“Veni Emmanuel” (Come Emmanuel) these now ancient words in the Scripture repeated for centuries in the liturgy, will become our anthem in the season of Advent, but what do they mean to us in the contemporary context?“Veni Emmanuel”: a pastoral epistle for Advent 2022 – ✠SELEISI ~ tempus Adventus
“Veni Emmanuel” (Come Emmanuel) these now ancient words in the Scripture repeated for centuries in the liturgy, will become our anthem in the season of Advent, but what do they mean to us in the contemporary context?
The season of Advent speaks to us of both the commemoration of the first coming of Our Lord in the Incarnation at Bethlehem, but also too of His second coming, when He will come again “to judge both the living and the dead” as we recite in the Creed. But as always with our faith, the import of these words has not just a memorialised meaning – the past – and a prophetic meaning – the future, but also too of the present. For when we pray these words in the liturgy recalling the Incarnation and looking forward to the end of the world, we realise them in the miracle of the Eucharist when Our Lord comes to us at the consecration.
Remembering the admonishment of St Paul “Qui enim manducat et bibit indigne, judicium sibi manducat et bibit, non dijudicans corpus Domini” [i] in fact judgement comes to us in the moment of Holy Communion. Hence the Church’s discipline has always been to insist that we approach the Eucharist prepared and properly disposed, possessing as much grace as we can in that moment of reception, so that we may avoid damning our souls! To this end, in the ancient liturgy, we make an act of confession and should always strive to avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Penance before hearing Mass when we intend to communicate. Likewise, then, we should take a similar approach to our observance throughout Advent, and by extension to the living of our lives.
Several times Our Lord admonishes us in Scripture to be vigilant and ready for His return [ii]. In St Mathew’s Gospel, in the Parable of the Ten Virgins [iii] we are taught to be like the five wise virgins who were prepared and ready for the Bridegroom when he arrived at the feast. Similarly in St Luke’s Gospel, “Sint lumbi vestri praecincti, et lucernae ardentes in manibus vestris,” [iv] to be ready when the Master returns. The chaste state referred to in both instances may be appreciated figuratively as that condition we receive in baptism, pure and free from sin, and the burning lamps of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity; the lamps being faith, their light our hope, and the oil, charity.
As in Lent for Easter, so the season of Advent is a preparation for a salvific event – Christmas, traditionally the two times required of all the faithful to receive the Eucharist. They are preparatory seasons, an opportunity for us to review and amend our spiritual lives, in order that we may celebrate with thanksgiving (Gk, eucharistía) and meet the Messiah. We prepare ourselves by fasting, by penance, by daily examination of conscience in order to receive grace, that should Our Lord return, He will find us ready for Him.
In our daily living, it is commendable to perform an examination of conscience and make an Act of Contrition, to prepare ourselves for Our Lord’s second coming. The saints have long commended taking the opportunity to hear Mass daily or indeed receive Holy Communion which is “our daily bread” as Our Lord taught us to pray [v]. If we are not able to attend nor hear Mass daily, we may make an Act of Spiritual Communion for which the Lord’s Prayer is a wholly suitable prayer with that very intention – to be in communion with God. We should strive every day to be found ready and waiting for Our Lord’s return, whenever it may be.
When we prepare ourselves to attend Mass, we should do so with the same diligence and care we would be going to another important event e.g., a job interview, a wedding, a party! For when we come to church, we enter a place set apart specifically to meet God almighty, His Son, Our Lord, and our king, and the Holy Ghost Who enables us to do so. We should take care to present ourselves appropriately, modestly, wearing suitable clothing reflecting the importance of the occasion. We should not present ourselves less than we would to honour a relative, friend or employer at an important occasion.
Consider well whether you will arrive at the banquet of the king suitably attired [vi], physically, and spiritually, or whether He will cast you out! Let us dread to hear the words spoken by the bridegroom to the foolish virgins, “Nescio vos” when we come to meet Him, now or in heaven, “I know you not.” [vii]
With my prayers for you all this holy season
S. Petri Alexandrini Martyri MMXXII A.D.
i 1 Corinthians 11:29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.
ii Cf Mark 13:33; Luke 12:35-40; Luke 21:36; Luke 12:45-48;
iii Matthew 25:1-13
iv Luke 12:35, 36 Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands. And you yourselves like to men who wait for their lord, when he shall return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open to him immediately.
v Cf Matthew 6:9-13
vi Matthew 22: 1–14
vii Matthew 25:12