Today is the beginning of the Advent Season in preparation for the Birth of Christ, “the Light that came into the world,” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the Light of love and truth. Traditionally Catholics celebrate this period of spiritual preparation with the Advent wreath. The origins of the wreath are uncertain, but the practice was well established by the early 1600s. Simple in design, the tradition is full of symbolism. The circular wreath, with no beginning nor end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life found in Christ. The evergreens of various sources represent continuous life. Even the pine cones, berries and seed pods which might be used to decorate the wreath are symbols of life and resurrection. Each of the four candles represents a week of Advent. The three purple ones are symbolic of prayer, penance, and works of charity. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday which marks the half way point of preparation and is a time for rejoicing. The progressive lighting of the candles represents the anticipation and hope that surrounded Christ’s birth and his second coming at the Last Judgment. Traditionally the candles are lit at the daily family meal accompanied by special prayers.
Come to me, Lord, with your help
that I may see the joy of your chosen ones
and may rejoice in the gladness of your nation
and share the glory of your people. Ps 106
People often ask the meaning of the initials “I.N.R.I.,” which appear on the scroll at the top of a crucifix. When a criminal was crucified, the crime for which he was charged and convicted was posted over his head. Pontius Pilate had the crime for which Jesus was crucified written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. (Cf. John 19:20) “I.N.R.I.” are the initials of the Latin words of this inscription: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudæorum, meaning, “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews.” (John 19:19)
This weekend, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, is the Solemnity of Christ the King. Although this feast is meant to bring the liturgical year to a triumphal climax, today’s gospel portrays Jesus at the most helpless, humiliating and derisive moment of his life. Yes, he is a king; but not like the kings of this world. His kingdom knows no boundaries. His throne is not a chair, but a cross. His crown is not made of gold or jewels, but of thorns. Yet all dominion is his because he has purchased us with his Precious Blood, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Second Reading) He has defeated the powers of darkness by entering into the realm of death and rising victorious on the third day. “[God] delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Second Reading) This is all summed up in our profession of faith: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ… Through him all things were made…He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
It is in gratitude for Christ’s selfless sacrifice offered for our redemption, and in reparation for the sins of humanity, that we celebrate today’s feast with special solemnity. How can we do any less?
On Tuesday of this week, the Gospel reading is taken from Luke 19:1-10. It is the story of Zacchaeus, a man of short stature, a wealthy chief tax collector who climbed the sycamore tree so that he could see who Jesus was. This narrative is depicted in the first theology window, House of God, in the top pane. Reading from the bottom up one observes Sts. Peter and Paul on either side of the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican. The title of that pane is taken from 1 Timothy 3:15: “... behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Two Priests carry the Ark of the Covenant during the Exodus and Solomon builds the temple for a dwelling place represent God’s presence among men and at his Nativity he came to us in our human condition. Zacchaeus represents God’s presence in us individually. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”