FAITH OF OUR FATHERS
"Put upon you the armour of light"
ALTHOUGH we must deplore the wholesale destruction of the religion of the English people by Archbishop Cranmer and his friends at the time of the Reformation, happily we can also thank God for much of what replaced it. The Book of Common Prayer gets off to a remarkably good start with the reformer's newly composed collect for Advent Sunday. We will soon be there again, preparing heart and mind for the amazing event of the Lord's nativity
If Christmas is divine beauty beyond words, some of that beauty already shines forth in this Advent Sunday Collect. Its balance and rhythm are perfect, and this helps us to unite our prayer with the profound thought expressed in the collect. This prayer aims to put our remembrance of Jesus' coming into the world by his birth at Christmas firmly within the context of his final coming to judge the living and the dead. That is a truly vital thought, since Jesus is always for us, here and now, the One who is coming to us from God; coming down in great humility into the disorders of human life, right into people's hearts, so as to open us all to the healing mercy of God. These three aspects of his coming, at his birth, at the end of the age, and at every moment when we turn to him, are truly one movement of God to humankind for their salvation.
Here and now we are asking 'to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light' (cf Rom. 13:12). This is a paschal theme rightly introduced at the very beginning of the church's liturgical year. Jesus comes forth from the Father to bring the light of God into the darkness of a world which chooses to ignore God and his will for his creation. He is truly 'the light of the world', shining forth to enlighten our hearts and minds to his providential presence and saving power.
In the Eucharist, both in listening to the word of God and in feeding on the glorious body and blood of the Lord, we are bidden to put on the new mind and nature of Christ as a garment, thereby casting off the darkness of our former nature. That we know from experience is a long work, requiring much patience and perseverance in well-doing; but the collect wants to urge us to get on with it 'now in the time of this mortal life.'
At this point we can hear the reformer voicing one of his chief concerns. He insists we shouldn't wait for purgatory to be cleansed from our sin. God wills that as far as possible we should willingly undergo our purgation during this life, so as 'to put on the armour of light' and be made ready to welcome the Lord when he comes for us at the hour of our death.
So far the reformer is right. We want to be eagerly pressing forward going out to meet Christ in the light of his coming to us. It is humbling and even painful to open ourselves to him in this way, for he insists on exposing for our repentance all the negative grievances and fears which have bitten deeply into our hearts, and likewise all the misdirected desires and hopes which are distracting us in our journey into the kingdom of God.
Yes, let us pray to advance in this way; but certainly not by ignoring the needs of the departed! We owe them our love, expressed in our on-going communion with them 'in prayer, and especially 'in Requiem Masses. Indeed, every Eucharist is to be offered for the perfecting of all mankind, living and departed, that 'when he shall come again in his glorious majesty' he might present us to the Father as one blessed communion of saints.
Fr. Gregory is Father Superior of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God
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