“REAL AND TRUE AND SACRAMENTAL”
The season of Advent is the great good news, the amazing story of the eternal Son of God and his human-divine adventures in human time. Time, of course, is part of God’s creation. God’s necessary being is timeless. St. Augustine eloquently expresses the mystery of Christ and time when he writes – “He who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our short day of time.” Advent has a two-fold character: 1) it is a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first entrance into human history is remembered; and 2) as a season when that remembrance directs our minds and hearts to await Christ’s second coming at time’s end. Christ’s first coming belongs to the past. His second coming lies hidden in the future. In the meanwhile, in the interim (and this means our lives here and now), the risen Christ meets us and we him in sacramental mystery.
On the day of his glorious ascension into heaven, the risen Christ made two promises to his fearful, awe-struck disciples: 1) though he was leaving them, he would send them another helper, namely the Holy Spirit who would bring to their minds all that the Lord Jesus had taught them in his earthly sojourn with them; and 2) though he was leaving them in a bodily, tangible, sensible manner, he would never abandon them but would remain with them in a new presence, a real and true presence, a sacramental presence.
How remarkable is the sacramental presence of the risen Christ! It is at the heart of our Sunday worship. At the center of all that we do at the Sunday Liturgy lies the act, the action from the power of the Holy Spirit, of making the Lord Jesus, risen now in glory, really, truly, sacramentally present on the altars of the Catholic world in his life, death and resurrection. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, to accomplish this great work of liturgy, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when a human being baptizes, it is really Christ who baptizes. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst”.
We describe Christ’s three comings in terms of the following words: history, mystery and glory. What about this word “mystery”? When we speak, e.g., about the Agatha Christie mysteries, we think of such events as the discovery of the body of somebody who has been shot but we have no idea who did the shooting. Mystery in terms that the Church uses is very much like the word sacramental. A sacrament is an outward sign – visible, tangible, detectable – of unseen, hidden divine reality. And so we speak of the mystery of Christ. To Pilate Jesus was one of the Jews of the day, but not in favor with the Jews of authority. To us who see him in the light of faith, he is the Word of God who became flesh for our salvation. The sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice we offer at Sunday Eucharist are really one and the same sacrifice except for the manner of offering. St. Paul speaks about the mystery of God, the mystery of Christ, hidden for ages and generations past but now made manifest to God’s holy ones. To the Ephesians Paul speaks of his ministry to bring to the attention of people all over the world God’s plan hidden from the very beginning. By God’s plan he means, of course, the will of God, the purpose of God, God’s vision of things for our redemption. Throughout the liturgical year we have the opportunity to share in what we call the mysteries of Christ, those actions which St. John’s Gospel calls “signs”, outward, visible actions of Jesus but with deeper and more significant divine meaning for our salvation. In fact, a good name for the new year we call the liturgical year could be “Christ in his mysteries”, God’s plan of salvation as it unfolds at Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, during Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. In this way, Christ’s mysteries become our own as he invites us to himself as branches on the vine, as members of his body which is the Church. He lived his mysteries for us and now involves us in his mysteries. The challenge of Advent, in fact the challenge of the entire liturgical year is this: how are we to pray our way through the new liturgical year which is upon us? The answer to this question could be to say with one writer – “the mysteries of the life of Jesus are of great importance for the believer. This is because the believer’s personal relation to the risen Christ makes no sense without the earthly history of the risen Christ. The resurrection makes eternal the earthly life Christ lived, without which the risen Lord would remain anonymous.” In praying through the mysteries of the life of Jesus, our focus is always on the contemporary Christ, that is, our risen Lord. We do not focus on the baby Jesus at Christmas, or the preaching of Jesus in his public life or the suffering Jesus on the cross; rather, we concentrate on the risen Christ who once was the baby Jesus, the preaching Jesus, the suffering Jesus. The Lord is who he is in glory in virtue of the past experience of his earthly life. By focusing on his earthly mysteries and by receiving him in Holy Communion, we grow in his likeness and find our place in the history of salvation being carried on in our day.
Let us begin a new liturgical year as we remember: “It is with Christ that we journey, and we walk with our steps in his footprints: he it is who is our guide and the burning flame which illumines our paths; pioneer of salvation, he it is who draws us towards heaven, towards the Father, and promises success to those who seek in faith. We shall one day be that which he is in glory, if by faithful imitation of his example, we become true Christians, other Christs.”