The Advent Season (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) begins with warnings for awareness of and readiness for the end times – which come in some form to every era and every human life. Traditionally this has been taken as a call to meditate upon the ‘last things’: death, judgment, heaven and hell.
During Advent, those who join us in the Chapel might notice some key changes to our worship:
- During our celebration of the Eucharist on Tuesdays in Advent, we begin in a dimmed chapel. The lights rise slowly while we join in singing the Candlelighting Anthem: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” In Advent, we await the coming of the ‘Light of the world’ in the face of Jesus. The word “Advent” means ‘coming,’ and so this season, we both celebrate Jesus’ first Advent among humanity, and await his second Advent, when all shall live together as children of the most-high and the darkness shall give way to light.
- At SSJE, our tradition is to use the color blue in Advent. Our church is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary who cooperated with God in giving birth to Jesus, the human face of God in our midst. Traditionally, blue is the color associated with Mary and so our primary space of worship is imbued with the color blue as the sun shines through the stained glass. The altar is also draped in blue with accents of earthy green and rose, which match the vestments worn by the priest.
- The third Sunday of Advent (just a little over a week before Christmas) is called ‘Gaudete’ Sunday — Gaudete is the Latin word for ‘rejoice.’ This day is marked by the addition of the color rose to the Advent blue. In many Advent wreaths, you’ll see three blue candles (or purple depending on your tradition) and one rose candle. Here at the monastery, we place pink roses among the evergreen branches of the wreath, and our altar frontal is turned around to the side that contains only blue and rose. The seasonal Advent Chasuble (the vestment worn by the presider at the Eucharist each day) has a ring around the shoulders that symbolizes the Advent wreath with four golden crosses, three set in a deep blue, and one set in a velvety swatch of rose.
Praying with images
Consider finding an image or painting or photograph that seems to speak a theme of Advent (waiting, repentance, scenes of wilderness, lamp light are just a few examples) and take on the practice of looking at it with a gaze that anticipates, even expects, something to be communicated.
Additionally, the readings prescribed in the lectionary are replete with images of all kinds—pay attention to these and try to use them as jumping off points in your prayer during this expectant season.
Praying your life
Finally, recollect those moments of your life that were characterized in particular by some kind of expectant waiting. What was God saying to you during such times? Can you bring that awareness into a fresh conversation with Jesus?
Praying with poetry
The hymnal is a great resource for prayer when you find yourself unsure of how to begin, and the Advent section of The Hymnal 1982 (hymns 53—76) is particularly rich. “O come, O come, Emmanuel” (hymn 56) even includes a schema for the daily reading of a stanza beginning on December 17. You might even try pairing these with the readings of the lectionary for a particular day, listening for the dialogue that ensues between scripture and poetry.
Praying with the Propers: The Great “O” Antiphons
Try Praying the Great “O” Antiphons (so named because they each begin with “O”) during the last seven days of Advent. In Western rites, an antiphon is a short sentence of scripture that sung or recited before and after a canticle, which is a hymn or chant with a biblical text. In the Anglican tradition, we sing canticles frequently and in various forms or occasions.
The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are the central canticles for Evensong. The Gloria in excelsis is the central canticle we sing most often for the Holy Eucharist. Occasionally, a canticle will replace the Psalm in the lectionary readings, as is the case on both the second and third Sundays in Advent—look out for instances like this as you follow your Ordo.
Historically, the “O” antiphons occurred at the praying of the Magnificat at Evening Prayer on the weekdays leading up to Christmas Day. These historical stanzas find their way into our hymnic repertoire in (as noted above) “O come, O come, Emmanuel” which are clearly lined out in Hymn 56 in The Hymnal 1982.
The Great “O” Antiphons: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Dawn, O Rex Gentium, O Emmanuel, O Virgin of Virgins.
Praying with the Book of Common Prayer’s “Outline of the Faith”
The final section, The Christian Hope, in the Book of Common Prayer’s “An Outline of the Faith” (pp. 846-862) provides a framework for prayer with these themes, in the context of the expectation, hope, and love assured in God’s eternal promises in Christ. In the season of Advent, we invite you to use this sections as a prompt for your own reflection and prayer.
The Christian Hope
Q: What is the Christian hope?
A: The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.
Q: What do we mean by the coming of Christ in glory?
A: By the coming of Christ in glory, we mean that Christ will come, not in weakness but in power, and will make all things new.
Q: What do we mean by heaven and hell?
A: By heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God; by hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God.
Q: Why do we pray for the dead?
A: We pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.
Q: What do we mean by the last judgment?
A: We believe that Christ will come in glory and judge the living and the dead.
Q: What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?
A: We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints.
Q: What is the communion of saints?
A: The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.
Q: What do we mean by everlasting life?
A: By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other.
Q: What, then, is our assurance as Christians?
A: Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.