This Sunday, the first of the penitential season of Advent, Holy Church presents the same reading from Paul to the Romans both in the Novus Ordo and in the traditional form of Holy Mass.
St Thomas Aquinas (d 1274), commenting on Romans, says this passage was read during Advent in his day. For a long time now Holy Mother Church thought this passage very important to start off a new liturgical year.
In Romans 13 Paul gives an urgent moral exhortation to wake up from the darkness of night time (sinful pagan life) and, in the light of day (virtuous Christian life), prepare for battle. He uses garment images. Cast off, like nightclothes, works of darkness and put on armour for the day is nearer than ever. We are to cast aside sins, which he lists, and to clothe ourselves in Christ. “The day” is biblical imagery for the Day of Judgment, the Second Coming. It will soon be the moment of “visitation”, another way to translate the Latin adventus, which conveys also a reckoning.
Paul may have borrowed language from the ancient Jewish source, The Life of Adam and Eve, which says that our first parents were originally clothed in garments of light that were stripped from them when they fell. Speaking of garment imagery, in a similar passage in Colossians 3, Paul says to put off the old man, Adam, and put on the new, Christ. Again, Paul provides the list of sins to put off. If anyone thinks that drunkenness is OK, or creating factions and divisions, pay attention on Sunday.
As a new year begins, may I make an exhortation to my brother priests and bishops? If you don’t already, start reciting the traditional vesting prayers when putting on your vestments, starting with your cassock. Even the humble surplice, used for serving Mass or sitting in choir, has its own prayer: “Invest me, O Lord, as a new man, who was created by God in justice and the holiness of truth. Amen.” Dear lay people, perhaps when you go to church for Mass you might be sure to arrive a few minutes early, to pray for the priest before Mass, even as he prays his preparatory prayers, the better to serve you at the altar.
Cast off sins. Look at Paul’s list. Put on your armour. Do not be caught sleeping. Your visitation could be today.