Dear brothers and sisters,
As secular society begins its celebration of Christmas – several weeks early and largely without the Christ Child – Mother Church begins a new liturgical year. It is therefore good to ask, what is the liturgical year, and what is its purpose?
At its core, the liturgical year is founded on the life of Christ Jesus. This new liturgical year begins today, on this First Sunday of Advent; not of Christmas, but of Advent. In this new year,
…the Gospel of Luke will accompany us on our path of knowledge of the Lord and growth in faith.
In this year we will live all the mysteries of Christ’s life, because year after year, His life always calls for more room in … us, so that it becomes increasingly our life; and, like every year, our journey begins with the time of Advent, a time when, step by step, we approach the encounter with the Lord Who manifests Himself in the flesh.
This is why it is important for each of us to follow the liturgical calendar, not just here in the parish church, but especially in the domestic churches of our homes.
In the course of the liturgical year, we contemplate each aspect of the life of the Redeemer. Perhaps surprisingly, the liturgical year both begins and ends with the contemplation of the Second Coming of Christ who will judge the living and the dead. This is a way of keeping before us the ever important admonition that we must be prepared to meet the Lord when he comes, which is to say that we must so make room for him within us during the course of our earthly life that we are found to be like him when we at last stand before him.
|Christ in majesty with the Evangelists, Codex Bruchsal 1, Bl. 1v.|
In between these contemplations of the Second Coming is the contemplation of the other important moments in the life of Christ: his Birth, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension; and then, scattered throughout the liturgical year, the rest of his life unfolds before us, including both his wondrous deeds and his strange teachings.
The purpose of recalling the mysteries of the Lord’s life in this way is found in these words of Pope Saint Leo the Great:
Beloved the remembrance of what the Savior did for mankind is most useful to us, provided that what we venerate in faith we also receive and imitate. For in the communication of the mysteries of Christ to us, there is present both the power of grace and the encouragement which teaching gives, so that we may follow by our deeds him whom we confess in the spirit of faith.
We have been given the liturgical year to help us declutter our hearts and make more and more room for him in them, to follow him in faith, and to become more and more like by resisting temptation and rooting out sin from our hearts. Let us, then, receive this liturgical year as a great gift and strive to use it well so that we enter more deeply into the life of Christ who comes to us in every celebration of the Eucharist.
If we enter into the liturgical year well, we will notice that it begins this year as it always does: with a warning of judgment on the Last Day.
It is always striking to begin Advent in this way, for inevitably Advent puts Christmas in mind, and in many places the wider culture is already conjuring up the gentle images of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. But the liturgy takes us to such images by means of others that remind us that the same Lord born in Bethlehem ‘will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,’ as the Creed puts it. On this Sunday … [the liturgy] remind[s] the Christian people that they need always prepare themselves for this coming and judgment. Indeed, Advent itself is that preparation: his coming at Christmas is intimately connected with his coming on the last day.
So it is that we hear the Lord Jesus say to us today, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). The second half of this season of Advent is given to us to prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but the first half of this season of Advent is given to us to prepare to say to him when he comes, “Show us, Lord, your love, and grant us your salvation” (Psalm 85:8).
If we understand that the Lord Jesus will come as our judge, it is perhaps no wonder that “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). Those who will be filled with such terror at the Lord’s coming are those who have are not prepared to meet him because they were busy with less important tasks; when they realize he is coming, there will no longer be time to prepare.
Still, we might well wonder why Jesus tells us, “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28). If the day of his coming will be so frightful, ought we not instead fall down on our faces before him? Why does he tell us to stand? Why does he tell us to raise our heads? He commands us thus so that those who are prepared may look upon the beauty of his Face and welcome him in love because he who comes as our Judge is also our Savior.
In these initial days of the season of Advent, we cannot forget that Christ the Lord
…calls his hearers to conversion and faith, but also to watchfulness. In prayer the disciples keep watch, attentive to Him Who Is and Him Who Comes, in memory of his first coming in the lowliness of the flesh, and in the hope of his second coming in glory. In communion with their Master, the disciples’ prayer is a battle; only by keeping watch in prayer can one avoid falling into temptation.
Let us, then, dear brothers and sisters, use these days of preparation well, not in feverishly amassing earthly treasures that fail to satisfy, but in amassing spiritual treasures that will not pass away (cf. Matthew 6:20); not in impatient anticipation, but in the exercise of self-control so that we might not “become drowsy from … the anxieties of daily life” (Luke 21:34). Let us enter into a spirit of watchful prayer that we might be more closely conformed to Christ Jesus.
If we keep to the liturgical calendar in this way, these days of watchfulness will not be wasted. Yes, indeed; “lift up your heads. Be joyous in heart. For, as the world is ending, with which you are not on friendly terms” – or, at least, with which you should not be on friendly terms – “the redemption, that you have been seeking, is near.” May the Lord find us prepared when he comes. Amen.
 Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 28 November 2021. Accessed 27 November 2021. Available at https://www.lpj.org/apostolic-administrator/meditation-of-patriarch-pierbattista-pizzaballa-first-sunday-of-advent-year-c.html?fbclid=IwAR374E-jfzJMqqiLmexS66fLE-ogafGtcm8alJhMeGbngNCSlwQrjfo5wVs
 Pope Saint Leo the Great, Sermon 37.1.
 Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Homiletic Directory, 80.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2612.
 Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Homily, 1.3.