Here we are just about one full week before the Feast of Christmas, yet liturgically we are still very much in the midst of the Advent Season. We still have the prominence of the Advent wreath in the sanctuary, the environment is toned down in amount and color, the altar cloth is violet, and the vestments are of the same hue. Even though we see countless advertisements on television and hear the same on radio that try to entice us to order at least one more gift online or make one more stop at our favorite department store, still we try to “wait,” to be quiet, to listen, to reflect. It’s not easy to straddle between the family celebrations of Thanksgiving and the festivities of Christmas, but we want to do our best to observe the spirit of Advent as “almost” but “not yet.”
One way we have of doing the above is to meditate on the O Antiphons. The Roman Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.
The O Antiphons get across two messages: each one highlights a different title for the Messiah, and each one refers to the prophecy of the Messiah from Isaiah. Listed below are the seven antiphons so that you may use them for your prayer during this last week of Advent before Christmas:
December 17: O Sapientia (Wisdom):
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
December 18: O Adonai (Lord and Ruler);
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
December 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse):
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
December 20: O Clavis David (Key of David):
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
December 21: O Oriens (Dawn of the East):
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death!
December 22: O Rex Gentium (King of the Gentiles)
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
December 23: O Emmanuel (God With Us)
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Good News! Let us rejoice in anticipation! This theme is evident in today’s readings. In the First Reading, we hear that on the final day when God’s justice is fully manifest, he will take away Jerusalem’s shame and give her cause for great rejoicing. “Daughter Zion” is a personification of the ideal city of Jerusalem where God, the king of Israel, can dwell as its savior and lover.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm closely parallels this notion of the exultant “Daughter Jerusalem,” even though the phrase is not used. Likewise, in the Second Reading, Paul exhorts his readers to rejoice in the nearness of the Lord and not to be anxious, but always to act with kindness. Then, when they make their requests known to God, they will experience the fullness of God’s peace.
Today’s Gospel describes a scene in which John the Baptist preaches repentance in anticipation of the coming Messiah. When John tells the crowds that they must live righteously, they are so enamored of his words that they think he is the long-awaited Messiah. He lays that idea to rest, saying, “One mightier than I is coming. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The Greek baptizo means “to dip or submerge, as in a ritual.” With that, John continues to preach the “good news” to the people. One may wonder how the crowds could consider a baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire” to be good news?
Pope Francis references one of the last verses in the reading from Zephaniah as he writes in The Joy of the Gospel of our response to God’s love. He states, “The Old Testament predicted that the joy of salvation would abound in messianic times….Perhaps the most exciting invitation is that of the prophet Zephaniah, who presents God with his people in the midst of a celebration overflowing with the joy of salvation” (#4). Such joy, the Holy Father writes, is experienced daily “amid the little things in life.”
Zephaniah states that the Lord “is in your midst,” and Paul tells the Philippians that “the Lord is near.” In our day, Pope Francis writes that God is with us. He states in The Joy of the Gospel, “God’s presence accompanies the sincere efforts of individuals and groups to find encouragement and meaning in their lives. He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice….God does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart, even though they do so tentatively, in a vague and haphazard manner” (#71).
The prophet Zephaniah tells of God’s love as he exclaims that God will rejoice over the people and will sing joyfully because of them. Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on love, Deus caritas est, describes an encounter with God as an encounter with love. He states, “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, but the encounter with a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (#1).
For Your Reflection: How can you make the final period of Advent one in which you rejoice because of God’s presence in your life? What difference does your Baptism make in your life? During this Advent, have you asked in prayer what you should do to follow the Lord?
ADVENT COMMUNAL PENANCE SERVICE
You are invited to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation with us on Tuesday, December 18, at 12:15. This will be our Advent Communal Penance Service as a lead-up to Christmas and will take the place of the regular 12:15 Mass on that day. The service will consist of hymns, Scripture, homily, intercessions, an examination of conscience, then face-to-face confession with c. 12 confessors available. Depending on the number of penitents, the service will probably last approximately forty-five minutes. Celebrating the sacrament in this fashion emphasizes that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy and allows us to pray for one another as each confesses his/her sins. We hope you will be able to join us Tuesday at 12:15.
A Reminder: There will be additional confessors throughout the day beginning on Monday, December 17, and continuing through December 22. Please do not wait until the last minute to make your pre-Christmas confession and perhaps then find there is no time. Take advantage of these extra confession opportunities so that you will be totally prepared to celebrate the Feast of Christmas spiritually once again this year.
ST. PETER’S CHRISTMAS SCHEDULE
We invite you to join us either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day for a joyful celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. On Monday, December 24, the church will be closed all day until 4:00 P.M. so that we can finish up any remaining work on our Christmas decorations. On Christmas Eve, the Christmas Vigil Mass will be celebrated at 5:00 P.M. The church will then close shortly after the end of that Mass and will reopen at 9:00 P.M. The choir will begin carols at 9:30, and the Mass at Night will begin at 10:00 P.M. with choir and brass.
On Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25, Masses will be celebrated at 9:00 and 11:00 A.M. The church will be closed at 12:30 for the remainder of the day in order to allow the friar community to relax and have a leisurely meal together. We hope all of you will have a wonderful day as well with family and friends.
I want to thank the members of the liturgy committee and several of their helpers who have worked long and hard on our Christmas decorations this year. It takes a lot of planning and much time to make our church come alive with the Christmas spirit fitting for the celebration of so great a feast. The fact that we want to keep the Advent environment as long as possible also means that so much of the decorating must be done in a relatively short amount of time.
We invite you to help us defray the cost of our beautiful Christmas decorations by making a specific donation for this purpose. We have some envelopes to do so near the back of church. Put your gift into one of these envelopes (or you can deposit cash or check without an envelope) and drop it in the box provided. We appreciate this assistance and thank you accordingly.
ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
Things really can get hectic at this time of the year—too much to do and too little time to accomplish them. Why not stop into St. Peter’s once or twice this week during the afternoon between 1:45 and 4:45 to spend ten to fifteen minutes before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar? You don’t have to say all kinds of prayers; in fact, I would highly recommend that you don’t say any specific prayers during your visit. Just come in, leave the chaos on the streets and sidewalks, quiet down in the peacefulness, and then allow the Lord to touch your heart in the way He sees fit. You’ll be glad you did, and you will find that this Advent hiatus goes a long way to preparing you for the true meaning of Christmas!
IRA CHARITABLE ROLLOVER
Don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference with a tax-free gift from your IRA to St. Peter’s Church by year’s end. If you are 70 1/2 or older, you can contribute up to $100,000 directly from your IRA to St. Peter’s, without including the amount in gross income. For your gift to qualify this year, the gift needs to come directly from whoever holds your IRA and must arrive by December 31, 2018.
For stocks held more than one year that have increased in value, you will avoid capital-gains taxes by gifting all or a portion of the stock to St. Peter’s. If you would like to get more information about a stock transfer, please contact either your tax professional or Mr. Peter Wells at St. Peter’s regarding the tax savings.
For individuals who do not qualify in either of the above categories, we invite you to make a special end-of-the-year donation to St. Peter’s which would both help us and you toward your charitable gifts that you may use toward deductions for your taxes (at least I assume that this still the case under the new tax laws passed by Congress. I have to admit that I am not as aware as you since I do not have to file a tax return on income due to the fact that as a religious any monies we receive is not ours personally but it belongs to the community with our vow of poverty).
We would appreciate you thinking of either of these possibilities as the end of the year approaches. We are dependent upon this kind of charitable remembrance as well as a mention of St. Peter’s in your will or estate since it costs c. $25,000 a week to keep our doors open, yet our regular weekly contributions seldom reach even $10,000.
A CHUCKLE FOR ADVENT
When my mother was called for jury duty, she felt confident of her ability to answer the questions asked of prospective jurors. As a young attorney, I had filled her in on what to expect.
Asked about the occupations of family members, Mom answered, “My son is a lawyer.”
As a follow-up, she was asked if she had ever used the services of an attorney.
“Only to mow my lawn.”