By Mary Morrell | Correspondent
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is among the favorite hymns of Advent.
The refrain, “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel” embodies, in word and song, the expectant waiting for Jesus, which is at the heart of Advent.
But there is more to Advent than joyful anticipation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”
This period of preparation is not just a time of getting ready for Christmas by planning celebrations, decorating homes and buying gifts. It is, most significantly, a spiritual preparation for the Second coming of Christ, which is enriched through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Historically, Advent was a time of preparation, penance and sacrifice. As such, even today, the Gloria, which is a song of exaltation and joy, is not sung during the Masses of Advent, as is also the practice during Lent.
For years Advent was known as Little Lent, explained Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, Freehold, who noted that the penitential color of violet is still used in Advent for the priests’ vestments and the Advent candles, which symbolize the prayer, penance, sacrifices and goods works that should be done during the four weeks of Advent.
Today, the penitential aspect is one of several dimensions, or themes, to Advent that is sometimes missed, Msgr. Sirianni said, often because of the cultural rush to Christmas carols, decorations and shopping. In fact, many believe Advent is the start of the Christmas season, when in reality it is not.
One dimension often overlooked is that the faithful are preparing not just for the Nativity of the Lord, but for the Second Coming of Christ. It is important to remember, Msgr. Sirianni said, “We are not here for all eternity. We need to look forward to the coming of Lord, but we need to be prepared.”
Part of the preparation, advised Msgr. Sirianni, should be the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“During the days of Advent, Confession is a blessing. The question is, if Jesus comes today, are we spiritually ready, is our conscience ready, are our souls prepared to meet Jesus?” he added.
Another dimension requiring consideration is one’s openness to “see Jesus as he comes to us in Sacrament, in the Word of God and in others. The Church gives us biblical figures as models – Mary, our Blessed Mother, John the Baptist and the prophet Isaiah, all of whom call us to reflect on our relationship with God,” Msgr. Sirianni explained.
Stressing the need for reflection, he said, “There are questions we need to ask ourselves; do we see Christ in the people we meet and come into contact with daily? When we read Scripture, are we convicted or comforted? Why?
“We need to dig deep to find out what it is that makes us uncomfortable,” he said. “Through prayer and the Word of God, we can untangle these things. In addition, Confession helps us sort out our relationship with God and others.”
With Gaudete Sunday, “which means ‘rejoice,’ our reflections shift to a mode of joyful expectation,” Msgr. Sirianni said. On this, the third Sunday of Advent, the candles and the priests’ vestments change from the penitential color of purple to rose.
“We ‘watch’ for the Lord, who is near, but many miss him because he doesn’t meet their expectations. Reconciliation is necessary because it declutters all the distractions so we can see the Lord coming,” he said.
It is during the last week of Advent, said Msgr. Sirianni, that the Church invites us to “to set up our homes, our hearts and our souls … to get the house ready for Christmas. When we prepare our hearts for God’s coming, we are then ready to go to Christmas Mass to meet Christ who came into the world and revealed God’s unconditional love.”
During an Angelus message, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to prepare during Advent for the coming of the Lord by being open to God’s consolation: “We cannot be messengers of God’s comfort if we do not first feel the joy of being comforted and loved by Him. This happens especially when we hear his Word, the Gospel, which we should carry in our pocket … And this gives us comfort: when we abide in silent prayer in his presence, when we encounter Him in the Eucharist or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. All this comforts us. Let us therefore allow Isaiah’s call – “Comfort, comfort my people” – resound in our heart in this Season of Advent.”