The First Sunday of Advent

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Ad Te Levavi

In this illuminated miniature Saint Bernard is intoning the Introit of the First Sunday of Advent, Ad te levavi animam meam. He is lifting up his soul (and the new liturgical year) in the form of a newborn baby! God the Father, surrounded by angelic hosts, thrones in glory above him. To his left a choir of monks sings the Introit that Bernard has intoned.


All My Heart Goes Out To Thee

There is movement in today’s liturgy: a great sweep upward and away from all that holds us bound and confined “in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79). This is the ecstatic movement of prayer, of all right worship: out of self, upward, and into “the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). The Introit sets the tone, not only for this the first Mass of Advent, but also for the rest of the Advent season and, indeed, for the whole new liturgical year. “To You, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1) or, as Ronald Knox translated it, “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God.”

Ready for the Leap of Hope

The heart, in going out to God, leaves much behind and cannot look back. This is the law of prayer, this is what it makes it costly, sacrificial and, at the same time, unspeakably sweet. The things we leave behind are mere trifles but, oh, the hold they can have on us! The old self, fearful and anxious about many things, grasps at every illusory promise of security, clings to things, arranges them in great useless piles, looks on them caressingly and takes inventory of them. The loss of any thing, even the most insignificant, represents for the old self, the loss of control, the loss of power, and of comforting familiar pleasures. All of this in incompatible with the prayer that the liturgy places on our lips today: “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God” (Ps 24:1). The upward flight of today’s Introit has nothing to do with cheap pious sentiment. It is an uncompromising call to detachment, to poverty of spirit, and to an obedience that is off and running with all speed, ready for the leap of hope.


The Will to Go Forth

The movement of the Introit emerges more clearly in the collect. “Almighty God, grant to your faithful, we beseech You, the will to go forth with works of justice to greet Your Christ at His coming.” We ask God to give us “the will to go forth.” The nuance is significant. We do not have in ourselves the will to go forth. All our inclination is rather to hold back. The “will to go forth” is itself God’s gift to us. We ask furthermore for “the will to go forth with works of justice.” The works of justice are those that free the old self from the bondage to sin and demonstrate the liberty that comes from the Spirit. (Saint Benedict catalogues them for us in Chapter Four of the Holy Rule.) We go forth because Christ is coming. We go forth like the five wise virgins, bearing lighted lamps, to greet the Bridegroom at his midnight advent (cf. Mt 25:6).

Let Us Go Up to the House of the Lord

The prophet Isaiah delivers the same message: “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. . . . O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:3, 5). In Psalm 121, the movement upward and into God is revealed a joyful thing: “I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the Lord’” (Ps 121:1).

Cast Off the Works of Darkness

The Apostle says that the movement upward and into God is urgent. The advent of Christ brooks no delay. “You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone the day is at hand” (Rom 13:11-12). Again the call to detachment, a summons to throw off the things that weigh us down and impede our upward flight: “Let us then cast off the works of darkness” (Rom 13:12).

The Merciful Face of God

Lest we become discouraged at the cost of it all and fearful of the loss of the things that spin our cocoons of comfort, the verse before the gospel teaches us to pray with all longing and desire -- “Show us, O Lord, Your mercy, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 84:8). We ask God to show us His mercy while we are yet earthbound and immobilized by our fears. He shows us His mercy. Mercy has taken a human face. The mercy of God is revealed in the face of His Christ. It is the glimpse of that face, even from afar, that gives wings to the soul. “Ad te levavi animam meam. -- To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1).

The Hour of God

The Gospel brings the face of mercy very close to us. The Gospel is the face of mercy all radiant in the midst of the Church. “Watch therefore,’ He says, “for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. . . . Be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:42, 44). The hour of God defies every human calculation. “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Ps 89:4). This is why, “from the rising of the sun to its setting” (Mal 1:11), the Church sends her priests to the altar to raise the mighty cry, “Sursum corda! -- Hearts on high!” It is, in fact, the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist that keeps the Church in a ceaseless Advent.

Into the Embrace of the Bridegroom

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass draws us upward, out of ourselves. and into “the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). “Hearts on high!” What does the Church reply today? “All my heart goes out to you, my God; to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1). We have entered already into the great Advent movement. There is no turning back. “Make no provisions for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14). The Spirit comes to sweep the Bride into the embrace of the Bridegroom. Behold, he comes!

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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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