As soon as we enter late November, the new Liturgical Year begins with Advent. Church liturgies and decorations are giving us a sense that Christmas is fast approaching. The Church, filled with anticipation and joy, is preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus and waiting for His second coming. Advent is not merely a prelude to Christmas Day, but is a time of renewal in connection with other Church celebrations. I would like to introduce the significance and spirituality of Advent through three Church festivities.
Advent and Christmas
God revealed Himself through His Son Jesus’ Incarnation. In order to effectively prepare for Jesus’ coming and to strengthen the spiritual life of Christians, the Church encourages her faithful to repent and renew their faith during the four weeks before Christmas. Suggested practices are the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, abstinence and fasting. Scriptures relating to three of the great Church Patrons Isaiah, John Baptist and Our Blessed Mother Mary are provided to meditate on the Incarnation of Christ. Purple, symbolizing repentance and anticipation, is used in Advent as the colour of liturgical vestments, except on feast days. Through these acts, we rejoice and purify our hearts to prepare ourselves to receive Lord Jesus.
The Church designated December 25th as the date to celebrate Christmas Day, a time when many people looked forward to the end of winter. As the days after the winter solstice experience longer periods of daylight and shorter nights, the coming of Jesus breaks the darkness of sin, just like the rising sun in the eastern sky illuminates the world. People are redeemed, and life becomes meaningful. The celebration of Christmas unites people with the Lord and with the Church.
Advent and Baptism of Jesus
Christ then comes to us, among individuals and communities through Baptism, and in a way hidden in the Holy Word and in the sacraments. To further rejoice and prepare for the coming of Christ, the Feast of Epiphany celebrates the Saviour’s Light that guides the three wise men to worship Him. The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, which follows the Epiphany, urges the faithful to recall their own baptism at which one is liberated from sin. This echoes the repentance and renewal experienced during Advent. The Church will also prepare the catechumens for their baptism at Easter. St Paul, in chapter 6 of his Letter to the Romans, constantly invites us to replace our old self with a new me, “yet I live, no longer l, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).
Baptism allows us to become part of the Mystical body of Christ. Jesus inspires us to deepen our faith through prayer, listening to His Holy Word and participating in the Eucharist. Along with our fellow parishioners, we become active Christians to strive for evangelization. Our Diocese has been fostering our catechumens and the faithful during Lent. Now all the parishes in our Diocese are undergoing a renewal programme, with an emphasis on accompanying the youth, and caring for the weak and the poor.
Advent and Easter
In the Early Church, Easter was the Church’s only feast day and the centre of the liturgy. Each Sunday celebration is regarded as “an Easter”, and is repeatedly celebrated until the “Greater Easter” comes. Pope Francis wrote that we should always appreciate the resurrection, because “Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past; it contains a vital power which has permeated this world.” (Joy of the Gospel, 276) Easter is not just a memory but a sacrament that draws our spiritual life and temporal duty together. We have to use our whole life to constantly prepare ourselves, humanity and all in the universe for His final coming in fullness at the end of time. Likewise, every week is “an Advent”, and our whole life is a “Greater Advent”.
Dear brothers and sisters: the meanings from the three feasts are interconnected and encouraging. Our communities and individuals in our Diocese are called to deepen our spiritual life, and actively participate in the parish renewal programme. Let us all make good use of this year’s Advent, through our words and deeds, to repent and renew, to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to study the Word of God, and to do Works of Mercy and care for the weak, in order to ensure that our spiritual life will be renewed and blessed by the Lord.
Thanksgivings and blessings
After our beloved Bishop Michael Yeung was laid to rest in early 2019, Pope Francis appointed me as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Hong Kong, almost three years ago now. I feel myself being in “an Advent”, praying wholeheartedly for the well-being of the Diocese and an early arrival of a new bishop.
During this period, Hong Kong has experienced “social unrests” and an outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic, and the society was faced with unprecedented challenges. In the former, the society was torn apart and the change of political system has caused anxieties among Catholics and the public, and the Diocese hopes to help heal the wounds. As for the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the activities of churches and related institutions came to a near standstill, and Masses were held online from time to time. Liturgies and religious activities are now gradually restored, even though restrictions on gatherings are still to be observed. However, through the Internet, the local church maintains interactions with the rest of the world and shares the spiritual good of God. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the clergy, religious men and women, and all the faithful in the Diocese for your love, tolerance and support during these difficult times.
I offer my heartfelt thanks to God for His love, and I thank the Holy Father for his care for our Diocese. Seven years ago, Pope Francis appointed three new bishops to us, namely Fathers Michael Yeung, Stephen Lee and Joseph Ha; and now, Father Stephen Chow as our new Ordinary. I would devote my prayers for our Diocese, under the new leadership, to be bestowed with God’s blessings. May our new Shepherd guide the Diocese to be united in communion and realize the mission of evangelization, and that all people “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
May God bless you.
+John Cardinal Tong
Apostolic Administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong