Why does the priest have his back to the congregation? In short: because we are not worshipping one another; nor is worship a personal encounter with one’s neighbor. Worship is bowing down to God; knowing him to be God and knowing our selves not to be God and being grateful. The celebrant is leading the congregation, as a band of brothers and sisters, before the Throne of Grace. On behalf of the congregation and himself, the priest offers up “our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice” to God. We many become one sacrifice offered up to God. Geoffrey Wainwright, citing Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict, says that Ratzinger was deeply disappointed with the post-Vatican II decision to have the priest celebrating the Liturgy “towards the people.” Then Cardinal Ratzinger cited Joseph Jungmann and Louis Bouyer “for the view that the important thing, traditionally and theologically, was that the priest and the entire congregation be facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in procession toward the Lord. They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim people of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.”
From St. John Chrysostom:
I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.
The Angels sing! The Archangels blend their voices in harmony! The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise! The Seraphim exalt His glory!
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.
This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.
From St. Athanasius the Great:
The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far From it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.
From St. Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity:
He became a servant on earth; He was Lord on high. Inheritor of the height and depth, who became a stranger. But the One who was judged wrongly will judge in truth, and He in Whose face they spat, breathed the spirit into the face. He who held a weak reed was the scepter for the world that grows old and leans on Him. He who stood [and] served His servants, sitting, will be worshipped. He Whom the Scribes scorned — the Seraphim sang “holy” before Him.
From Venerable Bede:
He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter at the inn, that He may for us prepare many mansions in the house of His heavenly Father… He was born, not in the house of His parents, but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the Incarnation He is become the Way, by which He guides us to our home.
From Austin Farrer:
WHEN Mary laid Jesus Christ upon her knees, when she searched him with her eyes, when she fed him at the breast, she did not study to love him because she ought, she loved him because he was dear: he was her Son. His conception had been supernatural, perplexing, affrighting; it had called for faith in the incomprehensible, and obedience beyond the limit of human power. His nativity was human and sweet, and the love with which she embraced it was a natural growth, inseparable from the thing she loved. She was blessed above all creatures, because she loved her Maker inevitably and by simple nature; even though it needed the sword—wounds of the Passion to teach her fully that it was her Maker whom she loved. The Son of Mary is the Son of all human kind; we embrace him with the love of our kind, that we may be led up with Mary to a love beyond kind, a selfless love for the supreme Goodness, when we too shall have climbed the ladder of the cross.
Mass Schedule for the Week of the 4th Sunday in Advent (December 18, 2011)
19, Monday – O Root of Jesse (On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. Isaiah 11:10)
20, Tuesday – O Key of David (I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open. Isaiah 22:22)
21, Wednesday – St. Thomas the Apostle
O Morning Star (The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2)
22, Thursday – O Kind of Nations (For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6)
23, Friday – O Emmanuel (Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14)
O Antiphons are used the last 7 days of Advent; each antiphon is a Name of Christ showing forth an attribute of the Messiah Jesus. Our processional hymn for Advent IV, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is a lyrical paraphrase of these antiphons. Though the origin of O Antiphons is lost, Boethius (480-424) references the antiphons, thus leading us to guess that they must have been part of the Common Prayer of the Western Church’s early life. The Benedictines certainly put their stamp upon O Antiphons by their arrangement of the 7 days: Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—the Latin words ERO CRAS are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come”. Therefore Jesus, whose coming Christians have prepared for in Advent and whom they have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to them: “Tomorrow, I will come.”
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
St. Thomas was one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles and he is best known for doubting the Resurrection when the others first told him about it. He is also the one who declared Jesus’ divinity when he saw him a week later as he gathered with the other Apostles to celebrate the Holy Communion. “My Lord and my God,” he confessed before our Lord and the others. He is known to have been a strong missionary to Syria and India where he worked miracles and built churches. Egeria, a Gallic woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land between 381-384, wrote several long letters to a circle of woman in her homeland. In one letter she described her visit to Edessa where St. Thomas was venerated:
“we arrived at Edessa in the Name of Christ our God, and, on our arrival, we straightway repaired to the church and memorial of Saint Thomas. There, according to custom, prayers were made and the other things that were customary in the holy places were done; we read also some things concerning Saint Thomas himself. The church there is very great, very beautiful and of new construction, well worthy to be the house of God, and as there was much that I desired to see, it was necessary for me to make a three days’ stay there.”
From Edessa Thomas sailed to India in 52 AD to spread the Gospel among the Jews, but his greatest fruit was with the India itself.