IT IS A FACT OF LIFE THAT WE ALL have our hopes and our fears, our joys and our sorrows.  We carry them in our hearts as we go about the quotidian. We mark anniversaries of joys and we mark anniversaries of sorrows.  We go into the Church, into the house of prayer, approaching the Lord Jesus with all the contents of our existential baggage.  We offer prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of petitions.

Every time we meet the Lord, with all that goes on in our lives, he offers us his word-the word of God-the word that speaks to us in every situation, the word that speaks to every situation. The word of God in the First Reading of the Second Sunday of Advent in Year C (Is 40: 1-11) offers a typical example of how the word of God speaks to a human situation.  That passage is the beginning of the second part of the book of Isaiah, known by scripture scholars as the Book of Consolation.  The words were addressed to a people taken away by force from the land God promised their ancestors, a people languishing and lamenting in exile.  To this people God spoke a word that offered consolation.

The Responsorial Psalm of the same Sunday (Ps 84) responded to God's word of consolation by saying: "Let us see, O Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation."  A people in exile lived with the sentiment that God appeared to be hiding his face.  This people asked to see God's face. 

At every Mass, the Responsorial Psalm serves as a meditative response to the word of God proclaimed in the First Reading. And that is what ought to happen in prayer.  Just as the Responsorial Psalm responds meditatively to the word of God, prayer is a conversation in which God must speak before the one who prays responds.  When we meet the Lord in the Church, when we meet him in prayer, we must allow him to speak first.  "I will hear what the Lord God has to say," says the psalmist in that Responsorial Psalm.  This must be the pattern of our own prayer as well.  Let God speak first before you say anything.  This too is the pattern of the Mass. 

No revival, no crusade or prayer meeting or all-night vigil can replace the Mass. For the Mass is the greatest act of prayer, the source and summit of Christian worship.  In fact, it is the Mass that revives us Catholics more than any other devotional prayer.  In the Mass, we are given the body and blood of Christ, the greatest gift we can receive from the Lord.  There is no gift greater than the gift of the Lord himself.  The Lord gives us himself as food and drink.  This is the greatest gift.  To receive it is to receive life.  It is to share in the life of God.  What then is the pattern, the order of the Mass?

The Mass is in two parts-the liturgy of the word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist.  In the first part, God speaks to us in the scripture readings of the Mass, we respond in the Responsorial Psalm, and we acclaim the Good News in the Gospel acclamation.  In the second part of the Mass, we as a Church speak to God in the Eucharistic Prayer, the prayer the priest offers in the person of Christ and in the name of the people of God whose sacrifice the priest offers.  Such is the pattern of the Mass.  God speaks to us before we speak to God.  We listen to God before we implore God to listen to us.

God spoke to his people in the Book of Consolation, the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  He spoke words of consolation.  And the same words are spoken to us.  For we too need consolation.  We hear so much of bad news.  We feel a lot of pain.  There are many without jobs.  Those with jobs have not been paid for months.  There are many whose salaries are paid, but what they earn is totally insufficient.  There is crime and our politicians do not seem to care.  Or if at all they care, they care only about power and riches.  Indeed, we need consolation.  We live in our country, but as exiles.

But the word of God promises us a new beginning, a new heaven and a new earth.  We shall be able to receive this gift of a new beginning if we allow the Lord to enter into our hearts.  So, the voice of John the Baptist says to us: "Prepare a way for the Lord." 

Prepare a way into your heart for the Lord.  Let Christ enter, Son of God, the Consolation promised by God.  That is what this season of Advent is about.  It is a time to allow the Lord into our hearts.  Advent is a time of hope and consolation.  But our understanding of Advent has been severely eroded by contemporary Nigerian religiosity.  Its corrosive effects on Catholicism in Nigeria make some of us organize revivals during Advent, revivals that obscure the significance of the liturgical season of Advent.  That is why we need to rediscover and deepen our understanding and appreciation of this season. 

The meaning of Advent is in fact related to the meaning of the Mass.  In the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the Lord whose coming we await, whose coming we prepare for with greater intensity in the season of Advent comes to us.  The Lord whose coming we await is already in our midst.  His presence in the holy Eucharist is real.  The Lord whom we await is already present in his word, and in his body and blood offered on the altar.  And this presence is not merely symbolic, this presence is real.

In the Mass, Jesus keeps his promise: to be with us even to the end of time.  But only the eyes of faith can see him.  He makes himself present in his word and in the sacraments, as he made himself present to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus.  Again, under the influence of contemporary Nigerian religiosity, many relativize the sacraments including the Mass.  That is why you are likely to have a large crowd at a midweek prayer meeting or crusade than you will have at a weekday Mass. 

The Mass itself reflects the story of Emmaus.  The first part of the Mass, the liturgy of the word, represents the first part of the story of Emmaus, when Jesus broke the word of God for the two disciples in need of consolation after the crucifixion.  The second part of the Mass, the liturgy of the Eucharist, represents the second part of the Emmaus story.  In that second part, Jesus blessed and broke the bread, as he continues in the Eucharist where he feeds us with his body and blood.   He will come one day to take us into his glory.  And we spend the whole of this season of Advent waiting for the day when he will come again in glory, praying that when he comes, he may admit us to table at the heavenly banquet.


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