Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Christmas Eve Reflection

Vigils in the Catholic Church are wonderful things.  While they are celebrated the evening before the actual feast, liturgically speaking we have arrived at the day in question, as a nod to the Creation Story in the first chapter of Genesis (And the evening and the morning were the...day.)  In a sense, it is hodie; in another, it is a foreshadowing of eternity.

And yet, we are still waiting, like the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, like the shepherds, like the rest of the world.  This theme is reflected throughout the Vigil Mass of the Feast of the Incarnation:  Today and still waiting for tomorrow.  We are still traveling to Bethlehem, still anticipating the great event, still awaiting our deliverance.

This tension between "here and now" and "not yet" readily appears in the Propers for this Mass.  If you recall from last year's reflection, they are antiphons used as select points of the Mass.  And like last year, they will be the focal points for my thoughts this December 24.  Once again, I will provide an English translation.

Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us; and tomorrow you will see his glory.

Cf. Exodus 16:6,7; Isaiah 35:4

These passages are the text for both the Introit and the Gradual.  In their respective Gregorian Chant settings, the latter is more elaborately set than the former as befits their roles.  The Introit prepares the way and establishes the theme for the Mass as we take our final steps toward the House of Bread; the Gradual allows reflection upon not only the First Reading but also our journey this past Advent.

Almost, but not quite there.  The First and Second Readings make that clear.  Isaiah speaks of vindication, victory, and valor, as does St. Paul in this account from the Acts of the Apostles.  But while both were speaking in their "todays", they both referred to something "not yet".  If you get a moment (or if you are assisting at this Mass), take a look at both passages in this light.

Tomorrow the sin of the land will be destroyed, and the Savior of the world will establish over us his kingdom.

This Alleluia is one of the rare times where the Bible is not the source of the text.  But its words are still in concourse with the rest of the Propers.  It is a precursor to the second part (better known as the Short Form) of the first chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, where St. Joseph is receiving his marching orders.  The event for which we have been waiting the past four weeks is not quite accomplished.

Anticipation.  The hopefulness in the build up.  To prepare ourselves for the moment where our joy will be complete.  The feeling that something is within our reach, but we still must wait for it.  Isn't this one of the great moods of Christmas, and why we have Advent?

O Princes, lift up your gates; be lifted high, O eternal gates, and the King of Glory shall make his entry.

Psalm 24:7

How appropriate are these words for the Offertory this night.  Again, we are waiting for the King of Glory to make His entry.  Here is more anticipation.  He is coming, but in a guise we do not recognize unless with Faith.

How ready are we? What is standing in the way of the Way, the Truth, and the Life? What darkness in us still wants to overshadow the Light? How silent is our soul so the Word can be clearly heard? While more focus in recent times has been placed on Advent being a time of preparation, have we heeded the call of St. John the Baptist and continued on our journey of repentance? Have we decreased so He may increase? While conversion begins with a single event, a "now" moment, it is a process of continual renewal, reminding us it it is still "not yet".

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see the salvation which comes from our God.

Cf. Isaiah 40:5 

If the Psalmist's words are ideal for the Offertory this night, how even more so the prophet's words for the Communion.  And not just for this Mass, but for every Mass.  The glory of the Lord is revealed at every Holy Sacrifice; remember, we are not at our own churches, but also the Upper Room and Calvary.  We hear and see our salvation at the words of Institution and the elevation of the Sacred Species.

In the Real Presence, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the form of bread and wine, do we find what we are seeking.  His Glory is finally revealed.  Our salvation is seen at last.

Emmanuel.  God is with us.  His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, played out in so many "todays", are "here" and "now".  The culmination of our longing and watching are complete.  Our Advent is finished.  Let Christmas begin in earnest.

Ero cras.  Tomorrow, I come.

The "here and now" and the "not yet" are reconciled.

Hodie Christus natus est.