Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the First Sunday of Advent – Year B. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Isaiah 63:16-17, 19, and 64:2-7, 1 Corinthians 1:3-7, Mark 13:33-37.
The Liturgy of the Mass is the Hope of Parousia and Anemeno Fulfilled
In the Advent season, two of the greatest ideas of our faith, ‘parousia’ and ‘anemeno,’ collide to create a symphonic explosion of divine truths. Our Lord Christ Jesus’ command to wait for His coming is repeated in every Divine Symphony, “Do this in anemeno,” that is, in perpetual wait “of me,” takes on new meaning on the first day of our liturgical year, which happens to be the first day on which we begin our wait for the coming of His parousia, that is, the coming of His presence in the Christ Mass. In this way, we understand that the anemeno is only possible because of our hope in the parousia, and the parousia is not a shadow that leans over Advent as to diminish its value, but, rather, the parousia of the newborn king is a descending light that has come to lift us out of the darkness.
The readings for the First Sunday in Advent – Year B strike three vital and essential notes about how the liturgy of the Catholic Mass prepares us for the near coming parousia of Christ the Holy Eucharist and the time-unknown coming parousia of Christ at the end of this age.
It may appear odd to begin the joyous season of Advent with a prayer of lament from Isaiah 63:16-17, 19, and 64:2-7 in today’s First Reading. King of Persia Cyrus permitted the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. However, their return was not as joyous as expected. The city and the temple were in ruins; their neighbors made rebuilding difficult, and internal divisions impeded progress. Nevertheless, despite the hardship, Isaiah begins the prayer of lament in verse 7, saying, “The loving deeds of the LORD I will recall, the glorious acts of the LORD, Because of all the LORD has done for us . . .” From there, the mood of the remainder of the prayer that makes the distinctions between the glory of God and the sinfulness of man, and for this reason the prophet petitions and at times openly begs the Lord for His parousia to come among them, saying, “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you . . .,” “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him,” and, “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you.” This indeed is the song of Advent and the song of the penitential rite of the liturgy of the Mass; that we are aware of ourselves enough to know that we cannot save ourselves, so we wait on you to save us from ourselves. Come, Jesus!
As the prophet Isaiah was mindful of giving thanks to God for the opportunity for the hope of waiting for His coming, so too is the Apostle Paul in today’s Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 1:3-7, writing, “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him, you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” This prayer of thanksgiving reminds us of many of the prayers of consecration and communion of the priest as we await the parousia, such as “by the power of the Spirit of your love, we may be counted now and until the day of eternity among the members of your Son,” and for himself the priest prays, “keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you,” and for our hope in communion with the Lord, the priest prays “by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Indeed, thanksgiving is only possible if the wait for the parousia is confirmed, for hope is in vain if it does not end in fruition.
In this way, the liturgy of the Mass teaches us how to wait by rejoicing in the parousia we have been given for now, in His words, His priest in persona Christi, His people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, and the Holy Eucharist, which assures of that our hope in the real will we satisfied. The Church of Christ is also mindful of the complacency and sleepiness of the human condition, so she calls us to return to the liturgy as often as possible and obligates us to return on every Holy day so that we do not grow lax in waiting for the parousia.
In all of her movements to capture our waiting eyes, and keep us alert by moving our bodies into postures of prayer and attention, and call to respond to the priest, which keeps our tongue alert and always ready to praise, confess, and glorify His name, the liturgy is teaching us how to fulfill the command of our Lord in today’s Gospel Reading from Mark 13:33-37, saying, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” Indeed, it would be easy to keep watch if we could only remain at worship in the liturgy. However, the imagery here of a gatekeeper outside of the home and often suffering through inclement weather, darkness, hunger, and false alarms is that we better learn how to turn every aspect of our lives into a type of liturgy so that we can be a liturgical people who are always waiting in prayer and confession. For, we are unceasingly praying songs of thanksgiving and confessing our sins and the glory of His name because we believe that our hope will be fulfilled in His coming parousia.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us in how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.