The Traditional Catholic Liturgy

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

The 24th and Last Sunday after Pentecost

Last Judgment

The number of the Sundays after Pentecost may exceed twenty-four and go up as far as twenty-eight, according as Easter is each year more or less near to the vernal equinox. But the Mass here given is always reserved for the last, and the intervening ones, whatever be their number, are taken from the Sundays after Epiphany, which in that case were not used at the beginning of the year. This however does not apply to the Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion verse, which as we have already said, are repeated from the 23rd Sunday.

We have seen how that Mass of the 23rd Sunday was regarded by our forefathers as really the last of the Cycle. According to the teaching we have already pondered over, the reconciliation of Juda was shown us as being, in time, the term intended by God: the last notes of the Sacred Liturgy blended with the last scene of the world’s history, as seen and known by God. The end proposed by Eternal Wisdom in the world’s creation, and mercifully continued after the Fall by the Mystery of Redemption, has now (we speak of the Church’s Year and God’s workings) been fully carried out—this end was no other than that of divine union with human nature, making it one in the unity of one only body (Eph. 2: 16). Now that the two antagonist-peoples, Gentile and Jew, are brought together in the one same New Man in Christ Jesus their Head (Ibid. 15), the Two Testaments, which so strongly marked the distinction between the ages of time, the one called the Old, the other the New—yes, these Two Testaments fade away, and give place to the glory of the Eternal Alliance.

It was here therefore, that Holy Mother Church formerly finished Her Liturgical Year. She was delighted with all She had done during all the past months; that is, at having led Her children, not only to have a thorough appreciation of the divine plan, which She had developed before them in Her celebrations—but moreover, and more especially, to unite them, by a veritable Union, to their Jesus, by a real communion of views, and interests, and loves. On this account She used not to revert again to the Second Coming of the God-Man and the Last Judgment—two great subjects which She had proposed for Her children's reflections, at the commencement of the Purgative Life, that is, Her Season of Advent. It is only since a few centuries that, with a view of giving to Her Liturgical Year a conclusion more defined and intelligible to the faithful of these more recent times, She closes the Cycle with the prophetic description of the dread Second Coming of Her Lord, which is to put an end to time and open eternity.

The Lesson for this Sunday is taken from the First Chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians:

Brethren: We have been praying for you unceasingly, asking that you may be filled with knowledge of God's Will, in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. May you walk worthily of God and please Him in all things, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. May you be completely strengthened through His glorious power unto perfect patience and long-suffering; joyfully rendering thanks to God the Father, Who has made us worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have our redemption, through His Blood, the remission of sins.

Thanksgiving and Prayer! There we have the epitome of our Epistle, and an eloquent conclusion to the Apostle's course of instructions: it is also both summary and conclusion of the Year of the Sacred Liturgy. The Doctor of the Gentiles has been zealous beyond measure in his fulfillment of the task assigned to him by Holy Mother Church. Of a certainty, the fault is not his if the souls he undertook to guide, on the morrow of the descent of the Spirit of Love, have not all reached the summit of perfection, which he longed we should all get up to! Those who have gone bravely forward in the path which, a year ago, was opened out to them by Holy Mother Church, now know, by a happy experience, that this path most surely leads them to the life of Union, where Divine charity reigns supreme! Who is there that, with anything like earnestness, has allowed his mind and heart to take an interest in the several Liturgical Seasons, which have been brought before us and celebrated by the Church during the past twelve months, has not also felt an immense increase of light imparted to him? Now light is that indispensible element, which delivers us from the power of darkness, and translates us, by the help of God, into the Kingdom of the Son of His love. The work of redemption, which this His beloved Son came down upon earth to accomplish for His Father's glory, could not do otherwise than make progress in those who have, with more or less fervor, entered into the spirit of His Church during the whole Year, that is, from the opening of Advent right up to these the closing days of the sacred Cycle. All of us then, whosoever we may be, should give thanks to this Father of Lights (James 1: 17), Who hath made us worthy to be partakers, somewhat at least, of the lot of the Saints.

So then, all of us—be the share of such participation what it may—yes, all of us must pray that the excellent gift (Ibid.), which has been put into our hearts, may fervently yield itself to the still richer development, which the coming new Cycle is intended to produce within us.

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 (Ps. 83: 6). The Colossians, to whom the Apostle was writing, had fully received the Gospel: the word of truth, which had been sown in them, had produced abundant fruit in faith, hope and charity (Col. 1: 4-6); and yet instead of relenting, on that account, his solicitude in their regard, it is precisely for that reason (Ibid. 9), that St. Paul, who had prayed for them up to then, ceases not to go on praying for them. So let us do—let us go on praying. Let us beg of God, that He will again and always, fill us with His Divine Wisdom, and with the Spirit of Understanding. We need all that in order to correspond with His merciful designs. If the new Year of the Church, which is so soon to begin, find us faithful and making fresh progress, we shall be repaid with new aspects of truth in the garden of the Spouse, and the fruits we shall produce there will be more plentiful and far sweeter than in any bygone year. Therefore let us make up our minds to walk worthy of God, "with dilated hearts" (Rule of St. Benedict), and bravely—for the eye of His approving love will be ever upon us, as we toil along. Oh, yes; let us run on in that uphill path, which will lead us to eternal repose in the Beatific Vision!

From time immemorial it has been the office of St. Luke to announce, on the First Sunday of Advent, the approach of the Last Judgment; the Evangelist St. Matthew (c. 24) was selected for this its second and more detailed description, on this Last Sunday after Pentecost:

Destruction of JerusalemAt that time: Jesus said to His disciples: "When you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the Prophet, standing in the holy place—let him who reads understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything from his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. But woe to those who are with child, or have infants at the breast in those days! But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor will be. And unless those days had been shortened, no living creature would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Then if anyone say to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or, 'There He is,' do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. If therefore they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the desert,' do not go forth: 'Behold, He is in the inner chambers,' do not believe it. For as the lightning comes forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together. But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then will all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty. And He will send forth His angels with a trumpet and a great sound, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Now from the fig tree learn this parable. When its branch is now tender, and the leaves break forth, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the door. Amen I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things have been accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."

Several times during Advent we meditated on the circumstances which are to accompany the Last Coming of Christ Our Lord; and in a few days the same great teachings will be again brought before us, filling our souls with a salutary fear. May we then be permitted, on this Last Sunday of our Liturgical Year, to address ourselves, in a prayer of desire and praise, to our adorable Lord and King, the solemn hour of Whose Judgment is to be the consummation of His work, and the signal of His triumph.

O Jesus, Who then art to come to deliver Thy Church, and to avenge that God Who hast so long borne every sort of insult from His creature man, that day of Thy coming will indeed be terrible to the sinner! He will then understand how the Lord made all things for Himself—all, even the ungodly, who on the evil day, is to show forth the divine justice (Prov. 11: 4). The whole world, fighting on His side against the wicked (Wisd. 5: 21), shall then at last be avenged for that slavery of sin, which had been forced upon it (Rom. 8: 21). Vainly will the wicked cry out to the rocks to fall upon them and hide them from the face of Him, Who will then be seated on His throne (Apoc. 6: 16). The abyss will refuse to engulf them—in obedience to Him Who holds the keys of death and Hell (Ibid. 1: 18), it will give forth, to a man, its wretched victims, and set them at the foot of the divine tribunal. O Jesus, how magnificent will not Thy power then appear! The heavenly hosts will also be standing around Thee, forming Thy brilliant court (Ibid. 19: 14), and assembling Thy elect from the four quarters of the earth.

For we also, Thy redeemed, who have become Thy members by becoming members of Thy beloved Church—we are to be there on that day, and our place—O ineffably mystery!—is to be the one Thou hast reserved for Thy Bride. It is to be Thy own throne (Ibid. 3: 21), where seated, we shall judge the very angels (1 Cor. 6: 3). Even now, all those blessed of the Father (Matt. 25: 3), all those elect, whose youth, like that of the eagle, has been so often renewed by their receiving Thy Precious Blood (Ps. 102: 5)—have they not had their eyes fitted to gaze, without being dazzled, on the Sun of Justice, when He shall appear in the heavens? The tediousness of their long exile has given such keenness to their hunger, that nothing will have power to stay their flight, once the Sacred Prey of Thy Divine Body shall be shown them! What hindrance could be strong enough to check the impetuosity of the love (Cant. 8: 6), which will bring them all together to the banquet of the eternal Pasch? The trumpet of the Archangel, which will ring through the graves of the just, is to be a summons calling them, not to death, but to life—to the sight of the old enemy's destruction (1 Cor. 15: 28)—to a redemption, which is to include their very bodies (Rom. 8: 23)—to the unimpeded Passover to the true Land of Promise—in a word, to the Pasch, and this time, quite real, and for all and forever. What will not be the joy of that true Day of the Lord (Ps. 117: 24)—what joy for them, who have by faith lived in Christ, and loved Him without seeing Him! (1 Pet. 1: 8) Identifying themselves with Thee, O Jesus, notwithstanding the weakness of the flesh, they have continued here below Thy life of suffering and humiliation: what a triumph, when delivered forever from sin and vested in their immortal bodies, they shall be borne aloft before Thy Face, that they may forever be with Thee! (1Thess. 4: 6)

But their greatest joy on that great Day will be to assist at the glorification of their most dear Lord, by the manifestation of the power which was given to Him over all flesh (John 17: 2). It is to be then, O Emmanuel, that crushing the heads of kings and making Thine own enemies Thy footstool (Ps. 109), Thou wilt be shown as the one Ruler over all nations (Ps. 2). It is to be then that Heaven and earth and Hell will bow their knee (Phil. 2: 10) before that Son of Man, Who heretofore appeared on this earth as a slave, and was judged and condemned and put to death between two thieves. It is to be then, dear Jesus, that Thou wilt judge the unjust judges, to whom, even in the midst of all the humiliations they put upon Thee, Thou didst foretell this Thy Coming on the clouds of heaven (Matt. 26: 64). And when, after the irrevocable sentence has been passed, the wicked shall go to everlasting torments, and the just to life eternal (Ibid. 25: 46), Thy Apostle tells us that, having conquered Thine enemies, and been proclaimed undisputed King, Thou wilt consign to Thy Eternal Father this Thy Kingdom won over death; it will be the perfect homage of Thee, the Head, and of all Thy faithful members (1 Cor. 15: 24-28). God will thus be all in all. It will be the perfect accomplishment of that sublime prayer Thou didst teach mankind to make (Matt. 6: 9), which they daily offer up to the Father Who is in Heaven, and say to Him: Hallowed be Thy name! Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven! O blissfully peaceful Day, when blasphemy is to cease, and when this poor earth of ours, cleansed by fire from the filth of sin, shall be turned into a new paradise! Where then is the Christian who will not thrill with emotion at the thought of that last of all the Days of time, which is to usher in beautiful Eternity? Who would not despise the agonies of his own last hour, when he reflects that those sufferings have really only one meaning in them—that is, as the Gospel words it, that the Son of Man is nigh, even at the very doors!

Christ lamenting over JerusalemO Jesus, detach us every year more and more from this world, whose fashion passeth away (1 Cor. 7: 31) with its vain toils, its false glories, and its lying pleasures. It was Thine own foretelling that, as in the days of Noe and Sodom, men will go on with their feasting, and business, and amusements, without giving any more thought to Thy approaching Coming, than their forefathers heeded the threat of the Deluge, or of the fire, which came upon them and destroyed them (Luke 17: 26-30). Let these men go on with their merry-making, and their sending gifts to one another, as Thine Apocalypse expresses it, because—so they will have it—Christ and His Church are then to be worn-out ideas! (Apoc. 11: 10) Whilst they are tyrannizing over Thy Holy City in a thousand varied ways, and persecuting Her as no past period had ever done, they little think that all this is an announcement of the Eternal Nuptials, which are nigh at hand. All these trials were the fresh jewels, which the Bride was to have on Her before all Her beauty was complete; and the blood of Her last Martyrs was to color Her already splendid robes with all the richness of royal crimson. As for us, we lend an ear to the echoes of our home above; and from the throne of our God, we hear going forth the voice heard by the beloved Prophet of Patmos: Give praise unto our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, little and great! Alleluia! For the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned! Let us be glad and rejoice, and give glory unto Him; for the Marriage of the Lamb is come, and His Bride hath prepared Herself! (Apoc. 19: 5-7) Yet a little while till the number of our brethren be made up (Ibid. 6: 11); and then, with the Spirit and the Bride, we will say to Thee in all the ardor of our souls that have long thirsted after Thee: Come, Lord Jesus! (Ibid. 22: 17) Come and perfect us in love by eternal Union, unto the glory of the Father, and of Thyself the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, forever and ever!

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