Why Celebrate Advent?
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible while the other two are visible. In the first coming He was seen on earth, dwelling among men; ... in the final coming "all flesh will see the salvation of our God and they will look upon Him whom they have pierced". The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved.
In His first coming our Lord came in our flesh and our weakness; in this middle coming He comes in Spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and in majesty.
Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last."
St. Bernard of Clairveaux
Advent has begun! Our family, like millions throughout the world, brought the advent candles out of storage and set it them in a prominent place on the mantle.
As often as is practicable over these four weeks preceding Christmas, we will gather as a family, light a candle, recite a prayer and sing together- inviting the coming of the Lord into our lives. So will Christians everywhere. In a western culture where the influences of Christian traditions are waning, many are asking why?
The word "Advent" is derived from the Latin words, ad-venio or adventus, which both signify a coming. It is a liturgical season in the Church that has birthed customs in Catholic life. These customs form a framework, a texture that brings faith to life. They form a pattern that moves us forward in the process that is Christian life.
The celebration of Advent dates back to the fourth century. Through the history of the Western Church it has become a significant part of the pattern of life, faith, culture and worship that is Catholic Christianity.
For four special weeks preceding the great celebration of the Incarnation, the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, ("Christ-Mass"), Christians (Catholics and others) are invited by the Church to prepare, to "get ready", to make a place for the Lord in our lives and in our homes, to anticipate His coming(s).
Again this year my family will attend the Sunday Vigil Mass and we will sing the ever-familiar hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". That song will become the backdrop of the season, sticking in our minds both individually and collectively. I know the tune will be hummed incessantly and do what music does when it is repeated, get down deep into our subconscious. It may even become "annoying"- as music can. However, even that annoyance, gets to the root of Catholic life and faith. It is, as they say in the Internet world, "granular" Christianity, filled with practices that root themselves experientially into your bones.
Catholicism is "earthy", "real", "incarnational" Christianity.
Before long the "liturgical air" will be filled with the beautiful "O Antiphons", which are taken from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures, in the Prophetic and Wisdom Books. They will be sung as a part of the formal "Liturgy of the Hours" beginning seven days before the Vigil of Christmas.
These short prayers in the "Liturgy of the Hours", or Breviary, which all clergy, most religious orders, and an increasing numbers of lay men and women use as the structure for daily prayer throughout the western Catholic world, are also a part of the treasury of Catholic life. This liturgy forms a foundation for our faith together and places us in the heart of a Church that stretches back two thousand years and forward to the final coming.
As a Deacon of the Church, I will wear lavender vestments when I serve at the altar. Lavender is a color that connotes both repentance, and expectation. These are the "heart", the "spirit" of the season. Advent is a time to "get ready" and to build up the hope within our hearts for the promised coming of Jesus Christ! We do so by repenting of our sin and renouncing our wrong choices. We empty ourselves of the clutter of daily idolatry and renounce the self love that can so easily squeeze God's grace out of our lives
Every year, Catholic Christians repeat together-experientially- through our "liturgy" (which means the "work" of worship), the pattern of the Christian life. We walk through the great events of Christian history, corporate and individual, and we inculcate the "mystery" that is the Christian faith more deeply within our "nitty-gritty" lives in the real world.
We build a "way" -a pattern- of daily Christian living with these customs, practices, and celebrations. During Advent, the Church, as a mother, calls us all to get ready, to clean the house, to set special times aside, so that we will be ready for all of His comings!
The Sacred Scriptural texts that we will hear at "Mass" (the Divine Liturgy) will be filled with the great figures, such as John the Baptizer, who embody the call to repentance and "preparing the way" for all who live between the first and the final coming of Jesus.
These Old and New Testament passages will be beautifully juxtaposed in every liturgy and in our formal prayer ("The Liturgy of the Hours") in order to point to -and expound upon- all the "comings" that St Bernard so insightfully wrote about.
The faithful will be invited to experience the extraordinary graces found in the full smorgasbord of sacramental and liturgical services. However, ultimately, it will come down to each person, each family, accepting the invitation to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
As I grow older, I love being a Catholic Christian more and more. I remember reading a newspaper article in an airport many years ago in which a priest wrote that Catholicism was "religion for the long haul." I see the truth of that assertion more as the years now seem to fly by.
Oh, I have heard that some other Christians see such practices as Advent as "empty ritual"; and perhaps for some, that is what they have become. But for me, celebrating Advent, indeed all the seasons of the Church year, are continual calls back to faith, repentance...to the things that really matter. The ritual of Catholic life has provided a form into which the freshness of the Spirit can be poured again and again. I remember an old Pentecostal minister once telling me when I was twenty one years old "Son, we get filled with the Spirit, but then we leak". So we do.
The familiar patterns and practices of Catholic faith present an opportunity for shaping family life, customs, and piety that help us to assimilate the beauty and truth revealed in the comings of the Lord. They help us to break from the monotony of daily life to participate in something bigger than ourselves. They connect us to the One who always comes to those who are prepared. They are, as we used to say more often, "occasions of grace."
As life goes on, children get "raised", grandchildren come, parents die... I need more than ever to hear the clarion call to "prepare the way for the Lord." I need these special times of grace. I need these holy seasons. Unlike my youth when I thought I had it all "figured out", I find something quite different has occurred as my hair has turned gray (actually white) and I continue in my journey of faith. I realize how little I actually do know... and how much more conversion I need to get ready for that coming when I pass from one life to the next.
The seasons of the Church are an extraordinary gift and opportunity. After all, human beings are going to mark time. We will mark it either with the ordinary stuff of ordinary life or we will fill it as well with the things of God, thereby sanctifying it and transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Why celebrate Advent? I say because we need it. Bring on the candles, the songs, the colors, and the seasons. Bring on the special liturgical times, and fill the air with all the special smells.... I love it all.
Advent is a road, a way, a symbol of the very heart of the meaning of the Christian life and vocation. We now live in that intermediate time between the first and the second comings. We are to be changed by the first and to prepare ourselves- and the world- for the second.
During this process of conversion - He continues to come to all those who make themselves ready.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. A human rights lawyer and public policy activist, he is a graduate of the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is the founder of Common Good, a movement dedicated to building a culture of life, family, freedom and solidarity.
Third Millennium, LLC
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
Advent, Christ, Jesus, Lord
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