First Sunday of Advent: Staying Awake

Advent-Week 1

This Sunday marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. The Readings for the First Sunday of Advent speak about “staying awake” and this is not always easy for our sleep-deprived generation. In the Gospel (St. Matthew) Jesus states, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

This is why we need to be vigilant and “wake from sleep” as St. Paul says in the Second Reading (Romans). The First Reading speaks of the Judgement of God and the peace He will bring at the end of time. During the month of November we have focused on the Last Things. We understand that one day we will die, receive God’s judgement, and experience either perfect union with God (immediately or after a period of purification), or eternal separation from God.

The Readings remind us to be ready for that day. This is not a morbid task for we should prepare for death by focusing on life. We look to the life of Jesus, His Blessed Mother and all of the saints as our inspiration. If we follow their example then we will be prepared and be able to “run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming” (Collect of Mass). The Responsorial Psalm for the First Sunday of Advent states, “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”

This is how we celebrate the Last Things. When we experience the death of a loved one, we go to the loving arms of Holy Mother Church to be offered comfort and hope. The Funeral Rites we celebrate offer us the joy that comes from our hope in eternal life, “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended, and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” (Preface for the Dead – Funeral Mass).

The Order of Christian Funerals is divided into three parts: the Vigil, Funeral Mass, and the Rite of Committal. The Vigil Service usually takes place at the funeral home or church. The Christian community joins with the bereaved family to offer prayers for the deceased. This is traditionally called the Wake and it provides opportunities for personal sharing about the deceased. At the Funeral Mass we experience the union of the Church on earth with the Church in heaven. At the end of Mass is the Commendation and Farewell where the Church commends the deceased to God with specific prayers and ritual actions. The Funeral Mass reminds us that all of the faithful will be raised up and reunited in the new heaven and a new earth, where death will be no more.

The Rite of Committal is the final act of caring for the body of the deceased. In committing the body to its final resting place, the prayer we offer expresses our hope in the resurrection. Catholic cemeteries are an expression of this hope. Unfortunately, today there is a growing number of Catholics who simply choose one part of the whole. It may be only prayers at the funeral home or immediate disposition with prayers at the grave.

Hopefully we will all see the wisdom in following the entire Order of Christian Funerals. Just as the Last Things are experienced in totality – death, judgement, heaven, and hell, so too should our liturgical celebration of this mystery.