Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Prepare the way of the Lord!” With these words, St. John the Baptist echoes the great prophet Isaiah. Jesus, who came not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (cf. Mt. 5:17), is coming soon. In a similar way, John fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, that one day there would come a voice crying out in the wilderness. How does John cry out his message of preparation? His is a call to repentance and baptism, the symbolic washing being an outward indication of the interior desire for a changed and transformed life. John the Baptist calls the people to repentance so that they can more perfectly receive the promised Messiah. His voice gives us a plan for our observance of Advent.
John the Baptist calls us to repentance. Advent is a perfect time to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation/Confession. In this sacrament, we avail ourselves of the mercy that God is constantly offering us. The various names used for this sacrament are instructive. We confess our sins, naming them clearly and in number. We repent, expressing our sorrow and contrition for our sins and are given a penance that becomes a sign of our turning away from sin. This turning away from sin allows us to turn toward the Lord and be reconciled. In these weeks leading up to Christmas, we should all seek out this powerful sacrament. John the Baptist calls us to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a place for Him in our hearts and souls. Confession does exactly this. The Church teaches that we ought to prepare ourselves well to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, that is, prepare to receive Holy Communion. An integral part of this preparation is the sacrament of confession, particularly if we are aware of any serious, mortal sins that we have committed. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in their recent document The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church (47), remind us of the following:
One is not to celebrate Mass or receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin without having sought the Sacrament of Reconciliation and received absolution. As the Church has consistently taught, a person who receives Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin not only does not receive the grace that the sacrament conveys; he or she commits the sin of sacrilege by failing to show the reverence due to the sacred Body and Blood of Christ. St. Paul warns us that whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and rink the cup. For anyone who eats and rinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself (1 Cor. 11:27-29). To receive the Body and Blood of Christ while in a state of mortal sin represents a contradiction. The person who, by his or her own action, has broken communion with Christ and His Church but receives the Blessed Sacrament, acts incoherently, both claiming and rejecting communion at the same time. It is thus a counter-sign, a lie – it expresses a communion that in fact has been broken.
The good news for us is that God always wants to reconcile us to Himself. The entire purpose of the Incarnation is the divine mission of mercy. Jesus is coming to us to reconcile us with the Father. This Advent season points us to the great truth of the reconciling power of Jesus’ birth. So let us confidently heed the call of St. John the Baptist, and in these days repent of our sin, turning toward the Lord, and preparing to welcome the gift of salvation anew!
In the same spirit of preparation and with a desire to give some practical indications, as previously announced, next weekend, all Masses for the Third Sunday of Advent will be celebrated ad orientem. The Collect (opening prayer), Creed, Prayer of the Faithful, and Prayer After Communion (closing prayer) will all be prayed from the celebrant’s chair, as they are every Sunday. From the Offertory through the Lamb of God, the priest will face the altar – that is, the priest will, with the congregation, face the same direction. This liturgically eastern posture symbolizes the priest’s union with the congregation, and his spiritual work on behalf of the congregation as with and for the gathered community, he offers the sacrifice of the Mass. In the Advent season, the whole Church is invited to look to the east and prepare to welcome the promised Messiah. This experience of the Mass will be one of many ways in which we strive to turn more perfectly to the Lord and prepare that place of welcome.