With “Gaudete” Sunday last weekend, we have just passed the midpoint of Advent, and now the Church’s attention, in her sacred liturgy, turns from the Second Coming of Christ to the celebration of His first coming, at his birth. That is one reason why the third Sunday is referred to as “Gaudete” Sunday, which means to rejoice…rejoice because the Lord is indeed near.
It is now the time of the Christmas novenas—nine days of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ on Dec. 25. Many cultures have now begun these Christmas novenas: the Hispanic tradition of “Los Posadas” and the Filipino tradition of “Simbang Gabi” are occurring in our parishes, homes and neighborhoods as I reflect on and write these words. These nine days of prayer (especially the Posadas) recall the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem in search of shelter. In a culture that tends to pragmatic and often “truncates” seasons and celebrations of prayer, these Christmas novenas help us to extend our preparation for the birth of Christ by bringing song, joy and prayer into our daily lives.
Beginning on Dec. 17, the liturgy of the Church at evening prayer turns toward the powerful and beautiful “O” Antiphons, which are chanted in the Liturgy of the Hours before the Magnificat (see story, Page 12). These “O” Antiphons actually form the words of the hymn: “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. Regarding these, Father William Saunders notes, in an article on the antiphons, that “The exact origin of the O Antiphons is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the 8th century, they were in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome… The importance of O Antiphons is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah. Also each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.”
The imagery and symbolism in the O Antiphons is powerful and very evident when they are sung. They weave together the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament with the birth of Christ, and reflect our salvation.
Finally, since a key figure in the celebration of this beautiful season is St. John the Baptist, with his call to conversion and to prepare the way for the Lord, I would also encourage and ask all of us consider the sacrament of Penance this season. Our parish priests have been working diligently to provide for penance services in our parishes and extra hours for confessions. Please thank them for this. The celebration of the sacrament is a wonderful day to “prepare the way of the Lord” in our lives. In that light, there is a wonderful prayer for the ending of the second week of Advent by Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., in “Biblical Meditations for the Advent and Christmas Season”: “Lord Jesus, come quickly! Stir up our longings for peace and reconciliation. Grant us the strength to forgive and forget, so that we can bring our finest gifts of charity to form a reunion worthy of your spirit.”
Blessed Advent days to all, and thank you for your witness, generosity and response of faith to so many people and needs in these days. God bless you all. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.
The Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange