Sunday, December 03, 2023

The First Sunday of Advent 2023

At the beginning of each new liturgical year, the Church wisely reminds us that the end of the world is always nigh, by reading an admonition to that effect from Pope St Gregory the Great, who died over 1400 years ago.

The beginning of today’s Gospel, Luke 21, 25-33, and the beginning of St Gregory’s homily on it, in an Office lectionary copied out ca. 850-75. (Cod. Sang. 430; CC BY-NC 4.0) This lectionary follows a common variant of the Roman Rite by which the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent was that of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21, 1-9), and the other Gospels of Advent each bumped forward one week.
Our Lord and Redeemer, wishing to find us ready (at His second coming), declares what evils accompany the world as it grows old, that He may restrain us from the love of the world. He makes known what great disturbances will come before the end as it approaches, so that, if we will not fear God in times of tranquillity, we may at least be beat down by such disturbances, and so fear His judgment. For right before this reading of the Holy Gospel which you have heard, brethren, the Lord said, “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be great earthquakes in various places, and pestilences and famines.” Then, after a few other things, (is read) this which you have just heard (Luke 21, 25-33); “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring.”
St Gregory’s words about earthquakes overthrowing cities very likely refer to the destruction of Antioch, the seat of one of the three ancient Christian Patriarchates, and various other cities in Syria by a series of six major earthquakes between 526 and 588. The buildings shown in this fifth-century mosaic (discovered in the Antiochene suburb of Daphne, about 4 miles to the west of it) may be the city’s imperial palace and cathedral. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons) The latter, where St John Chrysostom had preached when he was still a priest of Antioch, was known as the Golden House; it was destroyed and rebuilt three times in those years, and finally abandoned after 588.
Now some of these things have already come to pass, and others we fear are not far off. For in our days we see nation rise against nation, and their distress over all the earth, more than we read in books ever happened of old. You know also how often we hear that an earthquake has overthrown countless cities in other parts of the world. We suffer pestilences without ceasing. Now in truth, we do not as yet clearly see signs in the sun and moon and stars, but from the very change of the air, we gather that they are not far off. (The homily of the third nocturn of the First Sunday of Advent in the Breviary of St Pius V, and many other breviaries before it.)
Pope St Gregory the Great, (ca. 1646-66) by the Flemish painter Lucas Franchoys the Younger (1616-81); public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: