Ordinary Time, (B); Advent-Christmas, (C
)Ordinary time consists of two periods in the Church year: the weeks between the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Lent; and the weeks after Pentecost Sunday up to the beginning of Advent. The Sunday liturgies during this cycle have a common thread connecting each week, that is the sequential reading of the gospel and the semi-continuous reading of the Epistles of St. Paul. The first reading and the gospel form the primary focus for each Sunday. The second reading is usually not directly related to the gospel topic and forms what can be considered a secondary theme for the day. While the theme for all liturgies is essentially the same, our redemption through the paschal mystery, different parts of the church year stress different aspects.
During Ordinary Time the emphasis can be considered evangelical. A good summation of Ordinary Time might be found in the words spoken to the Apostles at the Ascension: Why do you remain here looking up? We are to apply what we have learned through our meditation on the incarnation (the Advent/Christmas season) and to live in the light of the resurrection. Week after week the successive readings of the gospel unfold the need to live as Jesus would have us do. The lectionary readings teach about the kingdom of God, divine mercy, our nourishment in Christ, the coming of end times, our need to make the most of our lives.
This year the lectionary readings for Ordinary time are drawn from cycle A; the gospel selections are from the book of St. Matthew. Therefore, look at Matthew's gospel for direction in seasonal planning. How does the gospel of Matthew differ from the other gospels? What do the differences mean to us as worshipping community? What nuances does Matthew bring to the story of Jesus that are essential to our full understanding of Christianity? Finally, what elements of our liturgical celebrations can we emphasize that underscore a Matthean perspective? How are the gospels different? A symbolic representation of the differences can be found in nearly every church. They are the symbols of the eagle, the ox, the man, and the lion. We find references to these four creatures in the book of Ezekiel and again in the book of Revelations. People have long associated these symbols with the four evangelists, though not always agreeing on which animal represents which author. It is, however, the interpretation of Athanasius that has become the prominent one. According to Athanasius, St. John is depicted as an eagle because it is the only creature able to look directly into the sun without being dazzled. John's perception of Jesus is mystical, with theological clarity. The ox represents St. Luke because he saw Jesus as the sacrificial offering. The Lucan gospel with its unique parables gives us a glimpse of the great mercy of God. St. Mark is depicted as a man for he brings human qualities into the story of Jesus and his apostles. He is not afraid to show the dimness or self-centeredness of the apostles. We are part of God's kingdom in spite of our frailties and shortcomings. The lion represents Matthew because he saw Jesus as the lion of Judah, the long- awaited one, the fulfillment of the messianic dream. St. Matthew's gospel is rich with the imagery of the Old Testament and places us as daughters and sons of the one God, the God of Abraham. What then is Matthew's perspective beyond the idea that we are a people connected throughout salvation history?
Matthew must have been a good teacher. Examination of the structure of the gospel of Matthew reveals a well organized approach to the story of Jesus. He viewed Jesus as proclaimer of the new law and brought together the teachings of Jesus in the form of five discourses with connecting narrative. These five discourses or sermons are:
The Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7)
The Missionary Sermon (chapter 10)
The Parable Sermon (chapter 13)
The Community Sermon (chapter 18)
The Final Sermon (chapters 23-25)
Matthew's gospel has always been placed first in the canon of the New Testament. Until the most recent liturgical reforms it has been the most often used version of the gospel at liturgical celebrations.
The book of Matthew can be seen as a bridge connecting the Old and the New Testament. There is an essentially Jewish nature about Matthew's approach. Matthew was a devout Jew writing for a Jewish/Christian community. His style of organization, composition and debate are representative of Jewish thought and custom. He was an apostle who saw the connection between the past and the present, who saw the revelations of the prophets and the fulfillment of prophecy in the person of Jesus.
Matthew was an eyewitness to the events of Jesus' life. He perceived Jesus as the embodiment of Mosaic law.
Through Jesus, we have the law of Moses, the knowledge of the ages and the love of an all-merciful God who led his people out of slavery.
The Mosaic law was not incomplete. Jesus came as the enfleshment of God's law, the fruition of the Mosaic way.
We are a people of history,
we are Jewish,
our names have been called from the grave.
We have seen his footprints
in the dry seabed.
Matthew refers to Jesus as the Son of David more than any other gospel writer. He is consumed with the legacy of Israel and succeeds in understanding Jewish scriptures in the light of Jesus' life and teaching. Like the apostles on the road to Emmaus we are to hear and understand the words of the scriptures so that we might discover Jesus in our midst.
Matthew places much importance on words, the words that relate Jewish history, the words of the prophets and the words of Jesus. This is one of the nuances that can be applied to our seasonal planning. The word of God was very important to Matthew. We can bring this Matthean spirit to the assembly through increased devotion to the Word of God. This can be done through liturgical gestures of reverence, through encouragement to participate in group and personal bible study. Strive to enhance the Liturgy of the Word through selection of high quality responsorial psalm and pertinent gospel acclamations. Allow the proper amounts of silence to penetrate the assembly before the next reading is read so that scripture can be meditated on. Encourage and practice daily scripture reading.
Matthew had a sense of the magnificence and sheer power of Jesus. He saw Jesus as the Lion of Judah and his coming represents domination over the powers of darkness. Jesus is referred to as “Lord” eighty times as compared to eighteen times in Mark's gospel. He clearly portrays Jesus as the Son of God and leads us to understand Christ's divinity.
It appears that Matthew's gospel was not the first written and could have been composed as late as 80 A.D. Some scholars believe this because of his concern for the community of believers. He either witnessed or foresaw the persecution of the early Church.
Matthew was concerned with the mission of the Church and wrote of the great power that was transferred from Jesus to his Apostles. St. Matthew is convinced that Jesus is with his Church “always:to the end of time” (29:20). We see in Matthew's writing a call to form community, to become church, to act and worship together in Jesus the Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
What is it that makes us church? Matthew calls us to live our mission as community. Let us rejoice in forming communal activity: it is the action of living in the Holy Spirit.
What do we need to do to assist in unifying the community? As parish animators, we need to work to further draw the assembly into the life of the parish. We need to work at creating an open forum for parishioners to express their ideas.
This can be a time to evaluate the parish mission or statement.
What are our goals as a community of believers? In the spirit of St. Matthew we can relearn and reclaim our spiritual past. We can work to clarify liturgical theology and thus preserve our heritage as a people with ancient roots.
We can further incorporate Jewish culture into our lives. We can teach our children the stories of God's deliverance of Israel. We can include Jewish celebrations in our cycle of worship such as the festival of lights and the sedar meal.
We can stand up against the growing tide of anti-Semitism. We can recognize how some of our practices offend Jews, such as using the word "Yahweh," a word that was never intended to be spoken or sung, a word that has never appeared in either the sacramentary or the lectionary.
We can search and root out the anti-Semitic within, ourselves. We can begin by admitting that we are racist, that we need God's help in seeing people as God's children. David Haney
Advent Christmastime - The Incarnational Cycle
The Advent and Christmas celebrations evolve from one week to the next as an intricately interwoven fabric of the story of Christ's coming into our lives. The complete cycle spans from the first Sunday of Advent to the Baptism of the Lord. The celebrations of Advent support the themes of hope and prophecy. During the Christmas season the readings speak of hope fulfilled and the incarnation that was foreseen.
The Two Comings of Christ
More than any other time within the church year we look forward to the future as well as the past. We look forward to a time when God's power will break through completely and finally. It is with joyful hope that we wait for Jesus to come again in the Second Coming. The readings throughout this cycle encourage us to actively live out our faith, and to pursue God with dedication and determination. This eschatological emphasis is most prevalent in the Sunday scripture readings of the first few weeks of Advent and continues to a lesser degree up to the feast of the Epiphany.
The other side of this cycle is of course, reflection on the First Coming, the Incarnation, the celebration of God among us. Christmas is more than a commemorative feast in which we look back. It is a feast in which we look around us to see God in our midst. St. Athanasius proposed that before the birth of Christ, the universe and it's contents were in retrograde, slipped slowly into darkness. The coming of God-made-flesh, reanimated the entire universe. We see this concept in the third Christmas preface: "Your eternal Word has taken upon himself human weakness, giving our mortal nature, immortal value."
Incorporate some aspect of the liturgical celebration that is continuous throughout the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Liturgical colors will change from violet (Advent) to white (Christmas) but basic decor concepts used during Advent could be maintained during the Christmas season.
This concept of keeping element of Advent in the Christmas celebrations could include similar musical responses such as psalms and fraction rites. Be creative, find a special musical response that you can use throughout the entire cycle.
Processions involving the assembly can add a meaningful dimension: during Advent - procession with Advent candles, during the Christmas season- processions with the Holy Books - the Word who dwells among us.. Whatever your choices are, remember that these two seasons make up one cycle.