“Now our salvation is nearer than when we first came to believe.”Ordinary of the Mass
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Blessing of the Advent Wreath
At the Temple in Jerusalem, day in and day out, the priests of the Old Covenant offered animal sacrifices in great numbers, together with offerings of the finest wheat. Those sacrifices ceased to have value before Almighty God when His only-begotten Son offered Himself up in the Sacrifice of the Cross, and they came to their end shortly thereafter. The priests of the Old Law were numerous, though imperfect, as were their victims. The Sacrifice of the Cross, an offering by God the Son to God the Father, is both singular and perfect. Through the Cross, all of mankind was redeemed—not just the few chosen descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—but each and every man and woman that would ever stand on the face of the planet from that time forward.
By virtue of the Cross, each and every man and woman is capable of responding to God’s grace, and beginning the heavenward journey of the spiritual life. By virtue of the Cross our belief in what God reveals to us, our Baptism, our prayers, and our good works, all become effective in leading us to eternity in the vision of God.
But God knows the limitations of His human creatures. He knows that we are forgetful, even of important things—and that we are particularly forgetful of things we have not experienced for ourselves. He knows that we tend to keep things in mind only if we have seen them with our own eyes and heard them with our own ears—and that it helps if we have tasted, touched, and smelled them as well.
For this reason, our Lord, Jesus Christ, gathered a number of men called Apostles, both to convey His teaching to the many people who would never seen Him personally, and to make His Sacrifice of the Cross present to them throughout time, and in every place. He gave the Apostles the power to re-present His Sacrifice, acting in His person, making His body and blood present in the here and now. Acting in the person of Jesus Christ, the Apostles and their successors take bread and wine as He did at the supper on the night before His crucifixion, and by speaking with His words, the underlying matter of the bread and wine is changed into His body and blood. Although He is present equally under the appearance of bread and the appearance of wine, the separate consecration of the two is said to be a “mystical sword,” demonstrating that His blood was shed for our redemption.
We know that the Apostles and their successors—in response to His command to do so in His memory—frequently renewed this Holy Sacrifice. A few days ago, in celebrating the feast of the Apostle Andrew, the reading at Matins quoted him:
Daily Mass became common in the early Church, particularly when the practice of Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, and people could get together regularly without fear of persecution. But even in periods of persecution and difficulty it has not been unusual for people and priests to join frequently to offer Mass in spite of great hardships and dangers. History is filled with stories of Mass being offered in the wilderness, on battlegrounds, in concentration camps, and near the “priest-holes” in the walls of private houses during the Reformation. Apart from two or three days of the year during Holy Week, each Catholic priest has the generous privilege of daily renewing the Sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ to the Father on the Cross.
Why is the Mass offered so frequently? Why are we not content to do so only on Sundays and a few feast days of the year? The answer goes back to that frailty of human memory which caused our Lord to institute this renewal of His Sacrifice by His appointed priests in time and place. We are forgetful creatures. The spiritual life and the knowledge of our redemption ought to be the foremost thing in our minds. But since we are so forgetful, it is necessary for us to see and hear, to touch and taste, the central mystery of our redemption very frequently. Figuratively speaking, we must stand constantly at the foot of the Cross—literally speaking, we need the constant nourishment of the body and blood of Christ; the constant infusion of graces which draw us steadily toward eternity. To the degree that it is possible, our days ought to be filled with prayer, centered around the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
None of us here have the luxury of living in a monastery where life revolves around prayer and Holy Mass. We don’t have the luxury (and, perhaps, we lack the inclination) of the monks and nuns whose lives are filled with such prayer, even as they work or take their meals. Yet we still have the self interested responsibility of drawing close to God in our present preparation for eternity. That is something which must not be put off, for we are likely to forget about it altogether. But we do have the opportunity to attend Mass with regularity (or even daily for some of us). At a bare minimum, we must resolve to attend Mass each Sunday and Holy day, unless some very serious reason prevents us from doing so—serious illness, or the care of the sick, or the inability to travel. But Sundays and Holy days represent only a minimum.
There is another aspect to frequent attendance at Mass that is fitting to consider on this first Sunday of Advent, which we call “the beginning of the liturgical year.” A few moments ago I told you that out Lord ordained His Apostles to “make His Sacrifice of the Cross present in every time and in every place,” but also to “convey His teaching to the vast numbers of people who would never see or hear Him personally.” And the primary means by which we learn about our Lord and His teaching also happens to be through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Every year, the Church varies the readings and the ceremonies which surround the Mass in order to make a sort of “dramatic” presentation of the events of our salvation. In addition to the Mass being an occasion for being nourished with God’s graces, it is very likely the best way that we can come to know God, and to know about the events by which our salvation was (and is being) worked out. While we might read about these events apart from Mass, it is likely that many of us will not do so. And, for most of us, private reading is not as memorable as immersing ourselves in the “drama.”
It helps to go through the year, putting ourselves into the scenes of Christ’s redemptive life on earth: to pass the centuries of waiting for Him in the weeks of Advent; to rejoice with Mary and Joseph and the angels at His birth; to hold a blessed candle at His presentation in the temple; to hear of His first miracle at Cana and to follow His public life. It helps to hold the palms on Palm Sunday as we ponder the fickleness of people between then and Friday. It helps to receive Holy Communion with the Apostles in the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, and to experience some of the desolation associated with Good Friday—so that our faith and our joy will be renewed in His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. It helps to come together to recall the great events of His Ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.
Each day of the year the Church reads to us something to help “place us into the scene” in the lives of Jesus and Mary and the saints. Each day of the year, our Lord is with us to renew His Sacrifice on the Cross, even though we are thousands of miles and thousands of years removed from the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Each day our Lord is with us to nourish our souls at His Eucharistic banquet. Each day we learn a little bit more about Him as He reads His sacred Scripture through the mouth of His priest. The Church has gone to great lengths to prepare these lessons for us.
Today is the first day of the liturgical year—an appropriate day for a “new year’s resolution”—to be with our Lord often at the foot of His Cross; to accept His frequent invitations to the Eucharistic banquet; to grow in both knowledge and grace as we re-live the events of His life. Today is the first day of the new year, the first day of the rest of our lives—let us resolve to spend our days, as often as we can, arranging our lives around the central event of our eternal life, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Time is short: “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first came to believe.” We use the phrase “holy day of obligation” to describe the Sundays and a few feast days of the year on which we must attend Mass. It is time to start thinking about all of the days of the year as being “holy days of opportunity.”
 Romans xiii:11-14.
 Cf. Hebrews v-x.
 Feast of Saint Andrew, November 30th, lesson v at Matins.