Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As I write this note, we are not quite at the half-way point of Advent. Early bulletin printing deadlines mean looking a few weeks ahead and anticipating elements of this liturgical season somewhat earlier than normal. This year, though, I find myself very eager for this fourth week of Advent, eager for the celebrations of Christmas. In part, I am eager because this is such a strange time in which to celebrate. The restrictions we observe in an effort to keep everyone safe and healthy seem to collide with the desire of so many faithful to get to Mass. Our Christmas Eve Mass reservations (which only exist because of the pandemic…I have no intention of ever asking anyone to sign up for Mass ever again after the threat of the pandemic passes) filled incredibly quickly, leaving many people frustrated. Of course, frustration was never the goal.
Fr. Silva and I are offering the absolute maximum number of Masses we are permitted. The canon law of the Church allows priests to celebrate one Mass per day, and two for pastoral reasons (such as a funeral). On Sundays, the law allows priests to celebrate two Masses, and with permission from the local bishop, a priest may even celebrate three Masses. This law exists to remind priests of their responsibility to celebrate Mass, and to remind them of the spiritual weight of every celebration of Mass. The priest must offer Mass with due reverence and devotion, with great attention and involvement. The offering of a single Mass should be an all-consuming outpouring of prayer and energy on the part of the priest. I always worry that I miss the true weight, beauty, and responsibility of the Mass. Due to the pandemic, the bishops of the United States petitioned the Holy See for permission for priests to celebrate four Masses on Christmas Eve, and to begin the celebration of vigil Masses earlier on December 24, and that permission was granted. Our Christmas Eve Mass schedule is expanded, but space and occupancy requirements limit our numbers. As I write this, we are awaiting word on whether or not Governor Lamont will expand the occupancy numbers a bit. I am grateful for the permission to celebrate additional Masses and to start earlier, as it allows us to accommodate the greatest number of people possible. Nothing about limiting attendance numbers is pleasant, and I regret that more space is not available, but I am so grateful to see the sincere desire for the Mass evidenced by our full list of people who intend to participate on Christmas Eve.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent comes with the great promise that our waiting is almost at an end. I so look forward to Christmas, in part because it means that the pressure of one of the biggest-crowd days of the year will pass, in part because it means being somewhere closer to an end to this incredibly frustrating pandemic and all the associated restrictions. It will mean, I hope, an end to the daily second-guessing occasioned by the pandemic: am I doing enough to protect people, or am I standing in the way of people receiving the grace they need? I’m trying to look ahead with hope. That is precisely the gift of Christmas. Our Incarnate Lord is born into our world, into our time, and comes as a light in the darkness to show us a better way, to redeem us from the despair of sin and death. And so Christmas is a day to which we look with hearts filled with hope. In this year, I think we might be excused for looking ahead with anticipation and longing for the end of the pandemic, too.
At the same time, the Fourth Sunday of Advent reminds us of our need for continued preparation. As much as we might want all of this to be past us – as much as I might want the holiday past just to be free of the sign-up stress – this Sunday’s stubborn presence on the calendar reminds me that there remain preparations to be made. King David appears in the first reading, settled in his palace, seemingly very comfortable. Aware of his comfort, he begins to plan a project for the Lord, the construction of the great Temple. But God shows him that the Temple is not his project to complete. Rather, King David will be the one who prepares, who begins to lay out the plans, the one who stores up that which is necessary for the project. His role is to prepare. King David embraces this responsibility in faith. Like King David, we are called in this last week of Advent to make those preparations for the living Temple, Jesus Christ, to be built in us. Just as David would not be the one to build the Temple, so we are not the ones who bring Christ into our history. It is, rather, the action of God toward and for us. God comes to us in human form by His own initiative. We simply prepare the place to welcome Him, we get ready to receive. Though we may be looking forward to an end of the pandemic and restrictions, we need to continue the necessary work of spiritual preparation. These remaining days of preparation are a graced opportunity for us to encounter the Lord and to order our desires, not to mere earthly comfort, but to God’s glory. May these final days of Advent help us to look forward, not only to an end to pandemic restrictions and stresses, but also to the joyful supernatural gift of hope that comes from knowing Jesus Christ.