Bishop Hugh highlights the importance of reflection on the extraordinary people that have been beatified recently in Algeria.
Today we keep the feast of the Holy Family. And today’s Gospel recounts a dramatic episode in that family’s life: the losing and finding of the 12 year old Jesus. ‘My child why have you done this to us?’ This must have burst out of Mary. ‘See how worried your father and I have been…’ ‘Worried’ would be better rendered ‘greatly distressed’ or ‘anguished’. ‘We’ve lived a nightmare these last days.’ Then we can think back to Mary’s pregnancy and the perplexity (at least) that Joseph must have endured at that time. Then again, the drama around the census, the journey to Bethlehem, no room at the inn and the rest. Then the flight into Egypt, when all three became refugees and had to establish themselves in a foreign country.
Every Sunday Mass, every feast day, has its own set of prayers and readings. Christmas, being a great feast, the second after Easter, has four. It has a Vigil Mass, a Night Mass, a Dawn Mass and this Mass, the Day Mass. The Vigil Mass one might compare to a star, the Night Mass to the moon and the Dawn Mass to the dawn. At this Mass, it’s as if the sun has fully risen and fills the sky. Recently, there has been a solitary violinist playing in Union St. He could have been a guest in the stable. This Day Mass, though, is like passing from a solo or trio or quartet to a full choir and orchestra. It’s less the magic of the child in the manger and the eagerness of the shepherds that prevail. It’s more the sense of the huge reality this child conceals.
‘There is a child born for us, a son given to us.’
Brothers and Sisters, after so much anticipation, Mary is delivered, the baby is born and Christmas is here. Somebody wished me for Christmas ‘stamina and wonder’. Well, this is the moment for the wonder. It’s the moment for quiet and adoration and, like Mary, for pondering in the heart. There’s an old, unscientific tradition that at midnight, for a moment, the world stops turning, everything pauses. And there’s a verse in the Book of Wisdom that says: ‘While gentle silence enveloped all things and night in its swift course was half-gone, your all- powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne’ (Wisd 18:14-15). So, silence envelops the world, Mary wraps the child in swaddling-clothes, and something starts to enfold us too. ‘God’s grace has been revealed’, says St Paul. Is it that?
This litany is privately composed and can be privately used, or even publicly within the diocese. John the Baptist seems to me to merit a Litany of his own. I found some, but thought another need not come amiss. The invocations it uses for John the Baptist are almost exclusively drawn from Scripture. It is, of course, open to improvement, be it addition or subtraction. It uses nouns to address the saint, but also the past and present participles. There are 36 invocations. The sequence is, in the broad sense, historical. The beginning and the end of the Litany follow the conventional model.
There was once a Jewish rabbi who asked some of his colleagues, ‘Where does God dwell? Where does he live?’ They were learned men who knew their Bible, and they laughed. ‘What a thing to ask! Isn’t the whole world full of his glory?’ Then the Rabbi answered, ‘God dwells wherever man lets him in.’
This is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. We feel expectancy rising, a sense of joyful anticipation. This Sunday is called ‘Gaudete’ – the Latin for ‘Rejoice’. It’s the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: again, I say rejoice.’ And that is drawn from the opening words of today’s second reading.
Today John the Baptizer comes to us: wild hair and beard, camel-skin and voice. He’s a sign Christ is coming. He is his herald, his forerunner. He prepares the way of the Lord. He was a historical figure. He was a prophet, a spokesman for God. He preached to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, just before our Lord himself began his public ministry. He called them to repentance and offered them a baptism, a forerunner of our baptism. But he’s not just an historical figure. He was praised by Jesus. He features in all four Gospels. He figures in the Church’s liturgy, especially in Advent, this Sunday and next. Once he was a presence for 1st c. Israel, and now he’s a presence for the 21st c. Church and for us.
“To you, O God, I lift up my soul”. It’s today’s Entrance Antiphon and Psalm Response. It’s the leitmotif of Advent. “I” = all of us, the whole Church, all of us believers, in the midst of the world, lifting up our souls to God on behalf of everyone, all the people we carry in our hearts and more.
When the angel visited Mary, she heard that the Lord would give her son “the throne of his father David” and that “he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” She was to be the mother of a king.