this natural hope – for worldly freedom, to be with our families, that evil will leave us alone – which so often paralyses us. It is by such hope that tyranny has expanded its dark pall over societies in the past – and our current situation is no different.
Once a tyrannical machine has established itself, the only hope – paradoxical though it may sound – is for us to give up all such hopes and to live as if we are already dead. But this is no pessimism: this is the message of the Gospel and the New Testament:
Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6.33
[W]hosoever will save his life shall lose it: for he that shall lose his life for my sake shall save it. Luke 9.24
In all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God: […] as dying and behold we live; as chastised and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as needy, yet enriching many; as having nothing and possessing all things. 2 Corinthian 6.4-10
We are to be full of hope and life – but full of the theological virtue of hope, not a vague optimism that everything will be alright; and full of the life of grace now, not some vague expectation that we will survive the death of our bodies.
If this is a real meaning of Advent, then observing it with our eyes on the coming of Christ will denude us of attachment to the goods of this world, and will help us put aside the false hopes that give the tyrants – spiritual and temporal – their power over us. To paraphrase Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, talking of the necessity of such an attitude amongst the victims of tyranny:
Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogator will tremble. Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.2
But longing for the Parousia and a detachment from worldly hope are not meant to be mistaken for resignation to the triumph of evil, which H.M. Féret calls “an anaemic form of Christianity.”3 We are not supposed to lie down and wait to be crushed, and to imagine that this is good Christian witness.4
In fact, it is in the stillness and silence that comes with a detachment from false hope that we will better see the steps that we must take. Féret summarizes it like this:
The Apocalypse, which derived its penetrating light from heaven, revealed plainly the hard realities of their struggle; but it also threw its heavenly light on the outcome, and gave them the courage to see themselves as they were in Christ – as unvanquishable victors.5
This is the spirit of Advent in the Roman Liturgy.
At Matins on the Second Sunday of Advent, the Church takes the name of Jerusalem to herself and sings:
Thy salvation cometh quickly, O Jerusalem; why art thou wasted with sorrow? Is there no counselor in thee, that pangs have taken thee? Fear not, for I will save thee and deliver thee. For I am the Lord, thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior. Fear not, for I will save thee and deliver thee.
O, thou city of Jerusalem, weep not, for the Lord hath repented Him concerning thee. And He will take away from thee all distress. Behold, the Lord shall come with might, and His arm shall rule. And He will take away from thee all distress.6
Throughout Advent, the Church attributes such passages addressing Jerusalem to herself – emphasizing the corporate, ecclesial nature of Christ’s promises. It is in and with the Church that we should celebrate Advent – not in the solicitousness of the world’s Christmas logistics, nor in merely individual devotions.
The Church calls Christ to rule over her, calling him the King, Prince, Deliverer, and Lord of Vengeance. She calls him not to just rule over her, but over the whole of society and the whole world:
Thou, Bethlehem, art the city of the Most High God, out of thee shall He come forth that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, and now shall He be great unto the ends of the earth.
And this Man shall be the peace in our land, when He shall come. He shall speak peace unto the Gentiles, and shall have dominion from sea to sea.7
An Advent spent longing for the final triumph of Christ cannot help but make us mindful of his right to be King over our societies today. Let us recall that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power and of love and of sobriety.”8 We are not called to retreat quietly into enclaves and hope to be left alone: As Pinsk said, we are “a chosen army, sure of its triumph and of its future victory”; and as Féret said, we are “a fighting regiment [that] knows that its commanding officer is there, sharing the smoke and the heat of battle.”9
We are already assured of the triumph, and are merely cleaning up the remaining skirmishes of the war. At any moment, the final decisive victory is to be won. In the meantime, however, let’s spend Advent watching and praying for the coming of Christ, and calling out to him:
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
1Postcommunion of the Second Sunday of Advent, taken from Divinum Officium. https://divinumofficium.com/cgi-bin/horas/officium.pl
2Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago Vol I, Harper Perennial, London 2007 p 130 19
3H.M. Féret OP, The Apocalypse of St John, trans. Elizabethe Corathiel, Blackfriars Publications, London, 1958, p 100
4“Perhaps they imagine that by this attitude they are prolonging the Passion and its attendant humility (we may have doubts as to whether this is the best way to set about it); but certainly they are not giving evidence before the world of the clear, triumphant morning of the Resurrection!” 100
6First and third responsories from Matins from the Second Sunday of Advent, Divinum Officium.
7Second responsory of Gaudete Sunday, Divinum Officium
82 Timothy 1.7
9As noted in the previous parts, this series has drawn on the observations of Fr Johannes Pinsk (1891-1957). Fr Pinsk was involved with the twentieth century liturgical movement in ways that many readers would consider regrettable. However, his 1933 essay ‘The Coming of the Lord in the Liturgy’ has a wealth of interesting information about Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, which I would like to share. It also contains some things which we, as traditional Catholics, would either reject or consider suspect. My purpose here is to present what is good, along with some comments, and so to help us pass a profitable Advent. Johannes Pinsk, ‘The Coming of the Lord in the Liturgy’, from Liturgische Zeitschrift Jahrgang, 1932-33 and reproduced in the Bulletin Paroissial Liturgique n. 1, 1938. This version is a DeepL translation from the Spanish version reproduced in El Que Vuelve, Vortice, Buenos Aires 2018, an available at https://engloriaymajestad.blogspot.com/2016/09/la-venida-del-senor-en-la-liturgia-por.html. H.M. Féret OP, The Apocalypse of St John, trans. Elizabethe Corathiel, Blackfriars Publications, London, 1958, p 61.