Bottom line: In the Collect, we gather the strands of our lives. We do so in a focused way - a way that sets the tone for the entire Mass: To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
A reporter asked actor Martin Sheen about his faith. He said that he is a practicing Catholic. Then he added, "And I plan to keep practicing until I get it right." That's a good motto for us as we learn the new missal. Before giving the homily, I would like to practice three gestures:
The first gesture is new, but familiar to those who remember the old Latin Mass - or to those who have attend Mass in others languages, such as Spanish.* It is the "striking of the breast" during the "Confiteor" - the "I Confess" prayer. We say "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." As we are saying those phrases, we strike the breast. This is a biblical gesture. After the people witnessed Jesus' crucifixion, they went home "beating their breasts." (Lk 23:48)
The second gesture is not new, but many neglect it: Before we listen to the Gospel, we make the sign of the cross on the forehead, lips and heart. It indicates that we desire to receive Jesus in our minds and hearts, so that his words might be on our lips.
Thirdly, during the Creed we bow at the words, "And by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin and became Man." The bow is profound. If your hands were extended, they would touch your knees. We bow at Jesus taking on human flesh, that is being "incarnate of the Virgin Mary" by the Holy Spirit. Those gestures will help enter the mysteries in a total way: mind, spirit and body.
Now, the homily proper:** This Sunday I would like to focus on a small, but significant change. It will not require any practice, but knowing about will help have a deeper appreciation of what happens at Mass. At the conclusion of the Introductory Rites, we have a short prayer. The old missal called it the "Opening Prayer," the new missal says, "Collect." It is spelled the same as the verb "to collect," but is accented on the first syllable: CALL-lect. The word comes from the Latin: cum, meaning "together" and ligere meaning "gather." The collect, then, gathers together the prayers of the community.
Benedictine Father Jeremy Driscoll gives this definition of the Collect: "A prayer whose purpose is to collect into a few short lines, all the strands of what has taken place so far, as well as all the strands of our many individual thoughts, which come from many directions..."
When I look at the congregation at the beginning of Mass, I am often aware specific situations: A parishioner diagnosed with a serious disease, a young person struggling with his faith, a man who has lost his job, a couple facing difficulties in their marriage, a person tempted by some sin, as well as people who have received joyful news. The collect gathers together all these strands of our lives.
If you listen carefully to the collect, you will notice that it has a structure. As Fr. Driscoll says, the Collect follows a "pattern, according to a very ancient usage." It begins by addressing God. For example, this Sunday: "Almighty and merciful God." Then we make a request. This sunday it is a double request: "may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son." In the readings we hear about things could hinder us: guilt, aridity, fear, impatience, apathy, a refusal to acknowledge sin. But God is powerful and full of mercy. So we ask him to remove those obstacles.
The second request is that, by learning heavenly wisdom, we would gain admittance to his company. It would require a more spiritual man than I to analyze that request, but I will say this: None of us will experience the "comfort" described in our readings speak until we ask for "heavenly wisdom" and by that wisdom enter into God's company. Nothing this world offers will give us lasting peace and comfort.
The Collect concludes by acknowledging the Trinity. As we say today "your Son...who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, forever..." As Fr. Driscoll observes, in the Collect, "we have the shape or pattern of prayer that will mark all the praying of the Mass": To God the Father, through Jesus his Son, in the Holy Spirit.
To sum up: In the Collect, we gather the strands of our lives. We do so in a focused way - a way that sets the tone for the entire Mass: To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*It was indicated in the old translation, but - in my experience - no one did it at English Masses. By way of contrast, almost everyone does at Spanish Mass (and in other languages). When we restrict the translation to a single "through my fault," the gesture of striking the breast went by the wayside.
**Remember what the General Instruction to the Roman Missal says about the homily: "The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended (Cf. Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, no- 52; Code of Canon Law, can. 767 § 1), for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners (Cf. Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Inter cEcurnenici, 26 September 1964, no.54: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964) p.890)" (GIRM, no. 65)
General Intercessions for the Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)
From Archives (Second Sunday of Advent, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)
Parish Picture Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru