Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Third Sunday of Advent—16 December AD 2007

And the Angel said to her, «Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus.... The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.  And, therefore, the Holy that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.»”

The Mass in Latin and English
Third Sunday of Advent
Dóminica Tertia Adventus

Vigil of the Immaculate Conception of the BVM
Immaculate Conception of the BVM

Ember Days in Advent

“Rejoice in the Lord, [for] the Lord is near”[1]

    The season of Advent is (and should be) a time of mild penitential preparation for the birthday of our Lord on Christmas day.  Yet, if you attend the Masses of the season, as I hope you will—and please remember that the three ember days which fall this week are an important part of the seasonal Masses—you will note that there are several themes running through the Advent liturgy.  This morning I would like to point out to you just how they are organized.

    Some years ago, I took my first graduate level seminar in history.  We studied the history of India, and there was a requirement for a small thesis paper—about thirty pages—to be presented at the end of the semester.  I chose to write about the political effect of having two very different religions—Hinduism and Islam—in the same country.  The teacher liked the paper well enough, but knowing my background, she remarked that it was the first graduate level history paper she had ever read that mostly ignored chronological order!  (Historians are big on chronological order!)  I was clearly more interested in the two religions and their conflicting customs and beliefs than I was in the order of the events to which they led.  The Masses of Advent have a similar arrangement, so lets try to put them in chronological order.

    The earliest events of the season are found in the epistles of the Immaculate Conception, its Vigil, and the feast of Our lady of Loreto.  In these Masses the readings are from the “Wisdom” books of the Old Testament.[2]  In these readings, Wisdom is personified—that is made to be a person—and to speak of herself as being created by God and being with God at the very beginning of things:  “Before all ages, in the beginning, He created me, and through all ages I shall not cease to be.”  Some scholars suggest that these verses foreshadow, in the Old Testament, the reality of the Son and the Holy Ghost being with the Father at creation.  But neither the Son nor the Holy Ghost were created, for they are Persons of the uncreated Trinity, equal with the Father.  And we read that this person who calls herself Wisdom is feminine, for she says of herself: “I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.”  The Church accommodates these words to the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly under her title of the Immaculate Conception, for we know that the woman who would become the mother of the Redeemer was conceived in the mind of God from all ages.

    The Advent liturgy is heavy with the writings of the Old Testament prophet Isaias.  He is read each morning in the Divine Office and by those who follow our scriptural reading outline.  The book was written in Jerusalem just before the Babylonian captivity. A great many of the chapters of the Prophet clearly relate to the Messias who was come—in retrospect we know they describe our Lord Jesus Christ.  Some of them will be referred to again during Lent and Holy Week.

    Chapters from Isaias are read in each of the three Ember day Masses.  Some of them should seem quite familiar to us.

    On Wednesday we hear that God “shall judge the Gentiles ... and they shall turn their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”[3]  On Wednesday we also hear of the prophetic sign that God Himself would give:  “Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel”—which we learn from Saint Matthew means “God with us.”[4]

    On Ember Friday we hear of a “flower from the root of Jesse” the father of King David.  The Messias will be of the House of David.  Those of you who were recently confirmed will recognize this reading:  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him:  the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness, and He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.”[5]

    On Ember Saturday, we hear: “God Himself will come and save you.”[6]  And we hear that phrase from Isaias that we associate so closely with Advent:  “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just.  Let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior; and let justice spring up together.  I the Lord have created Him.”[7]

    Again, if we go in chronological order, we read on the Ember Wednesday that “the Angel Gabriel was sent from God ... unto a virgin ... of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary....  And the Angel said to her, «Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus.... The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee.  And, therefore, the Holy that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.»”[8]

    On Friday we hear of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, then pregnant with John the Baptist: “When Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leapt in her womb:  and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost ... «Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.... As soon as ... thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.»  And Mary said, «My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.»[9]

    On December 24th, the Vigil of Christmas, we hear the Angel reassure Saint Joseph:  “Joseph, son of David, fear not to take thee Mary thy wife, for that which is con­ceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.”[10]

    The Advent liturgy also describes the beginning of John the Baptist’s public life.  On the Second Sunday we heard our Lord’s testimony about him:  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he of whom it is written, «Behold I send My angel before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way before Thee.»”[11]

    On the Third Sunday John explains “I baptize with water, but there has stood One in the midst of you, whom you know not.  The same is He that shall come after me, who is preferred before me, the strap of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.”[12]

    And on this coming Saturday and Sunday we will hear that “the word of the Lord was given unto John... And he came ... preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins, as it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the desert, 'Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”[13]

    And finally, the Advent season treats of the future;  the very last days of the world.  You recall hearing about it on the first Sunday of Advent, much as we heard on the Last Sunday of Pentecost.  “But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”[14]

    We will also hear about it again on Ember Saturday, as Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:  “The day of the Lord shall not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition ... who opposes God ... and sits in the temple of God and gives himself out as though he were God.”[15]

    In this way the Advent liturgy will give us a view of our Salvation as it plays out past, present and future.  I would ask as many of you as possible, to try to be here for Mass on these coming days—the Ember days, Sunday, and the Vigil of Christmas.  Come to “rejoice in the Lord, [for] the Lord is near”—Christmas is but nine days off—and even more importantly, the “Day of the Lord” will be upon us, perhaps sooner than we think.


[1]   Epistle: Philippians iv: 4-7.

[2]   Proverbs: viii: 22-35;  Ecclesiasticus xxiv:23-31;  Ecclesiasticus. xxiv: 11-13 & 15-20  Modern Bibles have eliminated sixteen verses of Ecclesiasticus xxiv, including 23-31 as found in the Vulgate, the Missal, and in Douay Rheims.

[3]   Isaias ii: 2-5.

[4]   Isaias vii: 10-15;   Matthew i: 23;   Cf. C.E. s..v. “Emmanuel”

[5]   Isaias ix: 1-5.

[6]   Isaias xxxv: 1-7

[7]   Isaias xlv: 1-8

[8]   Luke i: 26-38

[9]   Luke i: 39-47

[10]   Matthew i: 18-21

[11]   Matthew xi: 2-10

[12]   John i: 19-23

[13]   Luke iii: 1-6

[14]   Luke xxi: 25-33

[15]   2 Thessalonians ii: 1-8


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