Yes, friends, it’s true! I have returned from the sidelines of blogging, thanks to some God-incidences of the past week (and a challenge I couldn’t refuse), and I’m raring to go with a very timely topic. Now, it will remain to be seen if I can keep up the weekly correspondence this blog and its great readers deserve but know that I will give it the best I can as I juggle my crazy life. ‘Nuf said – let’s get to it!
As all of us in liturgy have been dealing with the past year, the Revised Roman Missal is just about ready to become part of our liturgical DNA on Sunday, November 27th, which is the 1st Sunday of Advent. Choirs have practiced new or revised mass parts, missals and pew cards have been bought and are ready to be used; workshops, coffee ‘n chats and small groups sessions have met, learned, pondered and practiced the new words with various degrees of comfort. While it is true we humans don’t like change, I believe that most of the folks I’ve encountered through the workshops I’ve conducted are willing to give this new translation a chance. Hopefully that will be the case throughout the English-speaking world once all is said and done.
However, amid the hubbub and preparations for the introduction of the new missal, I feel that something is getting lost in the shuffle – mainly, the beginning of the new liturgical year and the upcoming Season of Advent itself. Now, I realize that the translation change has been in the works for many years and that we as a church are trying not to repeat history (and histrionics) from a time gone by but – think about it – with all the rehearsing and preparation going into the missal, most of those who prepare for these seasonal changes might probably be jumping right from this to Christmas with nary a thought about the season which starts it all off. We could be giving Advent the short-shift this year without really knowing or thinking about it!
It’s bad enough that the secular world starts the day after Halloween (and sometimes even before that) to prepare for Christmas and gives no thought whatsoever to Advent or Christmas as separate and distinct seasons. While carols and songs permeate the airwaves from now until 6pm on Christmas Day (at least in my neck of the woods) stores are decked out in all their red and green finery, just calling to us to get an early start on finding that “perfect” gift for the one we love – as if retail therapy is the real reason for the season. Where’s the emphasis on the CHRIST part of Christmas? Won’t find that out in a world that continually erases God from it’s collective speech and thought. That type of awareness needs to come from us as Church and we need to be consistent in our thoughts and actions.
Now, if we have been too busy in preparations for both the revised missal and Christmas, are we going to be able to give the upcoming Season of Advent its proper due? Those four weeks – which are a full four this year! – are crucial to bringing folks to a full understanding of the Incarnation (one of the new words in our Creed, by the way). From the first moments of the First Sunday of Advent, we need to be fully engaged in presenting and unfolding the mysteries of the first and second coming of Christ through Isaiah’s rich imagery and Mark’s “just the facts” gospel in this Cycle B year. According to local custom, Advent wreaths get blessed and lit for the first time but doing this ritual after the homily (as prescribed in our Book of Blessings) shows both its proper place and importance in the liturgy (remember, the wreath is a worthy home activity for the season).
I feel very strongly that placing other rituals – from Rites of Acceptance to blessing the new parish missal – does not constitute smart liturgical practice and truly have no place in the opening liturgy of the Advent season. There will be those who will disagree with me on the premise of “new year, new things” but those extras truly dull the focus and impact the season deserves. Include in that misstep those who feel that decorating their Churches for the next season around the 3rd Sunday of Advent is a good thing! It is bad enough that rest of the world jumps Advent out of sheer ignorance – if we as a church join in and treat Advent in much the same manner, we are no better than our secular friends whose trees are put up on Veteran’s Day and are tossed to the curb on December 26th. The temptation to jump ahead to the “more important” season is there for sure and the distraction of the implementation is dividing our attentions further. I pray that most liturgists, musician, pastors and other planners of Liturgy have seen to it that missal preparations end on the Feast of Christ the King – that’s a great time to bless the new missals and say farewell to the old (even though we’ll still be using our beloved Sacramentary through Thanksgiving) and are planning their “deck the church” activities for full week for December 25th (a Sunday this year).
On paper, our Church does extremely well in keeping the spirit and focus of our various seasons – in pastoral practice, lines get so blurred at times that the pew folks really notice that all is not well, yet can’t always articulate their observations properly. Let all of us responsible for planning and executing our sacred rituals take the advent of the coming new liturgical year to brush up on our understanding of the different seasons and what we should be about in celebrating them to the full. In other words, before using that shiny new missal, take time to read the General Instruction at the beginning of the book. Brush up on Sing to the Lord if you are a musician. Even dust off the old Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to help renew your weary spirit. If you’re responsible for helping others prepare, then prepare yourself as well. Be a wise and not foolish virgin (hope you listened to today’s gospel!) as you prepare for the coming of the first season of the new year. May we all in humility continue to work to help all our parishes and assemblies transition from season to season, year to year the best we possibly can. Good liturgy IS the work of all the Church! Our God deserves no less from His people.