Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle A December 22, 2019

First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-14
Ahaz proclaims the sign that the Lord will give: a virgin shall give birth to a son, Emmanuel.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 24:1-2,3-4,5-6

The Lord is the King of Glory who established the earth.

Second Reading
Romans 1:1-7
Paul greets the community at Rome and declares himself a servant of Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 1:18-24

An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.

Gospel MT 1:18-24

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Finally, on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel Reading permits us to begin our contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” (Matthew 1:18).

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective. Today’s Gospel passage is the second movement in this story. In the preceding verses of the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the Evangelist has listed the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his lineage through King David to Abraham. In the chapter to follow, Matthew tells of the visit from the Magi, the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, and Herod’s massacre of the infants in Bethlehem. (The other stories which we associate with Christmas, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the angel and the shepherds, are found in the Gospel of Luke).

We must not gloss over too quickly the difficult circumstances described in today’s Gospel. The way that Joseph and Mary face these circumstances tells us much about these holy people and their faith in God. Joseph and Mary are betrothed to be married. This is sometimes described as an engagement period, but it is more than that. Betrothal in first century Jewish culture was in fact the first part of the marriage contract. A breach of this contract was considered adultery. Mary is found to be with child. If adultery is proven, the punishment might be death. Joseph has rights under Mosaic law, but chooses to act discreetly in his plans to break the marriage contract, so as to protect Mary. Then God intervenes.

The message of the angel of the Lord given to Joseph in his dream tells us much about the child that Mary bears and his role in God’s plan. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit. His name will be Jesus, which in the Hebrew means “Yahweh saves.” He will be the fulfillment of the prophecy heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah: “. . . The virgin shall be with child . . . and shall name him Emmanuel [God with us].”

Joseph does as the angel of the Lord directs. He takes Mary to be his wife and accepts the child in her womb as his own. Joseph and Mary are both cooperative with God’s plan. They are both models for us of what it means to be faithful servants of God.

Family Connection

Joseph and Mary are our models for family life and for service of God. Even when the circumstances seemed unclear, Joseph trusted God. Healthy family life is built upon trust, trust in God and trust of one another.

Spend some time talking as a family about the importance of trust in your family life, including the ways in which the children trust the adults in the family as well as the ways in which the adults trust the children. Then read today’s Gospel. Talk about Joseph’s trust of God and reflect together on how your family trusts in God.

Pray together that your family life will be built on trust, as was the family life of Joseph and Mary. Pray and sing together an Advent song, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Third Sunday of Advent, Cycle A December 15, 2019

First Reading
Isaiah 35:1-6,10
In the day of the Lord, all sorrow and mourning will cease.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 146:6-7,8-9,9-10
The Lord will save his people.

Second Reading
James 5:7-10
Be patient, and be ready; the coming of the Lord is near.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 11:2-11
Jesus tells John the Baptist of the signs of the kingdom that are being worked through him and praises John as more than a prophet.


Gospel  MT 11:2-11
When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,

he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

As they were going off,
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John,
“What did you go out to the desert to see?
A reed swayed by the wind?
Then what did you go out to see?
Someone dressed in fine clothing?
Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.
Then why did you go out?  To see a prophet?
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
This is the one about whom it is written:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way before you.

Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Background on the Gospel Reading
The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally called Gaudete SundayGaudete is the Latin word meaning “rejoice.” This Sunday is so named because “Rejoice” is the first word in the entrance antiphon for today’s Mass taken from Philippians 4:4,5: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” Some people mark this Sunday on their Advent wreath with a pink candle instead of a purple candle. This Sunday is a joyful reminder that our salvation is near.

This week’s Gospel Reading continues our Advent reflection on the person and message of John the Baptist. Last week we heard John speak about his relationship to the coming Messiah, Jesus. This week, we hear Jesus’ message to John the Baptist, now in prison, about the signs of the kingdom found in Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ assessment of John’s role in the Kingdom of God.

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of John’s arrest in chapter 14:3-12. In today’s Gospel, John sends word to Jesus from prison, asking if Jesus is the Messiah for whom he has been waiting. Jesus responds by pointing to the miracles that he has worked and invites John and the other hearers to make their own determination. In his next breath, however, Jesus praises John for his role in preparing the way for Jesus. Then Jesus says that all of those who work for the Kingdom of God will be as great as John and even greater.

Jesus’ message to John about the signs of the kingdom being performed recalls the salvation described by the prophet Isaiah. This passage is a reminder that the beginning of salvation is already mysteriously present to us, but also yet to be fulfilled. Salvation is already in our midst as manifest in the miraculous deeds of Jesus and in the Church. But salvation is also to be fulfilled in the coming reign of God. Even as we observe our world today, we can find glimpses of God’s work among us. Even more, we help to prepare the way for God’s kingdom by our words and our deeds. This message is indeed a cause for rejoicing.


Family Connection
It is easy to look at our world and become discouraged by the apparent absence of God and signs of God’s salvation. Advent, however, is a season of hope, in which we acknowledge that salvation is both mysteriously present, even in our world, and yet to be fulfilled.


Read together today’s Gospel. Think about John’s question to Jesus: Are you the One? Jesus does not answer directly, but points to the signs of the kingdom present in his midst.

Together as a family, look through the newspaper for signs of hope that God is at work in our world. Pray that the world will know God’s salvation by praying together the Lord’s Prayer.


Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Bible Catechism – Lesson 17

Materials Used In Composing The Bible

1. What has become of the original copies of the Bible?

They have been either destroyed or lost.

2. What were the causes of destruction or loss?

Many, particularly persecution and the fragility of the materials used, which did not withstand the ravages of time.

3. How was persecution a cause for the loss or destruction of the originals?

Sometimes the Christians themselves destroyed the original to prevent profanation at the hands of the pagan persecutors; some other times they were found and destroyed by the pagans. The persecution of Decius (Roman Emperor from 249 to 251) was particularly vicious in this regard.

4. If the originals have been lost, how do we know whether what we possess now are accurate copies?

We know from Tradition, History and the teaching authority of the Church, that we possess accurate copies of the originals.

5. What material was used in the writing of the Bible?

Before the invention of paper, papyrus, and vellum or parchment were used.

6. What is papyrus?

Papyrus is the substance made from reeds of bull-rushes; a plant particularly abundant in the valley of the Nile in Egypt. Two layers were placed at right angles to each other and glued together. It was used mainly before the Christian era.

7. What is parchment or vellum?

The skin of animals, preferably goats and calves, especially prepared for writing.

8. What was used in lieu of a pen?

For writing on papyrus, reeds were used, and for vellum, a stylus or metal pen.

9. Were the books of the Bible bound as are our books?

No, they were rolled around a stick, hence we read of Our Lord rolling and unrolling the Scriptures in the Temple. When documents are in that form (rolled), they are usually called scrolls.

10. What style of writing was used?

Up to around the third century A.D. only capital letters were used. There was no separation between words, no division between chapters, and no division between verses. This style was called the Uncial style.

11. What style was used after the third century A.D.?

The style known as the Cursive style. There was still no spacing between words, but capitals were introduced at the beginning of sentences.

12. When were the books divided into chapters?

This was done by Stephen Langton (+ 1228). Chancellor of the University of Paris until 1213, when he became Archbishop of Canterbury (England).

13. When were the chapters divided into verses?

Even more recently; this was done by the French printer Robert Estienne (1503-1559).

14. What was the first book printed after the invention of the printing press?

The first book printed around 1455 by Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, was the Catholic Bible in Latin (Vulgate). It has been a best-seller ever since.

Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle A December 8, 2019

First Reading
Isaiah 11:1-10

A descendent of Jesse will usher in a time of peace.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,12-13,17
The Messiah will bring justice and peace to the nations.

Second Reading
Romans 15:4-9
Both Jews and Gentiles glorify God for the salvation found in Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 3:1-12
John the Baptist appears in Judea preaching a message of repentance.

Gospel MT 3:1-12

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Background on the Gospel Reading

In this week’s Gospel Reading and next week’s, our Advent preparation for Christmas invites us to consider John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus. In this week’s Gospel, Matthew describes the work and preaching of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist appears in the tradition of the great prophets of Israel, preaching repentance and reform to the people of Israel. In fact, the description of John found in this reading is reminiscent of the description of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). In this reading, John directs a particularly pointed call to repentance to the Pharisees and Sadducees, parties within the Jewish community of the first century.

John marks the conversion of those who seek him out with a baptism of repentance. Other groups in this period are thought to have practiced ritual washings for similar purposes, and John’s baptism may have been related to the practices of the Essenes, a Jewish sect of the first century. John’s baptism can be understood as an anticipation of Christian baptism. In this passage, John himself alludes to the difference between his baptism and the one yet to come: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11).

In this reading, John makes very clear that his relationship to the Messiah yet to come (Jesus) is one of service and subservience: “. . . the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals” (Matthew 3:11). In the context of Matthew’s Gospel, today’s passage is followed by Jesus’ baptism by John, an event that is attested to in all four of the Gospels and appears to have been the start of Jesus’ public ministry.

John’s preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of the Advent season. As John’s message prepared the way for Jesus in the first century, we, too, are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming. We respond to John’s message by our repentance and reform of our lives. We are also called to be prophets of Christ, who announce by our lives, as John did, the coming of the Lord.


Family Connection

We do many things to get ourselves ready for our celebration of Christmas: purchase gifts, prepare Christmas cards, decorate our homes. John’s call of repentance in preparation for Jesus reminds us that our repentance is another way in which we can prepare for the Lord’s coming and our celebration of Christmas. Parish communities often offer a communal celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Advent season. Your family might choose to participate in the communal celebration of the sacrament, or you might seek out the sacrament on an individual basis.

Read together today’s Gospel. Talk about how John reminds the people that they prepare for the reign of God by reforming their lives. As a family, prepare a simple reconciliation service in preparation for Christmas such as the following: Gather in a prayerful space, perhaps around your family Advent wreath. Read again today’s Gospel: Matthew 3:1-3. Invite each family member to pray silently, asking God to forgive their sins. Pray together an Act of Contrition. Then celebrate God’s forgiveness by sharing a Sign of Peace with each other.

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings