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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Liturgical Notes for The Advent Season

We just celebrated the Second Sunday of Advent and a churchgoer will notice the following changes in the Mass:

1. Advent has a Lenten feel to it. Mostly, the church is stripped down to its bare essentials. Flowers, plants, and decorations are removed from the church so that the faithful can recognize that we are waiting, yearning for the arrival of Christ.

2. Purple (Dark blue) and pink are Advent colors. Since Advent has four Sundays, an Advent wreath is lit in the church on each Sunday. Two purple ones are lit for the first and second Sundays, a rose pink one is lit for Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday to mark the halfway point, then a final purple candle is lit for the fourth Sunday. When Christmas occurs, some customs place a white Christ candle in the center.

3. The gloria is omitted. We will receive the gloria back when the angels sing it announcing that Christ is born for us in Bethlehem. The angels tell the shepherds in their fields and then sing, "Gloria in Exclesis Deo."

4. The Advent penitential rite is used. Many priests mix them up, but it sounds strange. A penitential rite exists for each season. In Advent, the priest says:

Lord, Jesus, you came to gather the nations into the peace of God's Kingdom. Lord, have mercy.
You come in word and sacrament to strengthen us in holiness. Christ, have mercy.
You will come in glory with salvation for your people. Lord, have mercy.

5. The "O, Antiphons" begin on December 17th and are said or sung each day as Christmas approaches. It is designed to quicken our responses to our waiting. We become more vigilant and we know something marvelous is to happen. We wait with our senses engaged.

6. We have a rich tradition of Advent music that helps us focus on our waiting. We refrain from singing about the birth of Christ until Christmas begins on December 25th. These songs prepare us well for the wonder of the season. Our secular music has combined both Advent and Christmas carols so that we do not distinguish between them well.

7. The Christmas season begins with the Octave (8 days) on December 25th. It ends with the feast of the circumcision and the giving of the name of Jesus to the infant. During that time we follow the scriptural events of the nativity including the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, the Holy Family, and the circumcision. The twelve days of Christmas lead us to Epiphany with the visits by the Eastern sages. The longer Christmas season includes the presentation in the Temple, Candlemas, and the visit to Simeon and Anna. The Christmas season ends when the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist occurs. It is really a lengthy season.

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