Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Preparing for Advent: "Keeping Watch" - Introduction to the Eucharistic Prayers - Saint Columban

First Sunday in Advent (Year "B") - November 27, 2011

[Texts: Isaiah 63.16b-17, 19; 64.1, 3-8 [Psalm 80]; 1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.31-37]

Several years ago, a student told me of a relative who belonged to a church that “takes the Bible seriously”.  He said this uncle had received news from church elders that Christ would be returning later that week.  He was anxious to speak to me about this.

In reply, I suggested an interview time a few days beyond the given date.  When he protested this might be too late, I quoted Jesus' words in today's gospel, “about that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels, nor the Son, but only the Father”.  I teased him that he needed to heed this scriptural verse as earnestly as he did warnings about the imminent “rapture”.

Through the centuries, this saying has troubled disciples who believe it is not fitting that Jesus be ignorant of the End.  But it is deeply reassuring when prophecies of impending doom and gloom surface, as they have been doing with the imminent arrival of the end of the Mayan Calendar in the Year 2012.

In Catholic circles, warnings of this kind about the end are occasionally attributed to a Marian locution or to visionary insights given some saint.  In a similar vein, regularly at year's end, secular media recycle the “prophecies” of Nostradamus or some equally questionable source.

At present, people point to the large number of natural disasters recently to draw false conclusions about the end of the world.  All such events deserve to be discounted as pointers to the end of history, though they should invite reflection on one's need to be ready at all times for the Lord's coming.

In fact, for the believer the injunction Jesus gives at the end of the apocalyptic discourse (Mark 13.3-37), “what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” loses none of its urgency.  But it encourages Christians to face the future with serenity, putting aside all anxiety about the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus who is the Lord of history.

As Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in Tertio Millennio Adveniente [On the Coming of the Third Millennium]: “In Christianity time has a fundamental importance.  Within the dimension of time the world was created; within it the history of salvation unfolds, finding its culmination in the ‘fullness of time’ of the Incarnation and its goal in the glorious return of the Son of God at the end of time” (#10).

“In Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, time becomes a dimension of God, who is himself eternal.  With the coming of Christ there begin ‘the last days’ (cf. Hebrews 1.2), the ‘last hour’ (cf. 1 John 2.18) and the time of the Church, which will last until the Parousia.”

This Christian vision of time articulated by the late Holy Father implicitly urges that the coming of a new phase of history or a new era not be feared.  Rather it is to be celebrated, like the coming feast of Christmas for which Advent prepares the Church, as an ongoing manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Jesus' parable of the master absent “on a journey” and its associated sayings is meant to engender hope.  For during his absence, he has put “his slaves in charge”.  Seeing Jesus in the absent lord and themselves in the servants (“each with a particular task”), Christians are called to delight in the fact that they have been entrusted with responsibility for safeguarding His church (“the house”).

Disciples should not be led into misguided enthusiasm or become carelessly indifferent.  Rather, they should “keep alert...keep awake”, ready to greet Christ whenever he returns from his presence at the right hand of the Father, whether “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn”, making reference to the Roman manner of reckoning time.

Paul gives another reason for the confidence of Christians as they look to the future and “wait for the revealing of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.  It is that “God is faithful...  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

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Introduction to the Eucharistic Prayers 

The four principal Eucharistic Prayers that we use are very ancient in terms of their content. The New Missal translation is a more literally accurate translation of the language used in the oldest prayers. It is important to recognize that there is a distinctive “Christian way of speaking” in the Eucharistic prayers.

The language and the structure of these prayers sound different because the Eucharistic Prayers are a unique communication between human beings and God. What takes place during the Eucharistic Prayer is a miracle – ordinary bread and wine are transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ!

The different rhythm, formulation and “sound” of the language we use draws our attention to the fact that what we are participating in at the Divine Liturgy is something completely different than any other dialogue or activity we do anywhere else.

The language in the Eucharistic Prayers of the New Missal sounds very humble, for example, which emphasizes our dependence on God’s goodness and mercy. Another difference is the increased emphasis on praising God and thanking Him in more effusive and respectful terms.

These changes will help us remember that what we participating in together is a miraculous, blessed and most special event. – Rev. Geoffrey Kerslake

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Saint Columban, Abbot

O God, who in Saint Columban wonderfully joined the work of evangelization to zeal for the monastic life, grant, we pray, that, through his intercession and example, we may strive to seek you above all things and bring increase to your faithful people.  Through our Lord.


  1. Do you think you might follow the guy from the Vatican who is suggesting that homilies be dropped for a year at least and that preachers take courses in journalism?Homilies are boring,too long and have no relation to the readings etc. The 5 minute rule might also be made mandatory.Over at St patrick's 'basilica' it has become a standing joke and many have left there as one preachers goes on for at least half an hour and considers himself an authority on everything.Please Archbishop:Stop the nonesense.

  2. [Thanks, Archbishop. Interesting blog. I saw the following while perusing the web. Any reaction?]

    Christ's return is NOT imminent !

    by Bruce Rockwell

    (Pretrib rapturists claim that Christ's return is imminent, that is, capable of occurring at any moment. Theologian and pastor Norman MacPherson, in his excellent book "Triumph Through Tribulation," offers proof that the Bible has never taught an any-moment return of Christ. Here are the points brought out and discussed at length by MacPherson:)

    1. Great Commission fulfillment implies a long period of time.
    2. Seed growth in Matthew 13 is a time-consuming process.
    3. Paul expected death, not rapture, in II Timothy 4:6-8.
    4. Jesus predicted Peter's martyrdom in John 21:18-19.
    5. Matthew 24 teaches that signs must come first.
    6. Many passages speak of a large interval between Christ's ascension and return: Jewish dispersion into "all nations" (Luke 21); "man travelling into a far country," "after a long time the lord of those servants cometh" (Matthew 25).
    7. Apostasy of last days takes time to develop.
    8. Bridegroom tarried in parable of virgins.
    9. Pastoral epistles teach Church's continuing ministry, which involves time.
    10. Paul says Christ's coming is not imminent (II Thessalonians 2:1-3), for apostasy and Antichrist must come first.
    11. View of seven phases of church history (seven churches of Revelation) involves big lapse of time and imminence difficulties for pre-tribs; could Christ have come before the last phase?
    12. Exhortations to watch and be ready are tied to what pre-trib teachers regard as the second stage (which is necessarily non-imminent) in Matthew 24 and 25, I Corinthians 1:7, Colossians 3:4, I Thessalonians 3:13, II Thessalonians 1:7-10, I Peter 1:13 and 4:13, and I John 2:28.

    (How can an "imminent" return of Christ have a greater practical effect on us than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit already has, or should have, on us? For more on pretrib beliefs and history, Google "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts," "Pretrib Rapture Secrecy," "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty," "Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism," "Letter from Mrs. Billy Graham," and - with the 2012 election in mind - "Pretrib Rapture Politics.")