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Cardinal Gregory says Advent is a time to prepare for Jesus’s arrival at Christmas and for ‘His return trip’

At a Nov. 28, 2021 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle marking the first Sunday of Advent, Dominican Brother Philip Nolan, serving as the deacon at the Mass, lights a candle on the Advent wreath as Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory watches. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Celebrating a Nov. 28 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle on the first Sunday of Advent, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory emphasized that Advent is a “season of anticipation” for the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and for Christ’s eventual second coming.

“Advent is about being ready for whatever God wishes to do with and for us,” the cardinal said.

At the liturgy marking the opening of the season of Advent and the beginning of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year, Washington’s archbishop said Advent “reminds us that God has done something wonderful in human history through the birth of His only begotten Son.”

“Advent reminds us that a baby – like the little ones that grace your life, the little ones who whimper and fidget in church – a Little One was born for us in time and that event was the real intergalactic moment that transformed human history,” he said.

Family members participate in the Nov. 28 Mass for the first Sunday of Advent at St. Matthew’s Cathedral (top photo) and share the sign of peace during the Mass (bottom photo). (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

Cardinal Gregory said Advent offers a dual message.

“This is the season that tells us that God has another momentous event in store for us. This Little One once born in a stable will, in fact, return… We have no idea when this Son will return in glory, nor how He will enter human history once again. Advent just reminds us to be vigilant, because God still has lots of plans up his sleeve,” the cardinal said.

Warning people against losing focus about the meaning of Advent at a time when our culture seems to de-Christianize the season of Christmas, he noted, “Christmas is now often referred to as just ‘the holidays’ (to) carefully devoid of any reference to the birth of the Child that might offend others.”

Concluding his homily, the cardinal said, “It seems to me, that if we can conveniently manage to ignore His (Jesus’s) first arrival, then we don’t even have to make any provision for His return trip! Boy, do we need Advent!’

Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory sprinkles holy water to bless the Advent wreath and candle at the beginning of the Nov. 28 Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the first Sunday of Advent. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Cardinal Gregory had opened the Mass with a prayer before the lighting of the first candle on the Advent wreath, saying, “Let us pray then, that this wreath of Advent may remind us to pray for His coming… May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.”

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington’s Association of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities’ annual Mass was also celebrated at that liturgy, which was held on the first anniversary of the Nov. 28, 2020 Consistory in Rome when Pope Francis elevated Cardinal Gregory to the College of Cardinals.

At the beginning of the Mass, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, welcomed the representatives of the archdiocese’s nearly 20 Ecclesial Movements and New Communities that he said “bless this local Church.” He added that “these associations include people who espouse and actively support strong marriages and family life, those who provide an experience of charismatic prayer, those who engage in social justice ministries, and those who welcome the religious charisms of other nations and cultures and bring them into the life of this local Church.”

The archdiocese’s Association of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities includes the Madonna House Apostolate, Missionary Families of Christ, Mother of God Community, Regnum Christi, Schoenstatt Movement, Spanish Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Teams of Our Lady, The Houses of Adoration, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Bukas Loob Sa Diyos – Open in Spirit to God (a Catholic charismatic covenant community), Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals, Couples for Christ, Crusaders of Mary, Cursillo in Christianity, Families in Christ Jesus Community, Focolare Movement, L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C., and the Legion of Mary.

Members of the association read prayers at the Mass and brought up the offertory gifts.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington’s Association of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities had their annual Mass on Nov. 28 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and during the Mass, association members brought up the offertory gifts to Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

After Communion, Dawn Zierdt from The Houses of Adoration and the chair of the association, said, “I find it prophetic that at a time when the Church is struggling to fill the pews, the Archdiocese of Washington is working with movements to promote programs that build small communities, create intimate relationships with God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and to promote holiness… The Holy Spirit is calling us to an even more powerful way to speak the truth in love, courageously serve the Church and be the light offering hope and love to the world.”

A woman prays during the Nov. 28 Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which marked the first Sunday of Advent and the annual Mass for the archdiocese’s Association of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Also near the end of the Mass, Msgr. Jameson offered congratulations to Cardinal Gregory on his first anniversary as a cardinal. Alluding to the fact that Cardinal Gregory became the first African American cardinal, the cathedral’s rector said, “Upon that historic appointment to the College of Cardinals, he humbly renewed his deep love for the Church, saying with profound gratitude that he was reaping the harvest that generations of African Americans had planted with their faith, which has been ‘lived so generously, so zealously and with such great devotion.”

Msgr. Jameson traced the journey of faith of Cardinal Gregory, who converted to Catholicism as a student at a Catholic school in his native Chicago, and was ordained as a priest and auxiliary bishop there before later becoming the bishop of Belleville, Illinois and the archbishop of Atlanta, where “he was beloved and he likely thought he would spend the rest of his days.”

Then the cathedral’s rector jokingly added, “Instead he was called by the Church in April 2019 to go preach the Gospel to the ends of the Earth – Washington, D.C.,” as the new archbishop there.

“Since that time, we have seen that the confidence that Pope Francis placed in him and his gentle and fatherly presence was well deserved,” Msgr. Jameson said. He praised Cardinal Gregory for his pastoral care to the poor and marginalized, and offered thanks for the cardinal’s parents, grandmother and the priests and religious who inspired him and gave him a foundation in faith.

Concluding his remarks, Msgr. Jameson referenced Cardinal Gregory’s episcopal motto, saying, “We thank you, Cardinal Gregory, for your response to the call of the Spirit by following their example of joyful service to the Gospel, showing by word and deed that ‘We are the Lord’s.’”

After Communion at the Nov. 28 Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, the cathedral’s rector, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, congratulated Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory on his first anniversary as a cardinal. (CS photos/Andrew Biraj)

After the congregation offered Cardinal Gregory a long standing ovation for his first anniversary, the cardinal said, “One year ago today, given the change of hours between Rome and Washington, the deed was done.”

Then he smiled and added, “I’ve never thought of Washington as ‘the ends of the Earth,’ but always as a family of faith.”