As I was sitting at Mass this morning (Last Sunday after Pentecost) pondering today’s Gospel reading - Matthew 24:15-35 - I could not help but think about how similar it is to next Sunday’s Gospel reading on the First Sunday of Advent - Luke 21:25-33. Let me remind you that this was in the Traditional Latin Mass, and not in the Ordinary Form (They have two different calendars and the readings are different as well). Holy Mother Church in her infinite wisdom begins the Liturgical year, not looking toward Christ’s birth, but rather, Christ’s second coming. That is what we prepare for during Advent. On the outside, we prepare for Christmas, but on the inside, we prepare for our own judgment. Of course, at the end of the Liturgical year, we again look toward Christ’s second coming. Because of the cyclical nature of the Church calendar, we get these readings two weeks in a row.
Many people in the modern Church do not realize that like Lent, Advent is a season of penance. Most people, especially in the secular world, view the first few weeks of December as a time of joyous preparation for Christmas. However, that is not how the Church views Advent. If you need proof of Adevent’s penitential nature, look first at the liturgical color of the season - it is violet, just like Septuagesima and Lent. Violet is a color of penance and expiation. If you need further proof, we do not sing the Gloria during the Sundays of Advent, just like during Septuagesima and Lent, because the Gloria is a hymn of joy, praise, adoration, and thanksgiving but we are in a season of penance. For even more proof, look to our Catholic brothers and sisters in the East who observe the Nativity fast. They abstain from meat, dairy, oils, alcohol, and even fish that have backbones during the season of Advent.
Let us look a little more closely at Advent itself. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, during Advent, “the faithful are admonished to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion through grace, and thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.” As we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ final coming, we must also keep in mind our own mortality. As Catholics, death, our death, is a big part of our faith. Death is one of the Four Last Things.
During Advent, we ponder the Four Last Things - Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The motto of the Knights of Columbus is Tempus Fugit, Memento Mori - “Time flies, remember death.” As Catholics, we must always be aware of our own mortality. We do not know when our time on this earth will end, and we must always be prepared for our judgment. Advent is a great time to make that spiritual preparation, as the Church prepares not only for the anniversary of Christ’s birth, but for His second coming as well.
The Gospels for both the Last Sunday after Pentecost and the First Sunday of Advent speak of the coming of the Son of Man and the passing away of Heaven and earth. In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent (Matthew 11:2-10), John the Baptist hears of Jesus’ work while he is in prison. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. In the Epistle (Romans 15:4-13), Saint Paul tells the Romans that the Gentiles have hope in Christ. In this season of Advent, as we prepare for the second coming of Christ, we all should have hope in Him.
The Third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday, and the liturgical color is Rose. The Rose color represents the tempering of the sadness of the penitential season through an invitation to rejoice in the goodness of Jesus Christ. On this Sunday, though we are in a penitential season, we rejoice, as Saint Paul says in the day’s Epistle (Philippians 4:4-7), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” We are now less than two weeks away from the Lord’s coming. In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent (John 1:19-28), John the Baptist is visited by priests and Levites, questioning him as to whether he is the Christ because he is baptizing people. He tells them that One is coming whose sandal he is not worthy to loose. We rejoice for we know the coming of our Lord is near.
In the Traditional liturgical calendar, during the third week of Advent, we have Ember Days. Ember Days are special days set aside four times a year for fasting and abstinence. They are also an opportunity to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach men to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy. They always fall on a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. They are fast days, so the standard fasting rules apply - one regular sized meal and two small meals not to equal the regular sized meal. The Wednesday and Saturday are days of partial abstinence, meaning the principal meal of the day may contain meat. Ember Fridays, like every Friday of the year is an abstinence day, and no meat is permitted.
The Gospel for the Ember Wednesday of Advent is Luke 1:26-38 - the Annunciation. The Gospel for the Ember Friday of Advent is Luke 1:39-47 - the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Here we have the baby in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leap for joy at the presence of Jesus Christ in the womb of Mary. This is significant, because what John knew as a baby in the womb, he will proclaim in the Gospel of both the Ember Saturday as well as the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Luke 3:1-6). “Make ready the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill be brought low, and the crooked ways shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”
During the four weeks of Advent, the liturgy reminds us of the time during which the world was without Jesus. During this time we prepare our hearts and our souls to welcome Jesus into the world at His Nativity, and to welcome Him at the end of the world. So, this year, while you are putting up Christmas lights, decorating your tree, and “decking the halls,” please remember to prepare your heart and soul as well. Take a spiritual inventory, make an examination of conscience, go to Confession.