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Holy Mother Church gives us the Advent season to reflect on the three comings of Christ: first, His historical coming as a humble Babe who was the sacrificial Lamb offered in atonement for our sins; second, His future coming in glory and power, as One Who will judge us for our sins; and third, His present coming as the Eucharist, Who cleanses us from our sins with the sacraments.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, one of only 33 Doctors of the Church, wrote
in a 12th-century homily, "We know that there are three comings of the Lord. ... In His first coming, our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming, He comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming, He will be seen in glory and majesty."
The Church thinks so highly of this homily that She keeps it in Her official prayer book called the Liturgy of Hours, or Divine Office. It can be found in the Office of Readings or Matins section for Wednesday of the First Week of Advent.
Monsignor M. Francis Mannion, who among other things founded the Mundelein Liturgical Institute at the behest of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, spoke
of this triple advent theme:
During Advent we celebrate what are sometimes referred to as the "three comings of Christ": the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time, and the coming of Christ today in the sacraments and life of the Church. ... The third coming of Christ occurs in the present: ... Christ comes today in the gift of the Holy Eucharist in which we are privileged to share, in the sacraments of Christian life.
Advent from Latin means "towards the coming." During Advent the Church in Her readings and prayers at Mass and in the Divine Office has Her spiritual children look back towards the coming of Jesus
in Bethlehem, Who is to save us from our sins, and look forward toward
Christ's "coming in the clouds of Heaven with much power and majesty," Who is to judge the living and the dead.
As a wise mother, She does this for one purpose: so that Christ is recognized with gratitude and reverence as the Emmanuel
, which means "God with us." Christ said
, "I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." And He keeps his promise by coming every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by remaining
"truly, really and substantially" present as the Eucharist reposed in the tabernacles in Catholic Churches around the world.
The Church gives her flock the cycle of Advent to spiritually prepare them for Christmas much like She gives her sheep Lent to spiritually prepare them for Easter. The problem with Advent is that its role has been obfuscated by the commercialization of Christmas.
Now we hear Christmas songs as early as Halloween. And as soon as Halloween decor comes down, retailers are rolling out Christmas paraphernalia. This is all done for the purpose of getting shoppers in the mood to buy Christmas gifts in their stores. Franklin D. Roosevelt even set
the current date of Thanksgiving with the intention of getting people shopping earlier and thus spike retail sales. So now Black Friday is the so-called beginning of Christmas, while spiritual preparation has been drowned out by material preparation as shoppers check off items from their gift list.
But think back during this time of preparation as Holy Mother Church would have you do, to the reason for the season, as they say. Christ came to save all from their sins. Christ will come to judge all according to their sins. Christ as the Eucharist is actually, really present now in the tabernacles of Catholic Churches waiting to sanctify us and purify us from our sins.
There is one gift the King of Kings is dying to receive this Christmas: our sins. May He not be disappointed when He checks his stocking on Christmas day.
Watch the panel discuss how to get the most out of this liturgical season in "The Download—Advent."
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