Today the Church celebrates the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new liturgical year.
The Advent liturgy opens with that great yearning cry of the prophets of Israel to the Messiah and Redeemer whose advent they awaited. "Come!" God is not deaf to His people's cry. Fulfilling the promise of salvation made to our first parents at their fall He sent His Son into the world.
And the application to all generations of mankind of the redemption that the Son of God made Man obtained for us by His passion continues until the end of time: it will conclude with the end of the world when the Messiah comes to complete His work and lead us into His kingdom. The history of the Church occupies the period between these two great events.
In the Mass of this Sunday the whole work of redemption is set before us, from its preparation in Israel's expectancy and its effect on our present lives down to its final fulfillment. The Church, in preparing us to celebrate at Christmas the birth of Him who came to snatch our souls from sin and transform them into the likeness of His own, invokes upon us and on all men the complete accomplishment of the mission of salvation that He came to perform upon this earth.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the traditional opening prayer (or Collect) prayed: "Stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come." With this request to God to "stir up" His might, this day was traditionally called Stir-Up Sunday. Many families create a traditional plum pudding or fruit cake or some other recipe that all the family and guests can "stir-up." This activity of stirring-up the ingredients symbolizes our hearts that must be stirred in preparation for Christ's birth.
Pope Benedict XVI's new Pastoral Cross
Last evening's First Vespers of Advent Sunday 1 featured the Holy Father carrying his new pastoral staff.
CTV is not our Canadian television network but refers to the Vatican Television Centre
Like the ferula of Blessed Pius IX in 1877, the new staff has been donated to the Pontiff by the Circolo San Pietro, a Roman association founded in 1869 in support of the papacy. The new pastoral cross is slightly smaller and lighter than the ferula of Bl. Pius IX, a copy of which the Pope has been using up to now.
On the front side of the new ferula we find depicted in the centre the Lamb of God, and on the four points of the cross, the symbols of the four Evangelists.
The arms of the cross are decorated in a net-like pattern which evokes the fisherman whose successor Pope Benedict is.
On the reverse side there is in the centre the Chi-Rho, the monogram of Christ, and on the four points of the cross, four Fathers of both the Western and Eastern Church: Augustine and Ambrose, Athanasius and John Chrysostom, the same ones that are featured on Bernini's cathedra.
On the top of the shaft is the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI.