First Sunday in Advent

Deacon Blaine Barclay

Dec. 3, 2017


In our opening hymn we just sang the words, ’’O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear…. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.”

Bishop Robert Barron suggests that the whole texture of the season of Advent is contained in the lyrics of this most famous of Advent Hymns.  The Hymn, and not just the lyrics I have quoted, oscillates between despair and hope, between mournful loneliness and cheerful rejoicing.

Our first reading also captures this Advent mood, hope mixed with the anguish of absence.  The Prophet Isaiah knows that God has acted in the past; ’’Our Redeemer from of old is your name”, says Isaiah.  God has acted with, ‘’awe-some deeds’’, and, ’’quaking mountains’’.  But, Why?  Asks the prophet.  Why does God not act now in our own time and place?  To our hardness of heart, in anguish he cries out, ’’Open the heavens and come down’’.  The text, like a pendulum, moves back and forth between hope and despair. On the one hand, hope.  God, ’’works for those who wait for Him’’; ’’meets those who gladly do right’’; and, ’’who remember’’ the ways of God. On the other hand, despair; ’’we sinned’’; ‘’we transgressed’’ ; ’’all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth’’.  Such strong language. ’’Our iniquities, like the wind, take us away’’.  God’s face is ‘hidden’, says Isaiah.

Advent is ‘the’ season of the human heart, the heart that waits, poised between lonely anguish, the abyss of our own nothingness, and the tender presence of our loving Father.  The potter of our hearts of clay.  Hope, mixed with the anguish of absence.  Such is our first reading, such is the condition of the human heart, as we begin the waiting that is Advent.

In contrast to our first reading, in our second reading, St. Paul introduces us to a far more secure hope.  A hope that is still waiting, but nevertheless is filled with confidence in God’s faithfulness, in the gift of ’’the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus’’.  Yes, God’s presence is still also an absence.  We still need to be ‘’strengthened to the end’’, he says, so that…. ‘’We may be found blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’’.  But the gift of God has been given.  Jesus is the presence of God in our midst, saturated, overflowing, embracing the anguish of the human heart, even our experience of the absence of God. ’’My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’’, cries Jesus from the cross.  He knows from the inside, right down to the bottom, the restless longing of our Advent hearts.

Jesus also knows just how easily our hearts can be lulled to sleep, seduced into trivialities, a false refuge for the lonely anguish of our longing hearts.  So, Jesus says to his disciples, and to us; ’’Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come’’. ’’Keep alert, be on the watch, keep awake, keep awake”, he emphasizes by way of repetition, just in case we didn’t hear him the first time. ’’Or else he  may find you asleep when he comes suddenly’’.

What does it mean to be spiritually asleep?  It can range from seeking distraction, to numbing ourselves with too much TV, alcohol, or shopping, to the deadly seven of sloth or acedia, when we are just too lazy to make the effort to wake up and get out of our comfortable spiritual beds.  Are we, am I, sleep walking through life?  Has the zombie apocalypse already taken place?  Unknown to myself, am I one of the walking dead?  Alive, but not really alive, living a kind of half life?  This Advent, Jesus calls us to wakefulness.  The season of Advent is a wakeup call our sleepy hollow hearts.  God is coming to us, be alert, be awake.

So how can we cultivate for ourselves, or, better yet, allow God to cultivate in us an awakened heart?  What does authentic Christian wakefulness look like?  What kind of concrete practices can open for us this necessary spiritual alertness?  We probably already have a sense of what these various disciplines of wakefulness look like.  The practice of the presence of God in daily prayer.  Regular reception of the Eucharist, the caffeine of the Christian life, so to speak.  Living the examined life through regular confession, perhaps taking the next step into getting a spiritual director. Lectio Divina, or sacred reading, especially of the scriptures, signing up or just showing up for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Advent may be a season of our waiting, but God is always already waiting for us, seeking us, desiring us, longing for intimacy with us, before we ever go in search of God.  God is always totally awake to our presence, we just need to wake up and show up.  God will do the rest. ’’And what I say to you, (says Jesus,) I say to all: keep awake’’.

The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.