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The “O” Antiphons: O Emmanuel…

o_emmanuel

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 23, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23 and 1 Timothy 4:9.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectratio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domines, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come, save us, O Lord our God.

From Evening prayer
O Emmanuel,
king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people:
Come
and set us free, Lord our God.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 1:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Emmanuel
Emmanuel means “God-with-us.” In the Old Testament, God dwelt with his people in the temple at Jerusalem. At the temple sanctuary He received their worship and conferred His mercy and blessings.

Christ is “God-with-us” in a far more intimate way. He is one of us since his birth on te first Christmas. He dwells with us in His Mystical Body, the Church. He embraces us in the holy Eucharist. We pray Him to come with His all-powerful grace this Christmas to save us, our neighbours and everyone.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O King…

O_King

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 22, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 2:4; 11:10, Psalm 47:8; Jeremiah 10:7, Daniel 7:14; Haggai 2:8, Romans 15:12 and Ephesians 2:14, 20.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of all peoples and their hope, cornerstone uniting Jews and Gentiles in one people: Come, and save man whom You formed from the dust of the earth.

From Evening prayer
O King of all the nations
the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man:
Come
and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 7:
O Come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.

King of All Peoples
By His word, God made the first man, from whom all men and women have been born – people now divided into many peoples and nations struggling against one another.

In Christ, the Word incarnate, God gathers all who are of good will again into one, in the unity of His Mystical Body; and thereby He fulfills the desire of mankind through the ages for true union and peace. We beg Him to come and save our warring world, to re-establish all things in His love.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Dawn…

o_dawn

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 21, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 9:1; 58:8; 60:18-20, Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79, John 8:12 and Revelation 22:16

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Dawn in the East, splendor of the everlasting Light and Sun of Justice: Come and give light to those sitting in darkness, in the shadow of death.

From Evening prayer
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
Come,
shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

From O Come, O Come Emmanuel:
Verse 6:
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Dawn in the East
We pray our Lord to give us light of His revelation and life to all mankind, to lead everyone on earth out of spiritual darkness into the glory of a life unending.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Key of David…

o_key_of_david

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 20, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 22:22, Jeremiah 13:13; 51:19, Matthew 4:16; 16:19 and Luke 1:79

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel! You open and no one closes, You close and no one opens: Come and lead out of prison the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.

From Evening prayer
O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come,
break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 5:
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

Key of David
Jesus, our Lord possesses the royal power of His ancestor David in a far fuller and higher way. What he commands is done. By His death on the Cross, He broke open the gates of death and led the souls of the just into everlasting life. He broke the power of the devil who had helped all people captive in sin and the fear of death. We pray Him to come and free us from slavery to sin and to the fear that sin brings with it.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Stock of Jesse…

o_stock_of_jesus

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 19, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 11:1, 10, Isaiah 52:15 and Romans 15:12.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O stock of Jesse, set up as the rallying sign for the nations! In Your presence rulers are silent and the peoples make supplication: Come deliver us; do not delay.

From Evening prayer
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come,
let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 4:
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Stock of Jesse
In His human nature, Christ is the descendant of Jesse, Father of David, the great king of God’s people.

Our Lord is the King of kings. His power extends to all peoples and to their rulers. In the desperate perils of our age, we pray Him to come quickly and deliver us, to establish in all hearts His kingdom of truth and of life, of justice, love and peace.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Adonai…

o_adonai

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 18, the antiphon is based on Exodus 3:2, Isaiah 33:22; 63:11-12, Micah 6:4 and Acts 7:30-31.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai and Leader of the House of Israel! You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave the Law on Mount Sinai: Come, and redeem us with outstretched arm.

From Evening prayer
O Adonai,
Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come,
stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 3:
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Adonai

Adonai means Lord (thus the translation, “Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel). It was one of the titles used when speaking of or to God in the Old Testament. It was Adonai who led the Chosen People out of captivity in Egypt “by the mighty arm of his power” and gave them His law on Mount Sinai.

Similarly Christ, the Lord led us out of our captivity to Satan by dying “with outstretched arms” on the Cross of Calvary; and He has given us His law of love. We beg Him to come at Christmas and redeem us completely from slavery to sin; and to vie us the power to live more fully in obedience to His law.

(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The Advent Season’s Brightest Jewels

AventJewels

During the final week of Advent the Church offers us an intense time of preparation for the feast of the Nativity, and the Roman Church in particular sings a series of antiphons at Vespers that magnificently set forth the nature of the coming One.  I offer you a rendering of this “season’s brightest jewels” that can help us understand more clearly how Jesus has fulfilled the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Israel.

December 17  O Wisdom, O Holy Word of God (Sir. 24:3), you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care (Wisd. of Solomon  8:1).  Come and show your people the way to salvation (Isa. 40:3-5).

December 18  O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel (Exod. 6:2, 3, 12), who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:  come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

December 19  O Flower of Jesse’s Stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples (Isa. 11:10; Rom. 15:12); kings stand silent in your presence (Isa. 5:15); the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid (Hab. 2:3; Heb. 10:37).

December 20  O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven (Isa. 22:22; Rev. 3:7); come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom (Isa. 42:7; Ps. 107:14; Luke 1:79).

December 21  O Radiant Dawn (Zech. 6:12), splendor of eternal light (Heb. 1:3), sun of justice (Mal 4:2):  come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1:78-79; Isa. 9:2).

December 22  O King of all the Nations, the only joy of every human heart (Hag 2:8); O Keystone (Isa. 28:16) of the mighty human arch (Eph. 2:14); come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust (Gen. 2:7).

December 23  O Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14; 8:8), king and lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), desire of the nations (Gen. 49:10), Savior of all, come and set us free, Lord our God.

photo courtesy of CNS

The “O” Antiphons: O Wisdom

o_wisdom

I vaguely remember my mother telling us, during the Season of Advent, while growing up, about the “O” antiphons. I never really understood what these were. Even as an adult, she would occasionally send me various reflections on the “O” antiphons. I must say, with regret that while I thought it to be an important part of our Advent Tradition, I didn’t really see them as part of my tradition.

Until I began praying the Office of the Church.

As a Deacon, I have made a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours: Morning prayer (laudes) and Evening prayer (vespers). This prayer of the Church allows us to pray with (and through) the Psalms. They have been part of the prayers of the Church since very early in our history. As we pray the psalms, each one is introduced by an antiphon (not unlike the refrain we pray at Mass during the Responsorial Psalm). Added to the Psalms, which are different every day, there are two canticles from the Gospel of Luke that are prayed every day: The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) in the morning for laudes; and the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55) in the evening for vespers.

On the last seven days before the Vigil of Christmas, December 17-23, our Church sings antiphons that are slightly different than the rest of the year. For evening prayer, before the Magnificat, each of these antiphons begins with the word, “Oh” (or in Latin “O”), thus the short-handed name, the “O” antiphons.

Each of these seven prayers-songs consists of
a) an invocation addressed to Christ, using one of his prophetic titles (O Wisdom; O Key of David etc.);
b) a development of that title reflecting passages in the Old and New Testaments;
c) an ardent request expressed by the word “Come”;
d) the reason why we want Christ to come.

Not only are these antiphons prayed during vespers, but they have also been placed in the daily Liturgy as the verse of the Gospel Acclamation. With the new translation of the Roman Missal, these are sometimes summarized or even repeated, but, in their essence, they are the same. If you go to daily Mass between December 17 – 23, you’ll hear them.

I recently discovered that, not only are these found in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the daily Mass, but they are actually, also the verses to a song that all of us know very well, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

All of us can make use of these anthems in our family and personal prayers for they sum up everything that we want our Lord to be toward us and our world, to do for us and our world in His Christmas coming.
For the next seven days, I’d like to share with you these antiphons that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 17, the antiphon is based on Wisdom 8:1; Isaiah 11:2-3; 28:29, Proverbs 8:1-36 and John 1:1-5.

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner: come to teach us the way of truth. (Isaiah 11:2-3; Isaiah 28:29)

From Evening prayer
O Wisdom,
O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come
and show your people the way to salvation.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 2:
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Wisdom
In the ancient civilizations of the Near East, “wisdom” was first understood as the science and art of managing men. It meant the principles involved in “getting along” successfully oneself and in making the whole state function smoothly. In Israel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the search for human wisdom became more and more oriented toward the supreme Wisdom of God by which He creates and governs all things, His hidden design for mankind and its mysterious ordering of everything to achieve His plan.

Christ our Lord is this eternal Wisdom incarnate. He clarified and carried out God’s plan to re-establish everything in Himself as head. May He come more fully to each of is and to the whole world this Christmas, to show us how we may take our part in carrying out that plan for our own happiness and for the happiness of all people.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

Thank you, Vatican II

VCII

“What does Christmas mean to you?” This is a common question posed during the Advent season, and one that evokes in many of us fond memories and feelings of gratitude.

This week, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, similar feelings have pervaded me. Many thoughtful and inspiring reflections are being shared in Catholic circles, and in the spirit of Advent I would like to join my voice to the choir of those singing praise for the great religious event that was Vatican II.

And so I ask myself, “what does Vatican II mean to me?”

In a way I feel a bit like St. Paul, who was so totally convinced of the truth of the resurrection and the salvific work of Christ, having never met Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh. He must certainly have been an enigma to the Apostles who knew Jesus personally.

I wasn’t at the Council. I was born in the 1980’s, some twenty years after it closed. I didn’t know anything significant about it until I was an adult. Yet, I’ve become convinced through faith, reason and a study of history that the Council was a truly inspired event.

Some would call me naïve. I wasn’t around for the tumultuous 60’s and 70’s. I didn’t experience the rapid and jarring shifts in the Church, the memories of which—for better or for worse—still linger in the hearts and minds of Catholics of those generations.

Undoubtedly, I arrived on the scene after things had settled down. I’ve only ever known the “Vatican II Church.” So it would be easy, perhaps natural, for me to take it for granted. I find this is generally the case with Catholics of my generation.

But in a way this allows us to look at the Council with fresh eyes; we don’t carry a lot of ecclesial baggage. And this, I think, can be helpful on this anniversary when the whole Church is remembering an integral part of its recent history.

What does Vatican II mean to me? It means a lot and here’s why:

Simply put, Vatican II re-articulated the Gospel and the role of the Church for the modern era. In its reflections and proclamations, it was able to capture the revolutionary spirit and missionary impulse that permeate the Gospels. Anyone who studies and prays the Gospels using the methods encouraged by the Church will clearly see the connection between them and the sixteen Council documents. The Spirit was so at work in this process that we now speak often of Vatican II as a “new Pentecost.” The Council challenged itself to do what it must always do: go back to the source and conform itself to the founder. The consequences of doing this are, like the founder himself, revolutionary.

This leads to a related point about the Council that has struck me in a profound way. It’s difficult to articulate. By going back to the source, that is, by doing what the Church must always do, the Church, at Vatican II, did what it has always done. The nuance of this should not obscure the enormous historical fact that lies behind it.

If we agree that Vatican II was revolutionary—for better or for worse—we have at least to conclude that this revolution is strangely common to our Tradition. When we look at the history of the Catholic Church we find over and over again in the Tradition this perpetually reincarnated revolution.

It is a paradox. And when we comprehend it, we then notice a corresponding irony. We tend to think of revolution as being decidedly unfaithful to the Tradition. Revolution typically means revolt against the established order. And interestingly, Vatican II is sometimes categorized this way: as a revolution that went too far; a revolution that compromised too much; a revolution that was unfaithful in some ways to the Tradition; a revolution that was not entirely orthodox.

But the truth is that Vatican II was a revolution precisely in its achievement of conforming the modern Church to Christ and the Tradition. Orthodoxy, properly understood, is the thousand little Vatican IIs that have happened over and over again throughout the Church’s history. The Council should be seen in this light: as a recent revolution in a long line of faithful revolutions going all the way back to Christ.

That, in a nutshell, is what Vatican II means to me. And I am grateful for it. In a remarkable way it has brought me closer to Jesus and helped me understand why I’m a Catholic. The really wonderful thing about the Council is that it didn’t happen so long ago. Only 50 years later we are compelled to remember it, study it, and immerse ourselves in it so that we can faithfully discern where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. The Council is a sure signpost.

Thank you, Vatican II.


 

SebastianGOn Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice for dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and host at Salt+Light TV.

Shout for Joy, O Daughter Zion!

Annunciazione Botticelli cropped

Third Sunday of Advent, Year C – December 13, 2015

Advent, far from being a penitential time, is a time of rejoicing. Christians proclaim that the Messiah has indeed come and that God’s reign is at hand. During these days we are invited to quietly prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.

On this third Sunday of Advent — known as Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing — I would like to focus on two important themes found in today’s scripture readings: the biblical expression “Daughter of Zion” and what it means to “rejoice.”

The rich text of today’s first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah [3:14-18a-20] speaks of the Daughter of Zion, the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Let us reflect on the significance of this title of the holy city of Jerusalem and see how and why the Church appropriated the title for Mary, Mother of the Lord.

Daughter of Zion is the personification of the city of Jerusalem. Zion was the name of the Jebusite citadel that later became the City of David. In the many texts of the Old Testament that speak of the Daughter of Zion, there is no real distinction to be made between a daughter of Zion and the city of Jerusalem itself.

In the Old Testament, the title Virgin of Israel is the same as the Daughter of Zion. The image of the bride of the Lord is found in Hosea, Chapters 1-3: It reflects the infidelity of the people to their God.

Jeremiah 3:3-4 speaks of prostitution and the infidelity of the bride. Virginity in the Old Testament is fidelity to the Covenant. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul speaks of the Church as a pure virgin. Here, virginity is the purity of faith.

Throughout the Old Testament, it is in Zion-Jerusalem that God shall gather together all of his people. In Isaiah 35:10, the tribes of Israel shall gather in Zion. In Ezekiel 22:17-22, the prophet describes God’s purification of his people that shall take place “within” the walls of the city, in the midst of Jerusalem.

The Hebrew word used to describe this inner section of the city is “beqervah,” a word formed from the root “qerev” meaning something deep, intimate, situated deep within a person. It also means the maternal womb, the intestines, the breast, the insides of a person, the most secret area of one’s soul where wisdom, spirit, malice and the Law of the Lord dwell. Therefore, the city of Jerusalem has a definite maternal function in the history of salvation.

In the Christian Tradition

The Second Vatican Council formally called Mary “Daughter of Zion” in the dogmatic constitution on the Church “Lumen Gentium” (No. 52). The Church’s appropriation of this title for the Mother of the Lord has a rich Scriptural foundation. Mary illustrates the prophecies of the Old Testament that ascribed value to the eschatological role of woman as mother both of the Messiah and of the new people of God.

The title Daughter of Zion evokes the great biblical symbolism of the Messianic Zion. Mary illustrates the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures which ascribed value to the eschatological role of woman as mother both of the Messiah and of the new people of God: the individual person and the whole people being very closely united, in line with the cultural structures of Israel.

For the prophets, the Daughter of Zion was the spouse of the Lord when she observed the covenant. Mary’s role as Daughter of Zion, or for that matter any of her roles in the life of God’s people, can never be understood independently of Christ and of the Spirit, which he bestows upon all humanity in dying on the cross.

“Lumen Gentium” says that all theology and Marian piety belong to the mystery of Christ and to the mystery of the Church.

Mary, Daughter of Zion, is the archetype of the Church as Bride, Virgin and Mother. It is not only biological virginity, but also spiritual virginity, which means fidelity to the Scriptures, openness toward others, and purity in faith.

Mary’s words to the servants at the wedding banquet in Cana (John 2:1-12) are an invitation to all peoples to become part of the new people of God. Mary is the new “Daughter of Zion” because she has invited the servants to perfectly obey Jesus the Lord. At Cana this new Daughter of Zion has given voice to all people.

Both at Cana and at Calvary (in John’s Gospel), Mary represents not only her maternity and physical relationship with her son, but also her highly symbolic role of Woman and Mother of God’s people. At Calvary, more than any other place in the fourth Gospel, Mary is “Mother Zion”: her spiritual maternity begins at the foot of the cross.

As “Mother Zion,” she not only welcomes and represents Israel, but the Church, the People of God of the New Covenant. At the foot of the cross, Mary is the mother of the new messianic people, of all of those who are one in Christ.

She who bore Jesus in her womb now takes her place in the assembly of God’s holy people. She is the new Jerusalem: In her own womb was the Temple, and all peoples shall be gathered back to the Temple, which is her Son. The Mother of Jesus is indeed the Mother of all of God’s scattered children. She is Mother of the Church. Mary is the first Daughter of Zion, leading all of God’s people on the journey toward the Kingdom.

I cannot help but recall the words of Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City, in his profound, opening address to the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” in October 2008: “A woman, Mary, perfectly accomplishes the divine vocation of humanity by her ‘yes’ to the Word of Covenant and her mission. Through her divine motherhood and her spiritual motherhood, Mary appears as the permanent model and form for the Church, like the first Church.”

Rejoice in the Lord

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always [Philippians 4:4-7; see also Philippians 2:18; 3:1;4.4). The rejoicing to which St. Paul invites us, and which forms the heart of the Advent season. But we must ask ourselves, what did persecuted Christians have to rejoice about?

The answer is their relationship with the Lord, which can even become stronger and more intimate in times of persecution. Their joy is not in their circumstance; indeed it is often in spite of their circumstance. Rather it is in the Lord.

Sheer joy arises out of a deep and abiding relationship with God that carries the believer through all sorts of trials and tribulations. Rejoicing in the Lord is a sort of adoration, and adoration often takes the form of prayer. Rejoicing constantly leads to praying and praising repeatedly. Since Paul refers to giving thanks after he mentions prayer, it is probable that the term “praying” refers to petitioning God in some form, perhaps interceding for self and others in some manner.

The opposite of rejoicing

The opposite of rejoicing and happiness is not sorrow, but deadness that often manifests itself through cynicism, meanness of spirit and smallness of mind and heart. Many of us know what that feels like: the deadness and dissatisfaction induced by a consumer culture that stimulates our senses and bombards us with largely meaningless choices, while leaving us starved for some deeper purpose.

Then there is jealousy, envy, and that gnawing feeling that we have accomplished so little because we have been so poorly motivated and made some bad choices. And when we realize that others have been able to do much because they have been rooted in God, we become jealous and envious. These are not new phenomena!

The desire to escape such deadness and dissatisfaction was one of the motives of the early desert fathers and mothers. They rejected a world whose agenda was defined by the pursuit of power, property, and pleasure. They went into the desert to tap into the source of life and joy, and discover their own true selves through constant prayer. Having found the emptiness of what their culture defined as happiness, they sought another way.

Let me conclude with the words of Pope Paul VI in his wonderful apostolic exhortation on Christian joy, “Gaudete in Domino:”

“[Mary] has grasped, better than all other creatures, that God accomplishes wonderful things: His name is holy, He shows His mercy, He raises up the humble, He is faithful to His promises. Not that the apparent course of her life in any way departs from the ordinary, but she meditates on the least signs of God, pondering them in her heart (Luke 2:19; 51).

“Not that she is in any way spared sufferings: she stands, the mother of sorrows, at the foot of the cross, associated in an eminent way with the sacrifice of the innocent Servant. But she is also open in an unlimited degree to the joy of the resurrection; and she is also taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.

“The first of the redeemed, immaculate from the moment of her conception, the incomparable dwelling-place of the Spirit, the pure abode of the Redeemer of mankind, she is at the same time the beloved Daughter of God and, in Christ, the Mother of all. She is the perfect model of the Church both on earth and in glory.”

This Advent, may the example of John the Baptist give us the strength and courage necessary to transform our deserts into gardens, and our emptiness into rich Catholic meaning and experience. May the boldness of St. Paul and the example of Mary, Virgin Daughter of Zion, teach us how to rejoice in the Lord, whose coming is very near.

[The readings for the 3rd Sunday of Advent are: Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; and Luke 3:10-18]

(Image: Annunciazione di Cestello by Sandro Botticelli)