Two days before Christmas, the Church assigns Malachi to proclaim the coming messenger of judgment to the people. In the chill of northern winter, we hear of enough heat to refine precious metal.
In the Rite of Penance, this is a suggested reading found in Appendix II (Sample Penitential Services), and listed at number 22 under “Penitential Celebrations During Advent.” Note that this liturgy, if you are checking into it, does not provide for the sacrament of penance. I suppose there’s no preventing this reading or others from being used in form II or I. Or even III.
Anyway, here’s the text. It’s a bit longer than the first reading assigned to 23 December, which ends at verse 4 and adds 23-24.
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the Lord whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire
Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire,
or like the fullers’ lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver,
that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the Lord,
as in days of old, as in years gone by.
I will draw near to you for judgment,
and I will be swift to bear witness
Against sorcerers, adulterers, and perjurers,
those who defraud the hired (laborer) of wages,
Against those who defraud widows and orphans;
those who turn aside a stranger,
and those who do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
Surely I, the LORD, do not change,
nor do you cease to be sons (and daughters) of Jacob.
Since the days of your (ancestors) you have turned aside
from my statutes, and have not kept them.
Return to me, and I will return to you,
says the LORD of hosts.
This selection adds 3:5-7a to the reading for Mass, an examination of conscience of sorts for the powerful, those connected enough in society to be hiring laborers or to direct public policy for or against the needy, or even the alien immigrant (how “stranger” is given in the NABRE).
Scripture scholars tell us that this passage includes the end of an oracle proclaiming the Lord’s messenger (someone we might take as the Messiah, or Jesus). It also adds the first bit of another oracle, a challenge to people to be just in their dealings with others.
It seems an appropriate reminder for late Advent. Jesus is coming. People can be on their best behavior in anticipation of this fact. And if they’re not, the sacramental context is that it’s time to ‘fess up.