In the Church’s traditional, Vetus Ordo, calendar, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is this year observed on Sunday. In the Novus Ordo, however, the Second Sunday of Advent is observed.
Our Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent was not in the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum but it was in the so-called Rotulus (“scroll”) of Ravenna, dated perhaps as early as the 5th century.
Omnipotens et misericors Deus, in tui occursum Filii festinantes nulla opera terreni actus impediant, sed sapientiae caelestis eruditio nos faciat eius esse consortes.
Impedio (cf pes, pedis, “foot”), at the core of this prayer, is “to snare or tangle the feet”. The phrase “faciat eius esse consortes” recalls both the Collect for Christmas Day and the priest’s preparation of the chalice during the offertory. Sapientia (wisdom) and eruditio (learning) are technical terms but laden with meaning from ancient rhetoric and philosophy. Current ICEL translation (2011): “Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company.”
During Advent, as John the Baptist warns us, we are to make ready the path for the coming of the Lord. This week we are wary of obstacles which could impede us, snare our feet. These impediments are worldly ways and works, not meritorious for salvation since they are not performed in Christ.
St Augustine of Hippo (d 430) contrasts the image of sticky lutum, “mud”, a metaphor for a worldly, sinful life, with being children of God. He describes how we can get stuck in the mud and covered with its filth. “Noli esse lutum … Don’t be muck, but become a child of God through His mercy!” (diu. qu. 68.3).
If we neglect God, we can convince ourselves of anything: down becomes up, black is white, wrong is right, and muddy is clean. We excuse away our sins. Once self-justification becomes a habit, it becomes our vice, in every sense of that word. Our consciences might occasionally struggle within the vice of self-deception, but the proverbial “struggle” eventually comes to provide permission: “I really ‘struggled’ with that … before I did it.”
During Advent, make straight Christ’s path. Are you stuck? No matter how sticky may be the mess you have got yourself into, Christ’s loving mercy washes its stains away through a sincere and thorough sacramental confession of sins before Christmas.