Sunday, 1 December 2013

Advent Begins

The liturgical season of Advent is a time to prepare for the coming (adventus) of Jesus Christ. This "coming" can be understood in several ways. First, of course, there is His actual historical coming into the world, in the Incarnation, through the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But there is also a more spiritual significance to the coming of Christ - one which is not altogether unconnected with His historical coming. According to Catholic doctrine, after the fall, man lost the gift of sanctifying grace. As a consequence, he has no power, of his own nature, to attain his supernatural end, namely salvation. This end can only ever be attained by the help of God, which is sanctifying grace. God has to come to man, in a very real way, in order that man might come to God. It is through God's power that man is saved. Contrary to this teaching is the heresy of Pelagiansim, which denies the reality of original sin and asserts the natural power of man to attain his own salvation, without the supernatural aid of sanctifying grace. 

The traditional collects for the Sundays in Advent beautifully express this spiritual reality: the sinfulness of man and the need for supernatural aid. For example, the collect from this First Sunday in Advent is as follows: 
Stir up, we beseech you, O Lord, your power and come, that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may be able to be delivered by you protecting, saved by you delivering. Who live and reign...
This is a beautiful expression of the humble recognition which we should all have of the hindrance which our sinful nature puts upon us, and our need for God Himself to come to us, and by His power deliver us, protect us, and save us. This is precisely the theme of Advent: Christ is coming to us, in order to save us from the danger of sin, from which we could never, of our own power, save ourselves.

While I'm on the subject, I'll quote the collect with which this text was replaced in the Novus Ordo Missae. Note the difference: 
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom. Through...
Notice that this prayer not only suppresses the idea of God having to us to save man, but also replaces it with the idea of man himself running or hastening forth, by his own righteous deeds, to meet Christ. The prayer isn't heretical or even false, since, of course - once God's grace comes to us - we do have a part to play, and we do  merit salvation based on the goodness of our acts in response to that grace. But it's a two-part story: that grace has to come to us first, before we can respond to it and merit salvation. We cannot merit salvation without grace; it is simply impossible. Our own human efforts are only part of the story. 

(Endnote: For your interest, Dr. Lauren Pristas has done a great deal of work in providing critiques of the collects of the New Mass. One of her articles on the subject can be read here, and she has recently had published a book on the subject here).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this, Jonathan. Very well written.

    You wrote:"Our own human efforts are only part of the story." Indeed, and at this time of year, the least important part of the story.