Epiphany

'ADORATION OF THE MAGI'The Christmas scene shifts from a humble stable with an obscure birth to the glorious revelation of Jesus as Saviour King.

An ‘epiphany’ is a showing, a revealing, an enlightening. Today’s feast shows us two vital aspects of our faith: the presence of the Son of God is revealed; and the God’s desire to save all peoples is made clear.

The ‘wise men’ are Gentiles, the first non-Jews to encounter the infant Jesus. They represent all the peoples of the world and the fact that the child is shown to them means that God wants everyone of whatever race or colour to access the salvation the child will bring.

The child is hailed with ‘sacred gifts of mystic meaning’ – this child is king, sacrifice and God. On the cross all those things will come to their climax.

The Christmas Crib

presepe06It is St Francis who is credited with having invented the Christmas crib scene. On the last Christmas before he died, with a few of his friends, Francis transformed a cave in the mountain town of Greccio in Italy into a living crib.

Straw was scattered on the floor of the cave and a manger put in place.  An ox and a donkey were tethered to a wall.

About an hour before midnight on Christmas Eve, townsfolk came to the cave to be with St Francis as they celebrated the first Mass of Christmas. Francis had set up an altar in the cave so that the priest could say Mass for him and his friends there.

One account says that at the end of the homily, a gold light filled the congregation. They saw Francis reach into an empty manger and lift out a child, and holding him in his arms he said to the assembled people: ‘Behold the saviour of the world.’

images-1As we look upon our crib scenes, whether at home or in a church, we are prompted to reflect that this helpless child, lying in the straw, is the one who has rescued us.

Pope Leo the Great once wrote that no one should feel excluded from the celebration of Christmas. Jesus is born for all of us; ‘he has come to free us all.’

 

The ‘O Antiphons’

Antiennes-OFrom 17 -24 December, we move into the second stage of Advent, with the emphasis less on waiting for the Second Coming of Christ and more on preparing ourselves for a worthy celebration of the Nativity.

A very ancient set of prayers used during this time are the ‘O Antiphons’, recited during Evening Prayer. These short prayers take up seven titles for the Messiah found in the bible.

For example, on the 20th December we pray: “O key of David and sceptre of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close, no one can open. O come and lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

This text, picking up on the prophecy of Isaiah 22:22 (‘the Key of David will be place upon his shoulder and what he opens no one will shut’) speaks of Jesus’ Coming as a moment of liberation, when the gates of heaven are swung wide open.

At some stage in their history, Benedictine monks put these antiphons into the particular order  found below.

O Wisdom (Sapientia)
O Lord (Adonai)
O Root of Jesse (Radix Jesse)
O Key of David (Clavis David)
O Rising Sun (Oriens)
O King of the Nations (Rex gentium)
O God-with-us (Emmanuel)

 

There was a liturgical joke in doing this. By taking the first letter in Latin of each of the titles and working backwards, we come up with the words, Ero cras meaning ‘I will come tomorrow.’ It’s as if Christ’s promise is hidden even in our petitions for him to come and save us.

You’ve probably spotted that these antiphons are the inspiration behind the familiar Advent hymn, O come, O come Emmanuel. In these last few days before Christmas, why not find time to read through the verses of this hymn and take some time to pray about what they are saying?

Gaudete!

Dom III Adv 2009 019This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice”. It takes its name from the entrance antiphon for the Mass:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete!
(Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice!)

 

Whereas the first week of Advent had urged us to be alert for the coming of our Christ, and last week pointed out to us our duty to prepare his way, this Sunday and this week have a different feel: rejoice! The Lord is near.

advent-kranz-kerzen-3a-pThe third candle on our advent wreath reminds us that Christ, who is the light of the world, transforms all that he touches. The royal purple is turned to pink (actually, rose) and expresses our hope that our lives, too, will be changed at his coming.

We pray that we will become more transparent, more honest, with ourselves and with each other. We ask that our inner beauty will be allowed to shine out to the world and no longer be obscured by the shadows of our insecurity.

Grammatically, gaudete is an imperative: in other words, a command. “Rejoice! Rejoice! The Lord is near.” So how do you plan to rejoice today or later this week? Maybe this is something you can discuss with family and friends.

Advent, Prayer & Conversion

'St._John_the_Baptist',_painting_by_Jacopo_del_Casentino_and_assistant,_c._1330,_El_Paso_Museum_of_ArtLast weekend the readings at Mass urged us to stay awake, eyes alert to the coming of God. There was a challenge to see the Lord in those around us and to live our lives truly believing the Messiah has come among us.

Being alert to the coming Christ is more than just keeping our physical eyes and ears open. It requires opening the eyes of our soul: a conversion.

This week, John the Baptist underscores the point. “Repent for the kingdom of God is close at hand,” he warns. Repent means think again. The gospel writer comments,

This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said: “A voice cries in the wilderness, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord’”.

Advent is a season of conversion; a time to make straight the pathway into our hearts for the Christ to come and claim his throne.

An essential component to conversion is prayer. Prayer directs our thoughts and minds beyond ourselves to God. It re-focuses our lives.

This Advent, in both parishes, there are extra opportunities to pray, not least before our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament.

Why not come early to Saturday evening Mass in Wisbech one week and join in prayer before Benediction?

Why not make an effort to come to the Holy Hour in March each Monday between 6pm and 7pm and spend some time with the Lord?