Why we dress our Sunday best Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

We had some very interesting readings this past Sunday, our Second Sunday of Advent. The first reading came from the prophet Baruch and my first point comes from the line in that passage “put on the splendor of Glory from God forever,” or “put on the splendor of the Glory of God forever.”

And we may ask, “How does one do that?” One does that at the Mass. We can’t do anything in this life forever. The only eternal behavior in which we can engage, in which we can get caught up, is liturgical behavior. And so through his prophet Baruch, God says to us, “put on the splendor of the Glory of God.”

That is why the priests wear vestments — to put on the splendor of the Glory of God. And that is why, too, for so long, we had the tradition of wearing one’s “Sunday best” during Mass. Nowadays, we are at a time when priests and bishops sit around and say, “we’re happy that the people come at all and we’re not going to make too much of a fuss over how they dress.” But that command that the Lord gives to Baruch, “put on the splendor of the Glory of God forever,” is not only a command for priests at the liturgy, it is a command for everybody. So, whatever you can do, do your best. Your best is always good enough for God — your very best. But remember what Baruch says: “put on the splendor of the Glory from God forever.”

Teaching moments at Mass

Realize that the priest should be dressed in a particular way and you should be dressed well because, as I’ve said, at the Mass we are being lifted up to heaven. That is why we can put on the splendor of the Glory from God eternally.

We can’t do it perfectly in this life, but we should do what we can, in the way that we attire ourselves and so on, using every external reminder to help us, in our hearts, seek to put on the splendor of the Glory of God forever. We should remember that we are worthy, because God deems us worthy, to come to heaven every Sunday and that when we come to Mass, we put on the splendor of the Glory of God forever!

Everything that is done at Mass, or is not done, teaches something. Priestly garb, and the way that each of us should prepare for Mass, teaches us that we are encountering heaven. The priestly garb is heavenly garb. And — as an aside — that is why the priestly garb is ornate and beautiful — that is what vestments are supposed to be. They’re not supposed to be, honestly, a sign of poverty. And this is the case when we build a church and we want a beautiful tabernacle or a beautifully altar; we are putting on the splendor of the Glory of God.

The Lord has a special love for the poor and he has commanded us to care for the poor. But the Lord has also commanded us to put on the splendor of the Glory of God, forever! That is what we’re supposed to see in a church. What we have to do is to balance those things out — the wonderful care that we should have for the poor and our putting on of the splendor of the Glory of God.

The reputation of the Church — especially in the United States — is something of which we can be very proud when it comes to caring for the poor. All of the soup kitchens, all of the housing and shelter for the poor, all of the places that take care of the sick and of AIDS patients, groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who take care of the elderly, all of our Catholic schools which serve the poor, and on and on and on, provide evidence that our Church has not forgotten the poor. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Catholic Church has forgotten the poor.

On the other hand, sometimes there is evidence that some Catholic people have forgotten to put on the splendor of Glory from God, forever. And we’re not allowed to forget either of these important things to which the Lord commands us.

Reflecting our humanity

The second point is this: to put on the splendor of the Glory of God also means being fully human. We have from Vatican II and the writings following it, the quote from St. Irenaeus, “the Glory of God is the human person fully alive.” That means “fully alive” with grace! And that means that at all times when we’re not at Mass, wearing our priestly vestments or our Sunday best, we should be wearing our humanity as fully alive as God gives and as we can receive. We should be wearing the life of Grace within us.

And, of course the one human person who is most fully alive, because she was full of grace, is Mary. And we also celebrate that mystery this week — on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Mary is very much the Mother of Advent, the one who teaches us how to live waiting and in hope, fully alive — a life full of Grace.

Wearing our humanity in such ways as to be our best, is “putting on the splendor of the Glory of God forever.” Because Jesus Christ took on our human nature in order to save us and in order to define our human nature, the more we live out our human nature in grace, the more we put on, just by being truly human, the splendor of the Glory of God forever.

The source of salvation

The third point comes from Pope Benedict at his Angelus address this past Sunday, and his point is so good that I have to repeat it. The Holy Father reflected on the Gospel words and on how a very specific historical context is given therein — detailing that “Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee . . .” and so on.

When we see these details, we can know very specifically that Luke is talking about Israel in about 27 or 28 AD. We know that in terms of its historical context — it is real! Luke is not intending to tell us a legend, or a story, or a myth in the sense of telling us something that is false. He is giving names, dates, and places. This is precisely what you do when you make an allegation in our civil law, so specific is it. That means that what is being said really took place and is not just an event in somebody’s mind. Luke is very serious about what he wrote, detailing where and when it happened and making clear that it is reality.

And what happened in that time and in that place? The word of God came to John in the desert. Who is the start of our salvation? Not John the Baptist. The start of our salvation, the initiator, was not John the Baptist and it was not even our Blessed Mother. It was the Word of God, who took flesh in Jesus.

“The Word of God came to John the Baptist.” The Word of God was the source of the great act that saved us, in Christ, over the period of about three years. The Word of God initiated the act of salvation and the Word of God, taken flesh, finished it. That historical period of human salvation was very concrete, very real, and, indeed, very historical.

Watering the world

And, the Holy Father emphasized, the Word of God came to John the Baptist in the desert. Beyond giving a specific place — the desert south of Jerusalem, near Jericho — this statement also holds in it the meaning that the whole world was a desert when the Word of God came to John the Baptist. The whole world was parched and dry, longing for the life-giving water who was Jesus Christ. The Word of God appeared and came to John the Baptist in the desert and the Word of God changed the desert into a garden, our Holy Father said. And, he added, the gardener of that garden was the Blessed Mother.

Where there was parched, dry, absence of Grace, the Word of God came into that place of lack and absence and, by his life, death, resurrection, and coming in the Holy Spirit, turned it into a garden. And indeed, Mary was the gardener of that garden. And way back in the Eastern Churches very early on, they sang a song that began, “Hail, oh gardener of the garden of life.” This tradition of seeing Mary as that gardener of the garden of life is ancient.

We’re at a very sacred time of year, when the Lord, by His Grace, tries to realize within us all of this mystery. There are corners of desert in your life and mine — corners which are parched, arid, dry, and lacking in Grace. And this Advent, and especially in Christmas, the Lord wants to change those corners and our entire lives into a beautiful garden, through the prayers and the intercession and the help of the great gardener of Life, Mary our Mother.

So, let us each allow the Lord to clear away the desert and make a straight path toward the garden. There is much more joy available in the garden than there is in the desert, a joy that the world cannot give, and a joy that the world cannot take away. Thank you for reading this.

Praised be Jesus Christ!