First Sunday of Advent

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Keeping Watch in the Night

Nothing in the course of the liturgical year can be compared to Advent Matins (also called Nocturns, or Vigils, and in the Liturgia Horarum, Readings), prayed in the pre-dawn darkness. This morning's monastic Matins were blessedly long: after each Nocturn of psalmody came four readings, each followed by a responsory, with the whole vigil culminating in the Holy Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44) and the ancient hymn to the Holy Trinity, the Te Decet Laus. One needs to pray at length -- to persevere in keeping watch -- for the grace of the Word to touch the heart, and begin to change it.

Grazing Among the Responsories

If you are not familiar with the traditional Advent responsories at Matins, find yourself a monastic or Roman breviary, and pasture your soul among them. They are the distillation of the prayer of Israel brought to perfection in the prayer of the Church. In them every soul can discover how true it is that, through the sacred liturgy, the Holy Spirit "helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings" (Romans 8:26).

Saint Cyprian Speaks

What most struck me this morning was the homily read before the Gospel. It was taken from Saint Cyprian's Treatise on the Unity of the Catholic Church. Rarely have I read a text that speaks so clearly to the present age. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

We Rather Buy and Increase Our Store

But in us unanimity is compromised in proportion to the abundance of good works become scarce. Then [he is referring to the Acts of the Apostles] they used to give for sale houses and estates; and that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, presented to the apostles the price of them, to be distributed for the use of the poor. But now we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store. Thus has the vigour of faith dwindled away among us; thus has the strength of believers grown weak.

Shall Our Lord Find Faith on the Earth?

And therefore the Lord, looking to our days, says in His Gospel, "When the Son of man cometh, think you that He shall find faith on the earth?" (St. Luke 18:8) We see that what He foretold has come to pass. There is no faith in the fear of God, in the law of righteousness, in love, in labour; none thinks of fearing the future, and none takes to heart the day of the Lord, and the wrath of God, and the punishments to come upon unbelievers, and the eternal torments decreed for the faithless. That which our conscience would fear if it believed, it fears not because it does not at all believe. But if it believed, it would also take heed; and if it took heed, it would escape.

Break the Slumber of Our Ancient Listlessness

Let us, beloved brethren, arouse ourselves as much as we can; and breaking the slumber of our ancient listlessness, let us be watchful to observe and to do the Lord's precepts. Let us be such as He Himself has bidden us to be, saying, "Let your loins be girt, and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He shall come from the wedding, that when He cometh and knocketh, they may open to Him. Blessed are those servants whom their Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching."

Unburdened and Disentangled

We ought to be girt about, lest, when the day of setting forth comes, it should find us burdened and entangled. Let our light shine in good works, and glow in such wise as to lead us from the night of this world to the daylight of eternal brightness. Let us always with solicitude and caution wait for the sudden coming of the Lord, that when He shall knock, our faith may be on the watch, and receive from the Lord the reward of our vigilance. If these commands be observed, if these warnings and precepts be kept, we cannot be overtaken in slumber by the deceit of the devil; watchful servants, we shall reign with the triumphant Christ.


Unfortunately the American LOTH doesn't have most of this. Thank God for the Roman Breviary!

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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