Liturgy Matters — The season of Advent

By Dr. Judy Bullock

A new church year begins this weekend with the celebration of the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of preparation, anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s historical coming two thousand years ago, an openness to the coming of Christ in our lives today, as well as, preparation for the second coming of Christ at the end of time.

This important season is one of the most counter-cultural seasons we celebrate in the church year. In retail establishments, on the television networks and radio stations, and in the advertising we receive in the mail, we are inundated with the “Christmas” theme two to three months before Christmas. By the time we actually arrive at the Christmas season the carols are worn out, the poinsettias are wilting and the Christmas parties and other functions have overwhelmed us.

On Dec. 26, when the season of Christmas is just beginning in the church year, post Christmas sales have begun. Carols have ceased at midnight on Dec. 25. Even in our homes we may be fully decorated right after Thanksgiving and have the Christmas tree on the curb on Dec. 26.

All of this activity stands in direct contradiction to what the season of Advent is all about.

What do the liturgical directives tell us about this season?

As the liturgical year shifts from the great celebration of the feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday of the church year, the atmosphere shifts dramatically in the season of Advent. Here in this area of the world, the shortened hours of daylight and the wintry weather contribute to the aura of Advent. The décor within our churches is marked by moderation. The candles on the Advent wreath are lit each week to mark the weeks until Christmas. The violet or purple vestments and the limited use of floral arrangements contribute to the subdued nature of this season of joyful expectation.

In the first part of Advent, the Scripture readings for each Sunday are focused on our wait for the second coming, a sober reminder to prepare our minds and hearts for this coming. As Advent progresses, the focus shifts to the commemoration of Christ coming in history — God’s gift to humanity, our salvation history and the celebration of Christ’s presence in our lives today.

The music for the Advent liturgies also sets this tone of anticipation. We are cautioned to use moderation in the use of the organ and other instrumentation during Advent. The “Glory to God” is not sung or recited on the Sundays of Advent. It may only be used during this season on special feasts, such as the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The psalms, hymns and songs of the season communicate a sense of longing for Christ’s presence that we will only fully experience in the kingdom to come.

How do we respect the Advent season in the culture of today?

It is easy to get drawn in to the extreme commercialism of this most holy season. Perhaps more than ever it is important to recover the spirit of prayer and preparation the Lord called for in the Advent season. This is a time to light Advent candles in our homes, to read Scripture, to pray and to focus more on works of charity and Christ’s presence in our lives already, yet not fully realized. This year try to wait to celebrate Christmas until Christmas. Strive to embrace the spirit of joyful anticipation of this Advent season as we prepare for Christ’s coming.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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