Christ will return in Glory to Earth
He will return. But Christ promised us that He would return in glory, ‘as light comes from the east’ to bring God’s plan of redemption to its fulfilment.
In the early Church, Christians expected that Christ would come soon – any day. There was hopeful expectation. They were watchfu1 – they looked to the sky in the east to wait for Christ. And because they did not know when He would return, they proclaimed the Gospel with urgency and enthusiasm, hoping to bring the world to salvation before Christ returned.
It has been nearly two thousand years now since Christ ascended into heaven. It has become easier to forget that He will come again to earth. It has become easier to forget that we must be waiting, we must be watching, and we must be ready.
In the season of Advent, as we recall Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas, we are reminded to be prepared for Christ’s coming. In the Gospel Christ tells us His disciples “to be on the watch.”
“You do not know when the Master of the house is coming,” Jesus says. “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
We remember that Christ is coming whenever we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Holy Mass we are present at the sacrifice at Calvary and participate in the joy of Christ’s glory in heaven. But we also remember that Christ will return, and we remember to watch, to be vigilant, to wait for Him, and to be prepared.
The Mass is rich with symbolism. The vestments of the priest remind us of the dignity of Christ the King. We strike our breasts, and bow our heads and bend our knees to remember our sinfulness, God’s mercy, and His glory. In the Mass, the ways we stand, and sit, and kneel, remind us of God’s eternal plan for us.
Since ancient times, Christians have faced the east during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass toremember to keep watch for Christ. Together, the priest and the people faced the east, waiting and watching for Christ. Even in Churches that did not face the east, the priest and people stood together in the Mass, gazing at Christ on the crucix, on the altar, and in the tabernacle, to recall the importance ofwatching for His return. The symbolism of the priest and people facing ad Orientem – to the east – an ancient reminder – of the coming of Christ.
More recently, it has become common for the priest and the people to face one another during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest stands behind the altar as he consecrates the Eucharist, facing the people. The people see the face ofthe priest as he prays, and he sees theirfaces. These positions can have important symbolism too. They can remind us that we are a community – one body in Christ. And they can remind us that the Eucharist, at the centre of the assembly, should also be at the centre of our families, and our lives.
But the symbolism of facing together, and awaiting Christ, is rich, time-honoured and important. Especially during Advent, as we await the coming of the Lord, facing together – even symbolically facing Christ together at the altar and on the crucifix – is a powerful witness to Christ’s imminent return. Today, at a time when it is easy to forget that Christ is coming – and easy to be complacent in our spiritual lives and in the work of evangelization – we need reminders that Christ will come.
During the three Candlelit Rorate Masses of Advent, I will celebrate the Mass ad Orientem. With the People of God, the priest will stand facing the altar, and facing the crucfix.
In the ad orientem posture at Mass, the priest will not be facing away from the people. He will be with them – and among them, and leading them – facing Christ, and waiting for His return.
“Be watchful!” says Jesus. “Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We do not know when the time will come for Christ to return. But we know that we must watch for Him. May we “face the east,” together, watching for Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in our lives.
The Rorate Mass has a long tradition in the Church. It is a Votive Mass in honour of the Blessed Mother for the season of Advent. Our Lady shows herself in a special way as our leader through Advent to Christmas. In Advent we live spiritually between the Annunciation and the birth of Christ. teaches us the spirit of Advent and inner attitude we should have during Advent.
During the nine months of pregnancy Mary lived a hidden life, in the spirit of silence and intense intimacy with Christ she ‘carried,’ in her womb. This spirit of intimacy with God we are to cultivate during the season of Advent more intensely by listening attentively to God’s message and by obedience to His word.