The Holy Spirit makes the special graces of each mystery of our salvation present
By Father Randy Stice
On Dec. 3, the first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year in which the Church “unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the Ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.” 1 The liturgical year, however, does not unfold in a strictly chronological order, for if it did, Easter would be celebrated at the end of the year rather than in the middle. Rather, the sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday) is the high point of the entire liturgical year, “and around it radiate all the mysteries of Christ and the history of salvation which becomes sacramentally present.” 2 Gradually, on either side of the Triduum, the year is transfigured by the liturgy.
The liturgical year begins with Advent when we remember Christ’s first coming and anticipate His Second Coming at the end of time, leading to Christmas, the birth of Christ, and His first manifestations. This is followed by the beginning of Ordinary Time (four to eight weeks) until the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we prepare for Easter, recalling our baptism and doing penance. Easter is the “feast of feasts,” the “solemnity of solemnities,” because the resurrection “permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subject to Him.” 3 The 50 days of Easter Time through Pentecost are joyfully celebrated as one feast day—in the words of St. Athanasius, one “great Sunday.” After Pentecost, we resume Ordinary Time for the remainder of the liturgical year (about six months), concluding with the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
The liturgical year, wrote Pope Pius XII, is not “a cold and lifeless representation of the events of the past, or a simple and bare record of a former age” but “Christ Himself who is ever living in His Church.” 4 When the Church celebrates the mysteries of Christ in the Mass, taught the Second Vatican Council, she “opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace.” 5 When we celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s saving work, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “there is a word that marks her prayer: ‘Today!’—a word echoing the prayer her Lord taught her and the call of the Holy Spirit.” 6
Pope Pius XII explained the “today” of the liturgy in Mediator Dei (Mediator Between God and Man, 1947), the first encyclical devoted exclusively to the liturgy. In the course of the liturgical year, we encounter Christ, “as the Word of the eternal Father, as born of the Virgin Mother of God, as He who teaches us truth, heals the sick, consoles the afflicted, who endures suffering, and who dies; finally, as He who rose triumphantly from the dead and who, reigning in the glory of heaven, sends us the Holy Paraclete and who abides in His Church forever; ‘Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, and the same forever.’” In the succession of seasons and feasts, Christ is present in the Mass “not only as a model to be imitated but as a master to whom we should listen readily, a Shepherd whom we should follow, Author of our salvation, the Source of our holiness, and the Head of the Mystical Body whose members we are, living by His very life.” 7 In addition, “each mystery brings its own special grace for our salvation.” 8
According to the Catechism, it is the Holy Spirit who makes the special grace of each mystery present, for “in each celebration there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that makes the unique mystery present.” 9 The saints experienced these special graces. A penitent wrote of St. John of the Cross (died 1591), “I noticed that his countenance reflected the feast being celebrated. I became convinced that his heart was set on God in harmony with the feasts and seasons.” 10 St. Thérèse of Lisieux (died 1897) was introduced from childhood to the graces of each feast, as she lovingly recounted to her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus): “How I loved the feasts! You knew how to explain all the mysteries hidden under each, and you did it so well that they were truly heavenly days for me.” 11 “Almost every feast of the Church,” wrote St. Faustina, “gives me a deeper knowledge of God and a special grace.” 12
St. Faustina also anticipated each season and feast. “I prepare myself for each feast,” she wrote, “and unite myself closely to the spirit of the Church.” 13 She is a good example to imitate. One way we can prepare is to read carefully the Gospel for the coming Sunday. What is Jesus doing in this Mass? What is the special grace? This spiritual practice can dispose us to participate more deeply in the “today” of each mystery of our salvation and be “filled with saving grace.” 14
1 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 102.
2 Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 52.
3 CCC, 1169.
4 Pius XII, Mediator Dei (MD), 163.
5 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 102.
6 CCC, 1165.
7 MD, 163.
8 MD, 165.
9 CCC, 1104.
10 God Speaks in the Night: The Life, Times, and Teaching of St. John of the Cross (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 2000), p. 207.
11 Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, third edition. Translated by John Clarke, OCD (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996, p. 41. Italics original.
12 Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul, (Stockbridge, Mass.: Marian Press, 2012, no. 481, p. 209), September/October 1935.
13 Diary, 481.
14 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 102.
Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.