Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Year A: Song of Songs 2:8-14, Luke 1:39-45.
Today’s readings are pregnant (pun intended) with the mystery of the divine waiting to burst forth. Both Old Testament and New present us with figures full of a happy anxiousness for meeting their ultimate love. In the Song of Songs, it’s our unnamed narrator and her lover, God. In the gospel of Luke, it is Elizabeth speaking for humanity, John the infant jumping with the energy of all the prophets who have come before him. Can we feel it?? Can we immerse ourselves in this breathless expectation for our Savior in just a few days?
The end of today’s passage from the Song of Songs stirs me. “O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see you, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.” Much has been made of the erotic quality of the Song of Songs (dove in the clefts …), but apart from that I like to think of the dove in the more traditional biblical metaphors: peace and the Holy Spirit. The clefts of rock, the secret recesses, strike me as appropriate ways to talk of our hearts or our souls. The author knows that her lover, the dove, is present, but is dancing just outside of her field of vision, “gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices” at her. Is this not an accurate description of our God? We know in our hearts that He is there, He knows us better than we know ourselves and yet stays out of sight, peering at us through lattices like a lover. The author longs to see him and hear his voice, just as we do. And yet she knows that his voice is sweet (even not hearing it) and that he is lovely (even not seeing him). This is the memory of the soul, a spark of the divine within us, recalling its maker.
The same closeness that the author of the Song of Songs is reveling in is present even more in the Visitation. Christ is literally there, in the flesh, yet not quite there. Agh, the anticipation Mary and Elizabeth must have felt! A thousand times more than any other mothers in history because their spirits were soaring in concert with the Holy Spirit. The gift of a Son from our God, who is peering at us through the lattices, is very much bound up in this spiritual communion via the Spirit as well as the Christ Himself. Consider this sentence from one of the best liturgical theology books of the 20th century, Wellspring of Worship, by Jean Corbon, OP: “In the body of Christ and flowing forth from it, the Holy Spirit is as it were the impatient desire of the Father’s glory that human beings should live” (65). Here we have the same impatient lover as we have in the Song of Songs – located in the person of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the loving communion between the Son and the Father, and also the “sap” of the vine that allows us to commune with God. The Catechism phrases this nicely: “In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father’s vine which bears fruit on its branches. The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy” (CCC 1108). So, when Luke tells us, “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’,” we understand this as God communing with us and we can even consider this a special liturgical action between Elizabeth, John, Mary, and Jesus.
The liturgy keeps coming up here, and our moment of history is special in this way. From our baptism onward, we are invited to live within the liturgy that was instituted in a new way by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. All of the signs and actions in the Mass point to the actual communion being made present to us by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prepares us for this communion (CCC 1098), recalls the meaning of the scriptures and gives life to the Word of God (CCC 1100), not only transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but also transforms those who receive the Eucharist into what they have received (cf. CCC 1105), and brings us into communion with Christ in the liturgy (CCC 1108). The liturgy is this amazing point where true communion happens, and this is why the Eucharist is so revered. It is not a type of overwrought, semi-superstitious, overly pious attitude. Our reverence occurs naturally during the Liturgy of the Eucharist because the communion that is received in bread and wine is the same communion that made John leap in the womb, that made Elizabeth cry out in a loud voice, and made Mary immaculate! It is the presence of God-with-us, God who transforms us into Himself.
The liturgy is a corporate action of the Church, not a private, individual event. This is important, as Corbon states, “in the liturgy the Church, which is already the communion of those who believe in the name of the beloved Son and have been changed into him, ‘becomes what it is’; that is, it becomes the body of Christ and a sacrament of the communion between God and human beings” (Wellspring 72). What a great understanding! The Church is “a sacrament of the communion between God and human beings.” Again, we participate in this thing we call the Church that Elizabeth, John, and Mary participated in (and still do!). As we participate in the Body of Christ, we begin to realize that we can more fully experience that same breathless anticipation and awe that Elizabeth, John, and Mary felt – particularly because we still await the fullness of redemption, the fullness of our union with God.
This is where we are now in the fourth week of Advent in the year 2022: begging the mystery to emerge, as a dove from the recesses of our soul, as a God-man from a sinless Ark of the New Covenant, as a King of Judgement to welcome our souls home.