Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
My grandmother passed away during her second bout with cancer on a spring morning over 11 years ago. I remember that day so vividly: receiving the phone call in my college dorm room, my initial mourning, and then hours later hearing of the death of Pope John Paul II. I spent much of the campus wide memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II sobbing, not because of the Pope, but because of my grandparent who had come to the end of her earthly journey after living so many years as a faithful Catholic. Her example in her daily life and her faithful attendance to Mass had a great impact on my life of faith.
One of the Communion songs at that Holy Mass that moved me most profoundly was the song Press On by Robert A. Filoramo, which meditates on the final end for one who lives a Christian life. He describes what it might be like to enter Heaven in the presence of God, the angels, and the saints, and then how he will continue to “fight the good fight with all [his] heart and soul until the day [he] is with Jesus.” At that memorial Mass, I was given an example of two people who had lived faithful to God their entire lives, and it inspired me to continue on the life of faith which had been given to me from infancy. These holy lives which I was a witness to, this month of November to pray for the dead, and the end of the liturgical year are all tied together in how we should approach the spiritual life at this time of year. We meditate on those who have gone before us. We pray for them at their moment of judgment and think about our own pending deaths and judgment, but we also look forward to the new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent.
Ever since I was a child, I have loved Advent. My mother always made it beautiful with our homemade Jesse Tree ornaments, our simple green Advent wreath, and our tradition of singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in the candlelight before supper. All of our voices would rise up together in our hope for the coming Savior. This liturgical year, which has been passed down to us by tradition, and which never ceases, is the heartbeat of the liturgical life. Around and around we go. From Advent to Christmas to Lent to Easter to Pentecost and the time after up through our remembrance of the dead in November during which in our Mass readings we anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. It all fits together so beautifully and is one of the things that I love about being Catholic.
In Dom Prosper Guéranger’s The Liturgical Year, written in the 1800s, he talks about the Last Sunday of the liturgical year reflecting on how this end of the year is our opportunity to look back at the previous year, see the work God has done in us, and ask God to take us deeper into the spiritual life in the next year. Dom Guéranger says:
The just man cannot possibly remain stationary in this world; he must either descend or ascend; and whatever may be the degree of perfection to which grace has led him, he must be ever going still higher as long as he is left in this life. (Dom Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. 11, Last Sunday After Pentecost)
The cycle of the liturgical year is meant to take us deeper into our lives of faith bringing us closer to God. We cannot sit by and let time pass on without changing either for better or for worse. There is a sense of urgency in reflecting on the end of the liturgical year. Which way are we going: towards God or away from him? He is coming again whether we are ready or not. And when he does or when we go to him we will experience both the wrath and the mercy embodied in the Requiem sequence the Dies Irae:
Faint and weary Thou hast sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me;
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?
Righteous Judge! for sin’s pollution
Grant Thy gift of absolution,
Ere that day of retribution.
(Stanzas 10-11, trans. William Josiah Irons)
Now is the time to thank God for how he has drawn us closer to him, and ask again for him to help us draw closer still.