We have entered the Season of Advent and most of us are thinking of Christmas—certainly the department stores have been thinking about Christmas for the last two or three months. But Advent is not about Christmas, or at least not Christmas as a monthlong shopping spree. The Mass readings and prayers speak of the end of the world; “there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea…people will die of fright….” But amidst this confusion Christ the Redeemer will return. Christmas means “Christ’s Mass,” and every Mass points toward His Second Coming—when Christ will return on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory, not as a little babe but as supreme judge. He will bring justice and order and true peace to those who have believed in Him. “Wake up!” the Apostle says in the Epistle today. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
The “Holiday Season”
God affords us much comfort in this season, a holiday warmth that literature and art rightly portray: the Christmas star, the charming beauty of the divine child in the manger, choirs of angels singing in the sky. Christ was born in Bethlehem, however, not to make us comfortable on earth, but to guide us to heaven. Advent looks forward to His Second Coming, be that the last day of human history or the last day of your personal history. Every bit of our faith, and every Mass, looks to the next life. Yes, Advent points to Christmas, but Christmas points to heaven. As Jesus himself was a wayfarer on this earth, spending only three decades on this planet, so we too are wayfarers and pilgrims, on our way to our true fatherland. Our Christmas parties and shopping and tinsel must not replace Advent’s guiding purpose, which is to prepare ourselves for the day Christ will return to submit everything to his Father.
People will die of fright
In the Gospel today, we hear of confusion and terror: the sea and the waves will roar; the powers of the heavens will be shaken. It is for these days that we must prepare, because they will surely come. But we who believe will not die of fright. “When these things begin to pass, look up,” Jesus instructs us, “because your redemption is at hand.” We spend our lives longing for his return, when all his disciples will pass with him through the splendid gates of his Eternal Kingdom. It would be an unspeakable tragedy if even one of us were to lose our eternal soul. Advent calls us to keep our final end in mind during the Christmas parties and shopping adventures, but also to keep in mind the proximity of our redemption. Now is the time to prepare for judgment; now is the time to hope for redemption.
Dressing for Mass
I spoke of one simple way to prepare for Our Lord at the English Masses last week, and I say it now at the Latin Mass: we should dress for Mass in our Sunday best. The clothing we put on for Sunday Mass should be consecrated, reserved for this sacred purpose: to honor God for his Sabbath Sacrifice. Someone gave me a gift card to Macy’s recently, and I bought a nice pair of shoes with it. These shoes look good and feel good, and cost a bit of money. I decided to keep these shoes on a shelf the whole week, and use them only for Sunday Mass. I will use my scuffed up, well-worn work shoes for daily Masses, but on Sunday you will see my polished, more formal footgear from now on. Formality, like other aspects of the sacred, has been denigrated, even mocked, in our era of Blue Jeans. We must recover a reverential formality. We honor Christ’ sacred presence on Sunday by wearing better than ordinary vesture. If I appear for Sunday Mass now without my Sunday Shoes, I want you to call me on it! “Father, where are your Sunday Shoes?”
When Christ returns he will clothe us in the fullness of holiness and glory. Let us do our best to anticipate that final coming by clothing ourselves, inside and out, in humility, holiness, and charity. Consider Christ’s Holy Mother. In every painting she wears a veil, a sacred garment reflecting her interior consecration. Let us also clothe ourselves, especially on Sunday, with holiness. Our Lady will help us prepare for Christmas, and for the Second Coming. Even as we shop and enjoy parties and write cards, let us bring Jesus and Mary to every Advent activity—a decade of the rosary or the Angelus and some real Christmas carols at every Christmas party—so that we will be prepared to meet Christ when he returns on the clouds of heaven.