Today, I want to look at the themes, mood and liturgy of Advent. First, let’s consider the theme of Advent. Advent is the beginning of the Liturgical Year (the Christian New Year’s Day). “It is a season of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ (Christmas) and looks forward to the future reign of Christ. Eschatological expectation rather than personal penitence is the central theme of the season. Advent is a preparation for rather than a celebration of Christmas, so Advent hymns should be sung instead of Christmas carols. The first Sunday of Advent is not the beginning of the Christmas season, The Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve and continues for the next ‘twelve days of Christmas’” (from the United Church of Christ website). “During Advent, we prepare our hearts to ‘receive’ Jesus into the world each year as a light to the nations, at a time when our secular calendar is reaching its darkest period. It is a time of looking forward to Christ’s Second Coming” (from the website Elizabeth and our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church).
Kimberlee Conway Ireton describes the mood of Advent well. She states that each season of the Liturgical Year “has a special emphasis, [in which] I have opportunities to focus on specific areas of spiritual growth as I live out that season, In Advent, for instance, the focus is on waiting – joyfully and expectantly. In this season, I can practice patience and self-control, perhaps by waiting until Christmas to eat a favorite holiday treat of listen to a favorite carol. I learn again about hope, as I look forward with trust that Jesus is coming even when all around me seems dark” (“Redeeming Time” in Christian Reflection, 2010).
This brings us to an examination of the Liturgy and its changes. Remember the purpose of the changes is not just to do something different, but to emphasize the unique themes and mood, of the Season of Advent and to help us more fully immerse ourselves as Christians in those themes and mood.
Altar Flowers: In keeping with Advent’s penitential theme of preparation, there are no flowers on the altar.
Sanctus Bells: The normal Sanctus Bells are replaced during Advent with a single bell.
Liturgical Colors: Our altar hangings and vestments will be blue for this season “Following the tradition of the Sarum Rite (an old English rite), Blue is the color for Advent. During the Middle Ages, when blue was an expensive color to reproduce, purple was often used instead. This is why you still see some churches using purple in Advent. Also, purple was used by churches that followed the Roman rite as opposed to the Sarum Rite. Theologically, however, blue is the proper color for this season, because Blue is the color of the Blessed Virgin, and Advent is all about Mary as we await with her the arrival of the Incarnate God. Blue is the color of hope, expectation, confidence, and anticipation. These are all adjectives which describe the season of Advent” (from the website of St. James Church Richmond, Virginia).
The Opening Acclamation: In keeping with the theme of Advent, we will use a more appropriate acclamation to draw us into worship which will have a theme of expectation and anticipation.
The Decalogue (Ten Commandments): On some Sunday’s during Advent, we will use the Decalogue in place of the Summary of the Law, The Summary of the Law, of course, encompasses all of the Ten Commandments (“Loving God” covers the first 4 Commandments and “Loving Neighbor” cover the last 6 Commandments). Since there is a certain penitential theme in preparing for Christ to return, the use of the Ten Commandments is appropriate for renewing our covenant vows before God in the liturgy.
The Kyrie Eleison: Again in Keeping with the penitential theme of preparation in Advent there are certain omissions in the Eucharistic Liturgy. This is where we find one of those omissions – The Gloria in Excelsis (no glorias or alleluias). In place of the Gloria, we will sing the Kyrie Eleison which better fits with our Advent themes. We will sing the 3-fold Kyrie (each line sung once for a total of 3 lines) versus the 9-fold Kyrie (each line sung three times for a total of 9 lines) which we sing in the Season of Lent.
The Comfortable Words: We will read sentences from St. John and St. Paul which emphasize Jesus’ promise to come again to receive His people unto Himself and that His people can have confidence in His grace and mercy to deliver them in their time of need.
The Faction Anthem: Here we find another omission in the Eucharistic Liturgy in light of the penitential theme of preparation for Christ’s Second Coming. The Alleluias are omitted.
The Blessing: In place of the usual blessing at the end of the Eucharist, the celebrant will use a seasonal blessing for Advent.