Thoughts on Advent
Advent is the shortest season in the liturgical year. It’s like a tiny jewel. In the space of four weeks we go from the end of the world to the birth of the Messiah—and we have many impressive encounters along the way. The thunder of John the Baptist is here. The quiet fiat of the Virgin Mary is here. Old Testament prophets speak words of hope and consolation.
There are two prefaces for Advent—one used only during the last eight days of the season: those days when the O Antiphons are sung at Evening Prayer. For the shortest season of the year to actually have a “season within a season” of the octave preceding Christmas is another of Advent’s small wonders.
The two prefaces for Advent are fruit of the reform of the liturgy at Vatican II (there was only one prior). Both are remarkably beautiful. The first recalls the Incarnation as the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation, and colors our Advent waiting with eschatological hope.
When he humbled himself to come among us as a man,
he fulfilled the plan you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to salvation.
Now we watch for the day,
hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours
when Christ our Lord will come again in his glory.
[New Translation: He assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, so that when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which we now dare to hope.]
The second preface evokes the heralds of Christ’s coming: the prophets, Mary, John the Baptist. At the end of the preface we are welcomed into their circle. We too are there. Here is the marvelous section in which we take our place among the heralds of Christ.
In his love, Christ has filled us with joy
as we prepare to celebrate his birth,
so that when he comes he may find us watching in prayer,
our hearts filled with wonder and praise.”
[New Translation: “He it is who grants our anticipating with joy the mystery of his birth, so that he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise.”]
The candles of the Advent wreath, the hymns of the season, the colors of purple and blue—all sing to us of Christ, who is coming. The season passes so quickly! Treasure it while you can.