FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT CYCLE B

Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1.3-8
Psalm 79: 2-3. 15-16. 18-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

November 27, 2005
Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B.
Branford, Connecticut

Ad te levavi animam meam; Deus meus, in te confido (Ps 24:1). On this First Sunday of Advent, the Church intones Psalm 24. She clothes it in a melody that carries the text and us with it upward and outward into the mystery of the God who comes. This is more than the Entrance Chant of today’s Mass; it is the chant by which the Church crosses the threshold into Advent; it is the chant by which she begins a new Year of Grace. Ronald Knox translates it for us: “All my heart goes out to thee, my God, I trust in thee, do not belie my trust” (Ps 24:1-3). How are we to hear this Advent psalm? How are we to sing it? How are we to repeat it and hold it in our hearts until, at length, it becomes our own prayer, a movement of the soul upward and outward, a going forth with nothing to hold us back?

The very meaning of the word “church” — ekklésia — is called together, or assembled. The Church is conscious of being called together by God. She does not assemble herself; she is assembled by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. She seeks a response worthy of the call she has heard. He who calls gives in the call the only response worthy of him. With the call is given the response. Always.

And so the Church, opening the Psalter and bending her ear to Psalm 24, recognizes in it the voice of Christ, her Bridegroom and Head. Just as the call is given through Christ, so too is the response. It is Christ who intones our psalm today. In his mouth the first two words have a fullness that is unparalleled and divine: Ad te. “Toward you, Father!” Two words that express the whole mystery of Christ from the moment of his Incarnation in the Virgin’s womb until his Ascension to the Father’s right hand. Everything in Christ is toward the Father. And so, before singing her own song, the Church listens to what Christ sings. Before finding her own Advent voice, she holds herself silent and still to hear the voice of Christ.

What the gospel of Saint John gives us from the Prologue to the last page is given us here in a single line: the response of the Son to the Father. It is as if the whole Johannine conversation of Christ with the Father is condensed for us in this cry of the psalmist. Is this not the essential movement of the Son facing the Father from all eternity? It is more than an act of surrender. I hear in it a kind of leap into the arms of the Father: “All my heart goes out to thee.”

There is a second way of hearing today’s Entrance Chant. The stational church in Rome for the First Sunday of Advent is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the oldest temple in Christendom dedicated to the Mother of God. By singing this particular psalm is this particular place the Church is suggesting that in it we are to hear the voice of the Virgin Mary. Everything in her is in readiness for the advent of God. It is the Mother of God, Our Lady of Advent, who prays and who teaches us to pray, “All my heart goes out to thee, O God” (Ps 24:1). The second part of the verse is equally important. “Of those who wait for thee, not one is disappointed” (Ps 24:3). The Virgin Mary, teaching us to pray Psalm 24 as she prayed it, becomes the Mother of our Hope.

Having listened in Psalm 24 to the voice of Christ addressing the Father and to the voice of the Virgin raised in song to the God of Israel, the Church finds her own response to the one who calls her. “All my heart goes out to thee. . . . I trust in thee” (Ps 24:1-2a).

The text is, first of all, addressed to the Father with the Son, but it becomes in the heart and in the mouth of the Church a cry addressed to the Son, a longing for his second coming. “To thee, Lord Christ, I lift up my soul” is the response of the Church to the one who, on the last page of the book of Revelation, says, “Surely, I am coming soon.” “To thee, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1), answers the Church. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).

The liturgy invites us to a third way of hearing and praying Psalm 24. It has to become my prayer and yours. The psalm heard first in the mouth of the Eternal Son, the psalm that comes to flower on the lips of the Virgin of Nazareth to be taken up by the Church, finds its echo in the heart of each of us.

Practically speaking, if we sing the Entrance Chant given us today but once, it will be for us like “the seed sown on rocky ground” (Mt 13:20). It will have no root in us and will bear no fruit. It is given us to be repeated, not only ritually during this first week of Advent, but interiorly, secretly, perseveringly. Make Psalm 24 your own prayer during this first week of Advent. “All my heart goes out to thee, O God” (Ps 24:1). Let it come to rest deep within. Hold it there. Repeat it. Sing it to yourself. Let it become for you a kind of sacrament carrying you upward and outward into the mystery of the God who comes. You will not be disappointed.

One more thing. This Entrance Chant of the first Mass of the new liturgical year casts all things in a Eucharistic light. From the beginning of the third century, the great Eucharistic Prayer has opened with the cry of the priest: Hearts on high! The Latin is so compelling and succint: Sursum corda! “Hearts on high!” The context of the Eucharistic Prayer is the assembly of hearts held high.

Already in the Entrance Chant, the upward movement was launched. “To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. . . . All my heart goes out to thee, O God” (Ps 24:1). To live with one’s heart on high is to live always in readiness for the Eucharist. And to live always in readiness for the Eucharist is the only way to be found ready for the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let this, then, be your prayer in the evening and at midnight, at cockcrow and in the morning: “All my heart goes out to thee, O God” (Ps 24:1-2a). You will not be disappointed.