P.J. Smith, of the excellent new blog Semiduplex, recently remarked that one element of the post-conciliar Liturgia Horarum is clearly superior to pre-conciliar versions of the Roman Breviary: the singing of the Dies Irae at the major hours in the week before Advent. As it happens the Heiligenkreuz Breviary adopted this commendable reform.
It is is interesting to compare the Dies Irae with those of the liturgical texts of the first week of Advent that also deal with the Second Coming and the Last Judgement. One can see two different but complementary ways of considering the Last Judgement. The Dies Irae looks to the Last Judgement from the stand point, as it were, of the guilty and accused: culpa rubet vultus meus. But the Liturgy of Advent looks at it more from the perspective of a plaintiff, from one calling for justice against his opressors, or it looks at it from the perspective of a member of an opressed people hoping for justice from a more powerful ruler:
Veni Domine, et noli tardare: relaxa facinora plebi tuae… Excita Domine potentiam tuam, ut salvos nos facias.
Both ways of thinking of the Judgement are necessary. As St. John the Baptist teaches the people, we are not ready for the Messiah to save us from oppression untill we recognize that we are our selves also sinners and in need of repentance. If we consider things only from the point of vew of the accused then it can be hard to see why the coming of Our Lord is the beata spes, the blessed hope, but if we look at it only from the point of view of the plaintiff or the opressed people, then there is the danger of self-righteousness and zealotry.
To keep the look of the accused alive in our hearts it is necessary to realize the malice of sin. How do we keep the look of the plaintiff? For a bourgeois Westerner, enjoying the wealth and priveledge that the global economy affords to Westerners of such a class, there can easily be something false and pretend about identifying with the poor and the oppressed. Contrast the way that Pope Francis speaks about the oppression of the poor in South America with the way certain Western European prelates speak on the same topic. Pope Francis speaks as one who really sees the evil and identifies with the victims— as one who has struggled against the evil, and known the frustration of coming up against the seemingly immovable powers that cause it. But how jejune do the words of certain Western European prelates on the troubles of the Third World seem by contrast.
So what are we to do? The remedy would seem to be found in greater engangement in struggle against injustice and opression. The more one is actually trying to overcome structures of sin, and feels all the frustrations of the struggle against great powers, the more one truly desires that the Lord would at last come, and show is power, and put an end to all the evils that cry to Him for vengeance.
Stephen Wedgeworth gives an example of what I am thinking of in a recent post at The Calvinist International on the necessity of speaking prophetically about abortion. It is necessary, Wedgeworth argues, to speak plainly about abortion: to call it murder, even if it is not so under the civil law, because it is in violation of Divine Law. Wedgeworth speaks as one who is himself involved in the pro-life movement, and the prophetic speech about abortion that he advocates is speech that arises from the confrontation of a human heart with this great evil, and with the powerful interests that perpetuate it.
The blessed hope in the Second Coming is thus not an excuse for political quietism, but rather a true fruit of the thirst for justice that comes from really fighting injustice.