We know well how our Blessed Lord gave His Apostles moments of wonderful consolation before leading them down a difficult path, like His glorious Transfiguration before the Passion.
His Bride the Church does the same.
Lent has its Laetare Sunday to encourage us through the great fast. Soon enough we will be in the little fast of Advent, and Gaudete Sunday will offer us a welcome bit of rose-colored joy just before the winter Embertide and the last stretch of awaiting the Messiah.
This weekend we find ourselves entering the Last Sundays of Pentecost, when Holy Mother Church begins to sound an increasingly ominous alarm.
The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost sees the striking appearance of the De profundis, from the Mass of the Dead. On this Sunday it is prominently featured in the Introit, and in the 23rd, 24th, and all the resumed Sundays it will be a constant drumbeat in the Offertory. Though the liturgical books still call for green throughout, we might find it helpful to consider it not so much the lush green of growth as it was during Summer, but now the pale green of Death, the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse (Latin pallidus, Greek chloros).
Liturgically speaking, we have reached the end of the world.
The time is up. The final cataclysm is upon us.
Whatever our petty cares and wants were before, they seem very superficial now. The Apocalypse that our mortal humanity dreads is now rolling over cities and hills like an unstoppable pyroclastic flow.
There is nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.
Our lives are now laid bare for God to judge, before which we can only cry out “mercy, mercy!”
All the men on earth, whether they want to or not, are now compelled to join us in that pleading, desperate Introit of the 22nd Sunday:
If Thou shalt observe iniquities, O Lord, who shall endure it?…from the depths I have cried to Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.
This particular year the liturgical Apocalypse has become a little too vivid, hasn’t it?
The normal economy (oikonomia) of our lives was interrupted by a frightening revenant crawled out from a bygone age: a worldwide pandemic. Then followed the reactions to it: deaths, food shortages, quarantines, lockdowns, suspensions of the sacraments, unemployment, bankruptcy, tyranny. These were soon joined by riots, iconoclasm, vandalism, and murder. And yet another ghastly revenant, another undead ghoul known as Marxism was somehow reanimated by some dark and infernal art. Beset by these evils, we strain our ears to hear the faintest encouragement from the shepherds of the Church—and are too often met with silence.
Next Tuesday, our American readers face an election. But it is one somewhat unlike previous elections, where each side hoped for a resounding victory to implement competing visions on society.
This year, both sides seem to be struck with a foreboding that, either way, the nation is in for it. That a glorious victory for one camp will only deepen the implacable rage of the other, leading us inexorably to the same violent outcome.
It may not be God’s will to prepare us for the end just yet. It sure feels like an end, all the same.
Lest we get too caught up in the bleakness of it all, in the hellish hatred and violence and betrayal around us, lest we let the news drive us to despair and hopelessness, we realize that the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost falls, in this Anno Domini of 2020, on November 1st.
It is, thus, superseded.
It was not superseded last year. It will not be superseded next year.
But in this Year of Our Salvation 2020, the loyal sons and daughters of Holy Mother Church will not hear the desperate Introit of the 22nd Sunday. They will only hear the commemoration of its more hopeful Collect:
“O God, our refuge and our strength, the very author of our piety, be present to the devout supplications of Thy Church, and grant that what we seek in faith we may effectively arrive at.”
This Sunday, what we seek in faith will actually be seen, as we lift up our voices with the first words of Holy Mass, and ring out the Introit:
GAUDEAMUS omnes in Domino!
“Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a feast in honor of all the saints, in whose solemnity the angels rejoice, and join in praising the Son of God. Rejoice in the Lord, ye just: praise becometh the upright!”
Almighty God has seen fit to prepare for us, through a calendar worked out centuries ago, a liturgical consolation in a year we badly need one. It is a “Gaudete” Sunday more spectacular and more joyous than the actual one…with its vestments set out in brilliant white and gold rather than mere rose.
This year the Apocalypse begins with all the glory of All Hallows, and a window into the heights of heaven.
So let the End begin, liturgically or actually, however Our Lord has foreordained it.
We His children can see how tenderly He has allowed us this glimpse of Paradise just when we need it the most. We see these rays of bright heaven beaming into our dark world like a glowing ladder calling us up to the higher life.
Come what may, the greatest victory is won. Christ has prepared for us a new kingdom. Christ has built for us a new and perfect world that will never be taken away.
Gaudeamus omnes! Gaudent angeli! Exsultate, justi! Rejoice all! The angels rejoice! Rejoice, ye just!
Three times rejoice, rejoice, rejoice!!
Do not let this Sunday pass without thanking God for this joyous consolation that Holy Church has prepared for us.
And whatever we see in the weeks and months ahead, let us always remember all the saints and angels encouraging us, praying for us, and cheering us on, as we prepare for the final leg of our journey home.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
October 30, 2020