Rorate Caeli desuper et nubes pluant justum – Aperiatur terra et germinet Salvatorem.
(Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down the just One – Let the earth be opened and send forth a Saviour.)
These words from the prophet Isaias, which form the versicle and response at Vespers during the next weeks, really set the tone for the whole of Advent. They are pregnant with longing. It is as if the dry dust of the parched earth itself groans with expectation of the oceans of refreshment from Heaven that will transform the desert into a vibrant landscape of life and colour.
We often hear it said that “you can’t turn the clock back”. But in this period of Advent, the Church’s liturgy does just that, on one level at least. The liturgy is like a ship that carries us through the Mysteries of our holy Faith, and allows us to experience them not just as mere spectators but as participants in the drama of redemption. The clock is turned back as we are transported to that time of longing of the Prophets. Advent is a season of penitence, in which the liturgical colour is purple and we make reparation for sins. But it is also filled with joyful expectation, as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Prince of Peace at Christmas and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The liturgy transports us to the past not for the sake of nostalgia or sentimentality, but rather to equip us with the spiritual and supernatural resources which we need to live in the present. In that first coming in Bethlehem, the Messiah came to earth in meekness as an infant. He did not come to impose a new regime by means of swords or armies. Rather, He came to win our hearts through repentance and conversion.
The meekness of His first coming and His respect for our freedom mean that for two thousand years men have remained at liberty to close their hearts to Him. And today many have closed their hearts to Him. The results are all around us. We see it in the moral vacuum that has been created in our own society, which in many ways is in open rebellion against the laws which God has written into nature. A culture which has been hollowed out from the centre is like a fragile shell – one serious blow, and the whole thing is likely to collapse. This past year, sections of the British media openly celebrated the lifting of the ban on abortion in Ireland, which has facilitated the ‘legal’ extermination of countless innocent lives. In our own Parliament, meanwhile, there are moves to remove what little protection the unborn child still possesses inside a mother’s womb. We might well ask: “Why does the Prince of Peace not intervene to rectify this?”
The Gospel readings in Advent assure us that the time for His second coming and definitive intervention has been set, even if the date has not been revealed to us. And when He does return, it will not be in meekness and frailty as with His first arrival in Bethlehem, but rather in majesty, with armies of angels. On that Day of Judgment justice will be done, and be seen to be done, on a universal scale. That blood of the innocents which cries to Heaven will find its vindication.
Just as, in the days of the later prophets, the earth groaned like a parched desert for the coming of the Messiah, so the earth groans today like a parched desert for the dew of God’s grace. And our souls also groan for refreshment and the strength we need to sustain us until He returns in Glory. In the coming weeks when grace rains down from Heaven in answer to the Church’s petitions, we are invited to spend time in Our Lord’s company so that He might refresh us and renew us. In this time of grace He wants to give us something so that we in turn have something to give to this broken and wounded world. So one thing we should do this Advent is to give some more time to God. In the coming weeks we shall no doubt be hearing a lot from high-minded clerics about the evils of consumerism. Perhaps we should try a different type of consumerism from the frenzied shopping that takes place around us in central London. We can make a resolution to be more assiduous about consuming the word of God in the Holy Scriptures. Devour Scripture, just like the Prophet Ezekiel devoured the scroll that was given to Him by God. Follow the cycle of Scriptures as proposed to us in the Church’s liturgy, reflecting on them, savouring and digesting them so that they become a part of us. Accompany this meditation with our prayers – the collects appointed for daily Mass in Advent are bursting with meaning, and full of petitions which articulate our neediness before God.
Rorate Caeli desuper – rain down dew ye Heavens. Yes, we can be sure that there is an abundance of Divine Grace raining down from Heaven in these days. But we have to prepare ourselves to receive it.
Fr Julian Large