Are you ready to enter the Mystery of Advent?
Last Sunday evening, our parish concluded its annual Eucharistic Devotions with a solemn celebration of Vespers (Evening Prayer) with a Eucharistic Procession and final Benediction. The entire weekend felt like a spiritual retreat, as many of us took time to visit the church, kneel, adore, and contemplate the gift of our Lord’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. We set aside time to adore the consecrated bread that is transformed into Jesus Christ’s Body on the altar, the same presence we carry with us in our bodies and hearts after receiving Holy Communion at every Mass. What a mystery!
Next week, we start the season of Advent (and the Church’s new liturgical year), when we celebrate the beginning of the mystery of God’s real presence among us, starting with the Angel Gabriel’s announcement that God would come to live among us in the form of a human child to be born of the Virgin Mary. The mystery of God’s joining His divine nature with our human nature in Jesus of Nazareth is the mystery of the Incarnation.
So, what is the meaning of this word, “mystery”, which we often use when describing these sacred events? Does “mystery” mean what the dictionary says -- something secret or hidden, which can never be understood or explained? Well, not exactly. In Christian theology, “mystery” comes from a Greek word that means something being revealed and/or not yet fully revealed. As an example, the Church herself is a “mystery” in that while revealed to us by Christ as the Body of Christ or People of God consisting of the community believers headed by Bishops and Pope (successor to the Apostles and Peter), she is still in the process of being perfected until the time when Christ will return to gather all the faithful into Himself and God our Father, in eternal life.
Advent is the season when we prepare for and reflect upon the mystery of the coming of Jesus Christ both at that first Christmas (Nativity of the Lord), and at the end of time. During Advent, we gather as a Church to reflect upon and celebrate the unfolding mystery of God’s plan for our salvation revealed in our sacred scriptures, particularly in the Book of Isaiah and the later prophets in the Old Testament, as well as in the Gospel stories of the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the ministry of John the Baptist. The Incarnation is a “mystery” because it reveals a truth never before seen, and only hinted at, in the Old Testament, that God so loved us he freely lowered Himself to become like us in all things but sin, in order to bring us to salvation. Advent not only helps us to prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, it is also the time in which we reflect upon the ongoing, unfolding mystery of God’s saving presence as Jesus (God Saves)/Emmanuel (God with us) and His future return. What better season of the year to come to church and continue our adoration of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, than during the days of Advent!
In Christ, John Mulhollan