Friday, December 02, 2011

Fr. Eric Forbes: Commentary on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Traditional Mass


THEME : JESUS IS THE MESSIAH WHO COMES TO EARTH TO TAKE US TO THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM

The Church is regularly criticized, by unbelievers and secular "Christians" alike (some of them calling themselves Catholics) for preaching the existence of a heaven beyond this created universe, which should be our goal.  They, on the other hand, preach a gospel that can never be delivered, which is a perfect universe in the here and now.

For them, Christ was simply a wonderful model who gave us the pattern and method which we now must further in our own day.  Hopefully, they believe, human beings will one day complete what Christ started but left incomplete : a world of perfect justice, harmony, love, unity and all the rest, where all are equal, all are secure, all is well.  Two thousand years later, what can we say?

Orthodox Christianity teaches to HOPE (a major theme this Sunday) in a world of perfect justice, harmony, love, unity and all the rest - but not in the here and now but later and "over there," in heaven.  But we don't get there unless we do the right things here, which is to turn away from sin and accept Christ as Lord and Savior, doing what He commands us to do, accepting all that He teaches us as divine truth.

This heaven is often portrayed in Scripture as the New Jerusalem.  What was the Old Jerusalem?  The city of Jerusalem is the same place as the city of Salem (meaning "peace" as in shalom/salam), where the priest Melchizedek greeted Abraham with gifts of bread and wine.  King David conquered the city from the Jebusites and made it the capital of his kingdom.  "Jerusalem" means "Abode of Peace."

Within the city of Jerusalem is a hill called Mount Zion (sometimes spelled Sion).  Zion became identified with the Jewish Temple, which itself is representative of God's sacred dwelling on earth.  So it isn't hard to see why Jerusalem and Zion both became synonyms for heaven - where God dwells.

The Old Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD and the Temple as well.  This was prophesied by Jesus and this historical fact signifies the end of the earthly Jerusalem and Temple as the special abode of God.  Other signs and statements in the Gospel point to this truth : "destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days," (Christ's human body is the true temple) and the tearing (from top to bottom, a humanly impossible feat) of the veil in the Temple showing that God is no longer hidden behind the veil in the Holy of Holies.

The Old Jerusalem has been replaced by the Church, which is the ante-room of the New and Eternal Jerusalem (Heaven).  God dwells in His Church, which is His Body.  "Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am with them."  Christ to Saul the persecutor of the Christians : "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  Our soul, too, is a kind of Jerusalem.  When we are in the State of Sanctifying Grace, God dwells in our souls.

Although we get a taste of heaven by being in the State of Grace and in the Church, we still live in a vale of tears.  We are to hope for Heaven, even as we have begun the walk towards it and are tasting its joys, albeit in limited ways.  We actively prepare for Heaven by doing things : by confessing our sins, by changing our habits, by praying more, by being more conscious of our spiritual state.

In the Incarnation and Birth of God the Son, God comes to dwell on earth, in His Church, in our souls.  God comes.  We must prepare.  In the 2nd Coming, at the End of the World, God will come again.  We must prepare.  He will bring us at last to the perfect and eternal Jerusalem for which we hope.

INTROIT : The Introit sounds like the cry of a herald announcing the arrival of someone great.  We prepare for the arrival of someone great by hearing the voice of a herald.  He addresses the "people of Sion," the Church.  He announces that God will save all the nations, not just the Jews.  The Psalmist reminds God of His promises to Israel to send a savior.

COLLECT : Advent is a time to wake up from spiritual sleep; to pay attention to God's coming.  We admit in this Collect that grace is needed even to wake up, to pay attention, to be interested and concerned.  God has to put the desire in us.  Prodded through God's grace, we start to act and prepare for Christ's coming.  Christ comes to live among us and inside us, and we serve Him because He is here with us.

EPISTLE : This section of the Epistle is all about how to conduct ourselves as we wait, hoping for the perfect Jerusalem.  We are to live in harmony with each other.  In Saint Paul's time, the Jews, who hoped for salvation, had to get used to the idea that this salvation was also for the Gentiles as well.  Saint Paul reminds them that they shouldn't be surprised at this, since it was spoken of in the Old Testament.  But all earthly divisions must be put aside among people who are spiritually united.

GRADUAL / ALLELUIA : God reveals Himself on Zion; Christ reveals Himself in Jerusalem.  He cleanses the Temple; He dies in Jerusalem and rises from the dead in Jerusalem.  He gives us the Eucharist in Jerusalem.  He gathers His saints, the Church, around the Eucharist - the New Covenant, the New and Perfect Sacrifice.  We rejoice to be invited to go to the Lord's house to celebrate this sacrifice.

GOSPEL : Saint John the Baptist sent his disciples to question Jesus, not because John was in doubt but because his disciples were in doubt.  John sent them to Jesus to "see for themselves."  The Messiah has come because the signs of His presence are present.  Jesus ends this passage pointing out another sign that the Messiah has come - the Messiah's herald has come - John the Baptist.  The signs of the Messiah's arrival - the healing and correction of all that is wrong (illness, death and deficiencies) - are signs of the Perfect Jerusalem.  There we will have perfect healing and restoration.

OFFERTORY : The Offertory should be familiar to us; we hear it nearly every Sunday during the preparatory prayers before the Introit.  When Adam sinned, mankind turned away from God.  No matter how much man turns to God, man cannot save himself.  God has to turn to man in order for man to be saved.  God turns to man through Christ.  By sending His Son to earth, God turns to man.  Now we can turn to God through and in Christ and be saved.

SECRET : We can offer nothing and do nothing to save ourselves, by ourselves. We pray and make offerings in humility, knowing that our merits count as nothing for God, if our merits stand on their own.  But if we do all in and through Christ, if our merits are really the fruit of His grace at work in us, then God is appeased and we are saved.  In Mass, we offer Christ; we offer our merits which are really Christ's work in us.  And we offer Christ only because He commands us to do so.  "Do this in memory of me."

COMMUNION : We prepare for someone's coming by paying attention, by being conscious of it.  We climb a high place (watchtower), so that we can see Him from afar.  There will be no sudden, expected apperances.  We will have watched and waited.  Advent is four weeks long; looking at the coming of Jesus from afar.

POST-COMMUNION : In Communion, we eat heavenly food because we receive Someone from Heaven when we receive Communion.  We receive Him so He can take us to Heaven.  To "despise earthly things" must be understood correctly.  It does not mean to hate our fellow man, or the earth that God created.  It means to value these things less than the One who made them and gives them all the significance they have in the first place, and to love them for His sake.

For more information about the Latin Mass on Guam see www.traditioguam.blogspot.com

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