Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent 1 11-27-2011

Get more out of Mass especially with the New Translation.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent as well as the first Sunday of our using the new translation from Latin into English of our prayers at Mass. How do the two things go together and what do they teach us about how to live our Christian life?

The combination of these two events, Advent and the translation, could be together for several possible reasons. First of all, Advent is the beginning of a new year in terms of Church prayer, or liturgy. Finish one year with one translation and begin another with the new. But it didn’t have to be this way. In England, Catholics began using the translation in September. Perhaps we could have waited for the civic New Year, on January 1st.
I think these two events are combined, not just for poetic reasons: it’s nice to have a new year, and a new translation, but for deeper reasons. What does Advent teach us about Mass? Over the next few weeks, as we make spiritual preparation for the season of Christmas, we will look at the prayers and parts of the Mass. What does Advent teach us about the Mass?

First of all, what is Advent? Our Gospel today- which is NOT a new translation- speaks about watchful waiting. From the 13th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, this is not about the baby Jesus but Jesus in the final week, mere days before his betrayal, crucifixion, death and resurrection. We are very far from the stable in Bethlehem. What is Jesus asking us to watch for?

Jesus is asking us to watch like he watches: in the evening, midnight, cockcrow and morning. In a few days from this passage, Jesus celebrates the Last Supper- the First Mass- on the evening of Holy Thursday. At midnight he prays in the Garden of Gethsemanae and is betrayed by Judas. At cockcrow he is under the judgment of the Chief Priest and abandoned by Peter. At morning he is sentenced to death by Pilate and sent off to be crucified. Jesus is watching for the will and presence of the Father and invites us to do the same. “What I say, I say to all: watch.” Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means arrival or presence. Advent is about attentive watching for the arrival of Christ.
In these days after Thanksgiving, in American culture, we can get confused. Is Christmas here yet, or not? Christmas seems to be both already here and not yet here. We purchased most of our presents on Friday but we have not yet opened them. When we were kids, we would be attentively watching the foot of our tree, wondering when the new gifts would come? We were observing an “advent of presents.”

So what does Advent teach us about the Mass and our new translation? You’ve done pretty well today, a few slip ups here or there, but it is like you are praying your first Mass and I am praying my first Mass. We have to be more careful, deliberate, and watchful. Advent should teach us that this is how we should pray at every Mass, watching and waiting. We believe that Jesus is present at every Mass, but do we encounter him at every Mass? If he is present, present in the priest, the people, the Scripture, the Eucharist, then if we do not encounter him, who is at fault? We must not be paying attention. This is our “Advent of every Mass.”

The translation of the Mass introduced today emphasizes this aspect of the Mass. The Holy Mass is our opportunity to attentively watch for Jesus. Usually, as a Catholic you can rely on auto-pilot when you go to Mass. You don’t have to think about prayers and actions; you just do them. This is not attentive participation in the Mass. This is not what God or the Church wants from us as we pray Mass.

Perhaps we could think of this attentive watchfulness as maturity. How do we define maturity? Facial hair? Driver’s licenses? Diplomas? Perhaps we could think of it as attentiveness to others? When we are young or immature, we are unaware of others around us: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We might grow aware of physical presence but not emotional as we grow up, and eventually, hopefully, aware of everyone present around us. That seems a dependable definition of maturity. Do we pray at Mass with maturity? Are we aware of and attentive to the arrival and presence of Jesus Christ? Or are we more focused on our selves? “These pews are uncomfortable, this homily is boring, or did I start the right fantasy team?”

So what does Advent teach us about the Mass? First, it is more than mere physical presence. We must be participating in our own way with the Holy Sacrifice being presented in an unbloody way. Second, our participation should be watchful attentiveness. We are to be searching for Jesus. When will that encounter with Him come? In the opening prayer? In the consecration? In the creed? In our personal communion? If I talked to you three hours later, could you say where you met Jesus in this Mass?

Finally, we must learn to savor and dive into that encounter and make it a lived and personal encounter with the saving Jesus. I hope your Thanksgiving dinner was more relaxed than your normal lunch. That you didn’t just shovel down the food but savored the flavor, let it roll around in your mouth. Jesus Christ is truly present in every Mass. Jesus Christ is more present to us than we are to ourselves. What I say, I say to all: watch!

Cross posted at Pius XII Newman Center blog.

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