"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
November 28, 2011: First Sunday of Advent
Theme: The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. The Gospel readings for this year (Year B) will be taken from the Gospel of Mark, supplemented by readings from the Gospel of John. The theme for the first Sunday of Advent revolves around the second coming of Christ. On the following three Sundays the readings prepare us to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord.
The first reading this week was written after the Babylonian Captivity. Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple a heap of rubble. Isaiah laments, for the physical wreckage was a visible reminder of the spiritual condition of the people. Their only hope was to throw themselves on God’s mercy and pray for deliverance: “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” he cries.
In the second reading, Paul gives thanks for the many spiritual gifts that God had bestowed on the Corinthians. The Christians in Corinth were known for their charismatic exuberance, but Paul hastens to remind them that these gifts have an eschatological significance meant to prepare them for “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Mark 13, from which this week’s Gospel reading is taken, is sometimes called “Mark’s little apocalypse.” It begins with Jesus warning his disciples about the pending destruction of Jerusalem and persecution. “This generation will not pass away before all these things take place,” he tells them. The chapter ends with the parable about the gatekeeper who was to watch for the return of the Lord of the house. The parable is meant to prepare his disciples for the climactic end that could happen at any time—“at evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” Until then, his disciples were to be vigilant and ready to act on a moment’s notice.
Key verse: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “According to the Lord, the present time is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by distress and the trial of evil, which does not spare the Church and ushers in the struggles of the last days. It is a time of waiting and watching” (No. 672).
Pope Benedict XVI: “All time is God’s time. The time of the Church is a ‘between’ time, between the shadow and the reality, and so its special structure demands a sign, a time specially chosen and designated to draw time as a whole into the hands of God” (“The Spirit of the Liturgy”).
Application: This year, Advent is especially meaningful because the new translation of the Roman Missal goes into effect starting this Sunday. The wait is over. The time for renewal has come. It’s important to understand that the liturgy is not a human invention but comes to us from Christ. It, like the Church herself, has grown and developed over time, but remains essentially unchanged since the time of Christ. The new translation of the missal expresses more clearly than ever before the Paschal Mystery, which “transcends all times while being present in them all” (CCC1086).
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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