In the last two issues of our newspaper, I have written about the new English translation of the Mass which we will begin to use next weekend, the First Sunday of Advent. I reflected particularly on the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass.
After many years of hard work in preparing the new translation, the Church in English-speaking countries will begin to pray with the new translation of the sacred texts. As you know, the new translation is a more accurate and authentic translation of the Latin text of the Roman Missal. You will notice the more sacral tone, somewhat different from our secular mode of everyday speech. The heightened sense of the sacred in the new translation will hopefully help all of us to experience more fully the Mystery we celebrate at the Eucharist.
It will take some time to become accustomed to the new translation. It will take practice as well. I think it will give all of us the opportunity to encounter the words of the liturgy afresh.
The prayers of the sacred liturgy are often steeped in Sacred Scripture. This is even more evident in the new translation, which brings back many passages of Scripture that were removed or modified in the former translation. I think, for example, of the words the priest will now say when he elevates the Sacred Host before Holy Communion: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb. The first sentence contains the words of Saint John the Baptist when he announced the coming of Christ (cf. John 1:29). How appropriate it is that, as he shows us the Eucharist, the priest repeats the words of the Precursor of the Lord. As we gaze on the Sacred Host, we are invited to recognize the One who is the Lamb of sacrifice, the Lamb who was slain, who gave his life for us on the cross, whom we are about to receive in Holy Communion.
Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain, is also the glorious and victorious Lamb. This is brought to our attention in the second sentence the priest pronounces: Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb. These words recall the words of the angel recorded by Saint John in the Book of Revelation: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). The Eucharistic banquet is a real foretaste of the heavenly banquet to be celebrated in the communion of saints. As the Catechism teaches, it is an anticipation of the heavenly glory.
The response of the people to the priest’s words also comes from Sacred Scripture. The people say together with the priest: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. In these words, we speak to Christ using the faith-filled words of the humble centurion in the Gospel who begged Jesus to heal his dying servant (cf. Luke 7:6-7). Saying these words, we express our own sentiments before receiving Holy Communion. We strive to have the faith-filled and humble disposition of the centurion as we prepare for Jesus to enter under our roof, our soul. He comes under our roof when we receive him in the Holy Eucharist; he heals us and fills us with grace.
On the first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year. In this holy season, we ponder again the mystery of our redemption, the coming of Christ, our Redeemer, into the world. The liturgies of Advent direct our attention to both the first coming of the Son of God as a man, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to the second coming of Christ in glory at the end of time.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a bishop from the 4th century, wrote the following about the twofold coming of Christ:
At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second.
Saint Bernard, an abbot of the 12th century, wrote about a third coming of Christ, an “intermediate” or “middle” coming. This is his coming to us in the present. The Son of God comes to us now in word and in sacrament. He comes to us in the Spirit to dwell in our hearts. Saint Bernard wrote:
Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or you heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.
If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you.
As we begin this holy season, let us try to focus on the coming of Christ: His threefold coming. Daily Mass during Advent is a wonderful way to enter into the beauty of this season of grace. Another way is to take some time each day to read the daily readings of the Advent liturgy prayerfully. The daily rosary is another great way to enter into the spirit of the season. It is very easy during December to get caught up in the materialism and frenetic pace of the holiday season, to succumb to the secularization of Christmas. I invite all to make this a truly “holy” season, one in which Christ is at the center of our preparations for Christmas. Then we will be able to celebrate Christmas not just as a “happy holiday,” but as a “blessed feast.”
I conclude with the Solemn Blessing from the Roman Missal for the season of Advent (the new translation):
May the almighty and merciful God, by whose grace you have placed your faith in the First Coming of his Only Begotten Son and yearn for his coming again, sanctify you by the radiance of Christ’s Advent and enrich you with his blessing.
As you run the race of this present life, may he make you firm in faith, joyful in hope and active in charity.
So that, rejoicing now with devotion at the Redeemer’s coming in the flesh, you may be endowed with the rich reward of eternal life when he comes again in majesty.
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