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Preface of Advent
I have mentioned to you that Advent is the season of the Church year in which we are to prepare for Christmas in much the same way as we prepare for Easter during Lent. Advent ought not to be a time of great festivity (although the Protestant culture of America makes that somewhat unavoidable. It ought to be a season of penance, mild fasting, and, of course prayer and meditation.
The Advent meditation ought to be somewhat different from that of Lent. After all, Christmas contains none of the events of Holy Week which are painful to recall. The emphasis during Advent out to be placed more on our Lord’s Incarnation than on His Crucifixion. “Why did God become man?”
A few years back—I found them in a missal with a 1955 imprimatur—the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued several new prefaces for the Roman Missal. (The preface is the prayer that ends in the Sanctus—Holy, Holy, Holy.) I say that they are new, but it is quite possible that they are very old, being returned to use after a few centuries, for their theology is quite good, and their Latin is quite stately. The one for Advent is my favorite of the bunch; a concise explanation of the season, and it would serve well as a beginning for Advent meditation.
Like all of the Prefaces of the Roman Missal, it is addressed, first of all to the “Father almighty and everlasting God.” It brings us back to the very reason for our Lord’s life here on earth, the original sin of Adam and Eve, which so damaged the relationship between God and man as to require the Redemption: “at the loss of the human generation [Thou] didst mercifully and faithfully promise the Savior.” It is instructive to note that God’s reaction to sin was instantaneous—He promised not only forgiveness, but promised to effect our redemption in person. Certainly, the all powerful God could have simply chosen to forgive Adam and Eve. From the perspective of forgiveness, it was not necessary that God lower Himself to take on human form; not necessary that He expose Himself to the heat and the cold and the toil and suffering which make up the human condition. God could have chosen to be born into a palace, rather than a stable—or He could have elected not to take on human nature at all. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity exists from all eternity, and had no obligation whatsoever to become one of His own creatures. Yet He did; and promised immediately to do so.
We must understand that Jesus Christ is more than just our Redeemer. By His Incarnation, He purposefully entered our realm of existence in order to give us the graces necessary to take advantage of human Redemption, in order to work out our individual salvation.
The Advent Preface goes on to say that God promised a Savior “Whose truth would instruct the ignorant.” Understand that the truth of Jesus Christ is much more than any garden variety of education. The truth of Christ is not just one man’s opinion, it is not the consensus of a committee, or the will of a crowd—it is the knowledge of reality as it exists in the mind of God—the knowledge of the things which actually matter to us in the eternal scheme of things, rather than those things which glitter and pass away.
God promised to send a Savior “Whose holiness would justify the impious.” Like His truth, the holiness of Jesus Christ is far above any holiness that we can learn from mortal men. Without the justification of Jesus Christ, we are all unholy people. No human teaching, no matter how profound, can make us radically holy. All of the sages and philosophers of the world added together have proven incapable of making us Godly and God-like. It is only the holiness of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost that can serve to breathe life into the soul and make us the sons and daughters of God the Father.
Finally, God promised to send a Savior “Whose strength would support the frail.” That is rather a necessary thing. For even when we have our Lord’s truth and holiness, we are still quite capable of weakness; we are still quite capable of trading in the richness of our inheritance as God’s sons and daughters, and following the allures and the illusions of the devil. We find it all too easy for follow our short term gratification, instead of remaining strong as Jesus Christ did throughout His earthly life.
Before I finish, let me emphasize that these words are directed towards us—they are directed towards us collectively as the Catholic Church—but they are also directed towards us as individuals. In the final analysis, it matters little how rich the Church is in the gifts of Christ if Her members take no part in them. So we must not only take note of the things promised by the season of Advent, but we must strive to nurture them in ourselves: The truth, and the holiness, and the strength of Jesus Christ. If we make even a little progress toward adopting those virtues as our own, we will be able to speak of this as a successful Advent.
Please make the effort to keep a good Advent that in the holy season of Christmas we may all rejoice in the truth, and the holiness, and the strength of Jesus Christ.