Happy new year! Liturgically speaking that is.
Msgr Michael de Verteuil, Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission reminds us of the significance of Advent.
The liturgical year (from the First Sunday of Advent, to the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent of the following year) unfolds the mystery of Christ—His second coming, incarnation, suffering, death and Resurrection (including His ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit), and in Ordinary Time, His everyday teaching and actions.
The purpose of this is our ongoing conversion, our transformation, that by celebrating these mysteries we might be transformed bit by bit, year by year.
What about Advent? How does this season help our Christian growth?
Advent has two parts—one from the First Sunday in Advent to December 16, and the other from December 17 to the 24.
In the first part, our focus is on our faith that Christ will come again and in the second part, we focus on preparing to celebrate His first coming in Bethlehem.
As we celebrate the first part of Advent, the Mass readings and prayers remind us of the Old Testament promises that a Messiah would come.
The first readings of all the Sundays tell of these promises and the second readings speak of the kind of lives we are to lead as we wait for the promised coming.
In the gospel of the First Sunday (see page 17), Jesus tells us to stay awake as we wait, and on the Second and Third Sundays, we hear of John the Baptist and his call to repent and prepare.
On the Fourth Sunday, we read of the Visitation and Elizabeth proclaiming Mary’s blessedness because she ‘believed that the promises made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
The Collects (opening prayers) give us food for the Advent journey and I recommend them as fruitful sources of prayer. They often speak of joy, an integral part of Advent and the Christian life, e.g. ‘…he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise’; ‘…. and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.’
These prayers and readings, as we pay attention and reflect, form us in a certain way. We are deepened in the belief that Christ will come again and therefore that life has meaning, we are going somewhere, that history has a beginning and end and is not (both our history and the world’s) an endless cycle.
Thus, we will grow in placing the things of this world in perspective, not clinging and fighting over them. “… you may teach us to judge wisely the things of earth and hold fast to the things of heaven.”
We will grow in faith in God who had promised a Messiah and sent Him and learn how to live while we wait e.g. live good lives, pure and blameless, so that we are prepared for the Day of Christ (Second Reading, Second Sunday).
“Do not be anxious, be gentle and grateful” (Second Reading, Third Sunday).
From December 17–24 (the second part of Advent), the focus shifts from the Second Coming of Jesus to the first, His nativity.
Once again, the prayers and readings of the Masses of those days prepare us to celebrate Christmas. The weekday gospel readings are of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus e.g. the Annunciation to Mary and to Joseph, the events preceding the birth of John the Baptist and His birth.
The collects, too, point to the Christmas feast and to Mary’s role, e.g. ‘O God, …. who willed that your Word should take flesh in an ever-Virgin womb, look with favour on our prayers’; ‘O God, eternal majesty, whose ineffable Word the Immaculate Virgin received through the message of an angel…’
Through all of this we are being formed in gratitude and in joy which will find its full expression as we celebrate Christmas.