09 December 2020

'Strange blessings never in paradise . . .' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B


St John the Baptist

Donatello [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel John 1:6-8, 19-28 (English Standard Version Anglicised: India)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


Léachtaí i nGaeilge

Mary, Queen of Heaven
Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy [Web Gallery of Art]

In the Philippines the Misas de Gallo, also known as Simbang Gabi or Aguinaldo Masses, the novena of pre-dawn Masses leading up to Christmas, will begin on Wednesday the 16th. For 15 years, 2002 until 2016, I celebrated these in the chapel of St Joseph, Espinos Village, Bacolod City. As I am now based in Ireland, I don't have to get up at 3:30 am in order to start Mass at 4:30 am. These are votive Masses in honour of our Blessed Mother and in thanksgiving for the gift of our faith. The Spanish word 'Aguinaldo' means 'gift' and in this context refers to the gift of faith.

The Covid-19 pandemic this year has affected church services everywhere, including the Aguinaldo Masses in the Philippines. You will find the instructions of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines for this year's celebrations here.

The Church over the centuries has reflected on gifts we have received from God that we could not have received had our First Parents never sinned. A song included among poems for Advent and Christmas in the Breviary published by the hierarchies of Australia, England &
 Wales, and Ireland is one of those reflections, Adam lay y-bounden. In the Breviary it is given the title O Felix Culpa, 'O Happy Fault'.

This particular song marvels at the fact that but for the reality of the sin of Adam we would never have had Our Lady as Queen of Heaven.

The poem reflects part of the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation: O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, /quod Christo morte deletum est! O truly necessary sin of Adam,/destroyed completely by the Death of Christ. O felix culpa,/quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptionem! O happy fault/that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer.

At Easter we proclaim the great reality that God has given us a Redeemer and that he is now risen from the dead.

Coming up to Christmas we reflect on the birth of our Redeemer through the consent of Mary, his and our Mother. Mary is part of God's eternal plan and if we sideline her we distort that reality, as we also do if we put her in the centre and sideline her Son. In the painting above Mary, while being honoured as Queen of Heaven by the angels and saints is adoring God with her whole being, inviting us to do the same. The song too invites us to sing Deo gratias! Thanks be to God!

That is what the Church invites us to do every time we celebrate Mass, the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving. It invites Filipinos in particular at this time of the Aguinaldo Masses to thank God for the great gift of faith and to share it with others. One way in which Filipinos have been doing that is introducing this centuries-old practice to other countries, adapting the custom to local circumstances.

O Felix Culpa (O Happy Fault)
Sung by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, England

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter,
Thought he not too long.
And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took.
As clerkes finden written
 In theiré book.
Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne hadde never our Lady,
A been heaven’s queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we may singen.
Deo gratias!

This song from England dates from the 15th century. The text here is an adaptation of the original Middle English and the musical setting is by Boris Ord.

Scottish poet Edwin Muir's One Foot in Eden, included in the Breviary for Lent and Easter, also reflects on the theme of felix culpa. 

One Foot in Eden
by Edwin Muir
Video and reading by Philip Marshall

What had Eden ever to say
Of hope and faith and pity and love
Until was buried all its day
And memory found its treasure trove?
Strange blessings never in Paradise
Fall from these beclouded skies.

Extraordinary Form of the Mass

Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) 

The Third Sunday of Advent .

The complete Mass in Latin and English is here. (Adjust the date at the top of that page to 12-13-2020, if necessary).

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-7. Gospel: John 1:19-28.

Authentic Beauty

Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.

Pope Benedict XVI meeting with artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21 November 2009.

Sung by Libera

This seasonal carol was written in German and Latin by Blessed Henry Suso OP in the 14th century. I do not know who made the arrangement above. For me it retains the original mediaeval flavour of the hymn with a contemporary Irish twist. The concert took place in Ireland.


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