As we make our Christmas preparations, plan holiday activities and catch up with old friends, our hearts are filled with memories of the past and our minds draft fresh resolutions for the future. We anticipate. We are hopeful. We feel renewed.
Renewal is at the heart of the human experience precisely because of the Incarnation. God takes on human flesh and becomes one of us so that we might become like him; in Christ we are renewed. Below, Michelle Brylowski, Associate Director of RCIA and Liturgical Formation for the Office of Formation for Discipleship, reflects on Vatican II’s call for liturgical renewal, scriptural illustrations and its focus in Advent.
This year marked the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965): the 21st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church and the second ecumenical council to be held at the Vatican, which is why it is referred to as “Vatican II.” On October 11, 1962, St. John XXIII opened the Council and ushered in, as the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner would later describe it, “the third epoch in Christian history” – the period of the world church. While so much has been written about Vatican II over the past 60 years, one could summarize the defining charism of the Council as the desire to renew the Church.
Renewal is a deeply biblical theme. The pages of the Prophets overflow with the declaration that God desires to renew his covenant with Israel (see Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Isaiah 44: 21-23, Ezekiel 36: 24-28). The Psalms speak confidently of God’s promise to renew his people, and of Israel’s trust in that promise. Renewal is at the heart of the Gospels’ healing stories. The Holy Spirit renews the face of the earth by his coming among us (Psalm 104). In John’s vision he sees the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God and hears “a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21: 5). Perhaps the most life-changing experiences of God’s renewal are in the sacraments of baptism, when we become a new creation in Christ, and Eucharist, when Christ renews the covenant between God and man by his very body and blood.
Renewal is foundational to the Christian life and the Church offers us particular times of the year when we called to reflect more deeply on the theme of renewal. Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year and is a time of renewal. Advent is the season of hopeful waiting, of anticipating the coming of the Lord among us at Christmas. During this season, we are encouraged to take stock of those things that are helping us to grow in the spiritual life and those things which are holding us back from becoming the people we are called to be. It is the time of year when we reflect on all that has happened, make resolutions or commitments, and look forward to the coming year with joy. As we prepare to “make our house fair as [we] are able” let us renew within us a desire to welcome the Lord in our hearts and make him known to the world by our lives.