The Preparation of Advent

In his stunning work, the Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI states that worship requires that God “give back” and reveal Himself to us, otherwise we are simply “clutching empty space” when we try to worship God. Despite attempting to move toward God in mind or will, we will never find God if we do not allow Him to reveal Himself to us. Pope Benedict goes on to say, that if God doesn’t reveal Himself to us and we are anxious for Him, we risk making false Gods.

The Liturgical Year is established so that our worship is rightly ordered all year. God reveals Himself in the Liturgy in unique ways: “Christ is always present … in the Church’s liturgical functions. He is present not only in the person of His minister… but especially the Eucharistic Species,” the sacraments, the baptized, and “in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when Holy Scriptures are read in church” (CCC). Christ is present also in the worship that comes from properly living the Liturgical Year. So, when we “hop over” a large season, such as Advent, we skip over that by which Christ longs to make Himself known to us. Instead of trusting that Christ will bring the joy of Christmas, we establish a celebration which becomes a “feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation” (Spirit of the Liturgy).

This type of inordinate feasting then leads us to that exhausting Christmas Consumerism which plagues this time of year. This Christmas Consumerism threatens us, not merely in the material goods we buy, but in the approach we take to the season. A desire to psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually feast on the season of joy that has not yet come inevitably means that “man is using God” and “instead of being worship of God, [this merry-making] becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry” and “ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources” (Spirit of the Liturgy). This will inevitably exhaust man, for when man removes God from the center of his activities, nothing can be rightly ordered and man’s activities and relationships suffer.

Now, Catholics are all about feasting. It is good, right, and proper to feast at the appropriate times (Easter, Feast days, etc). But that means that there are also inappropriate times of feasting, such as during seasons of preparation. This makes sense; to begin a feast before the preparations are finished is foolish! This early-feasting is why we often feel, as Benedict put it, “frustration, a feeling of emptiness” on December 26th, rather than the peace, joy, holy anticipation, and edification supposed to be present on that day.

After all, the Liturgical Year, and specifically December 25th, is not without reason. When the Church established the Liturgical Year, it placed Christmas on December 25th for specific reasons.

One reason was to replace the Winter Solstice, and get people thinking about Christian holy days in place of pagan ones.

The main reason, however, was because of the darkest day of the year, which is December 21st.  This means that the light is only just returning when Christmas occurs on the 25th. This becomes very significant. At the literal and metaphorical darkest time, the Light of the World enters the world. To jump to Christmas too early is to celebrate the Light of the World when the world is still in darkness – and getting darker.

The great saints speak of how we have to purge ourselves not only of sin, but also of imperfections. Even though imperfections are not themselves sins, they still prevent us from intimacy and total union with God who is Perfection, for we are called to “be Perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect.”

So, just as there are imperfections which prevent us from union with God, so too there are more and less proper ways of living which prevent our actions from becoming means towards our sanctification. For example: while it might not be wrong to have a banjo at Mass, it is perhaps not as proper as having an organ. Or, put another way, the organ is a more proper expression of the liturgy and its solemn celebration than the banjo is. The same is true of the liturgical preparation of Advent. While not sinful to celebrate Christmas early, it’s not the most proper action to take, either. We don’t want to clutch at empty ritual and meaningless joviality. We don’t want to use God to give us a reason for celebration. Rather, we want Him to reveal Himself to us in the proper way at the proper time as the reason for our celebration.

Christ said in Matthew 9:15: “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” The Bridegroom is not yet with us, and won’t be until Christmas! So we must save the feast for His arrival and prepare accordingly! The Christmas season is one of joy and rapt attention to the salvific mission of our God. We don’t want to be spent from meaningless celebration when the Light of the World, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, God, Father, Savior, and Redeemer arrives! Let us embrace this time of preparation and renew in our souls a wonder at the season of Christmas and what it holds for us.

image: Fr. Lawrence Lew / Flickr

Emma King

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Emma King graduated cum laude from Hillsdale College in May, 2013 with a BA in Philosophy. She currently serves as the Director of College Ministry for St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and lives with her husband in Michigan.

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