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December 2, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Dec. 6: Second Sunday of Advent
Overview: The early part of Advent focuses on the Second Coming of Christ. Liturgically we express our anticipation of this event by facing “east” during Mass. Such a posture is reminiscent of how the ancient Jews looked expectantly toward the east where the glory of God, like the dawn, would arise. The first reading is set in ancient Babylon in the sixth century B.C. where the people of God languished in exile. Jerusalem had been destroyed along with the Temple where the glory of God had resided; but now all that was gone. Anticipating the return from exile, Baruch inspired a strong sense of hope among the exiles, that their long ordeal was about to end: Jerusalem will “put on the splendor of God” when he returns “leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory.” The “day of Christ” of which St. Paul speaks in our second reading refers to the Second Coming: the “end” (telos) for which the whole creation longs (Rom 8:19). The “end” here is to be understood not as annihilation, but as completion when the Church, and indeed the whole creation will be “filled with the fruit of righteousness.” On the second and third Sundays of Advent the Gospels focus on John the Baptist who heralds the advent of Christ. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets, announcing Jesus’ imminent arrival and the culmination of salvation history.
Key verse: “Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One.”
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: Christian petition is centered on the desire and search for the Kingdom to come, in keeping with the teaching of Christ. There is a hierarchy in these petitions: we pray first for the Kingdom, then for what is necessary to welcome it and cooperate with its coming. This collaboration with the mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit, which is now that of the Church, is the object of the prayer of the apostolic community. By prayer every baptized person works for the coming of the Kingdom” (No. 2632).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Praying toward the east is a tradition that goes back to the beginning. It is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again” (“Spirit of the Liturgy”).
Life application: Facing “east” at Mass is a tangible expression of our hope in the Lord’s coming. Regardless of what direction we actually face in Mass, literally speaking, it’s important to remember that there’s a little bit of Advent in every celebration of the Eucharist, for it is there that we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savoir Jesus Christ.