The Advent season in the church calendar marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. The season of Advent has a quality and beauty that, each year, offers us a new opportunity to reflect on and grow in our understanding of the story of Jesus and the mystery and meaning of incarnation.
“Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, No. 39)
This year, Advent begins with the prophet Jeremiah: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: ‘The Lord our justice.’ ”
The Old Testament prophets remind us of the fulfillment of this promise: God’s reign of justice and peace for the world. The prophet Micah, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, ends with these words: “For now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.”
In the face of all the tragedy and disaster we have experienced in the past few weeks, how do we rejoice? How do we enter more deeply into this promise and understand it as stronger than any darkness? How do we find the light of Christ again?
Listen to the voice of the Advent psalm responses: “I lift up my soul.” “The Lord has done great things for us.” “Cry out with joy and gladness.” “Make us turn to you; we shall be saved.”
We cannot let this moment of Advent prayer slip past us without a renewed commitment to God’s promise. This year, we must truly lift up our souls and remember the great things God has done for us. We must cry out. We must turn to God. The final psalm of the season, Psalm 80, asks God: “O shepherd of Israel… shine forth… Rouse your power and come to save us… Give us new life.”
St Thomas Aquinas provides us with a powerful way of understanding why we pray. Michael Kwatera, OSB, in “Preparing the General Intercessions,” (Liturgical Press, 1996) explains Aquinas’ thought this way:“God has made God’s giving dependent on our asking. … God wants us to ask in prayer so that we may express our dependence on the loving God who provides for our needs. Intercessory prayer helps us forgetful human beings to remember that God is the source of all that we are and all that we have. We do not need to pray in order to remind God of what we need; we need to pray in order to remind ourselves of who alone provides for our needs.”
The energy and full participation with which each of us prays in our liturgies shapes how our prayer comes together as one voice. The strength and power of our one common voice can serve to remind us of who alone provides for our needs; it can rouse us up out of our forgetfulness so that we ask God, with strong faith, trust, honesty, and hope, to save us from the darkness.
The full, conscious and active participation of every single individual at Mass is what raises our prayer to its fullness and power. Our own individual participation is the key that makes the difference.
Our liturgy is not dependent on the energies of the presider and the liturgical ministers alone. That is not enough. It is the whole assembly together, including the presider and liturgical ministers that makes us one voice. With every member participating fully, we become something more than the sum of our individual parts. We become one body, one people, one communion united with all people of God.
With careful preparation, we can further strengthen our prayer by lengthening designated moments of corporate silence; by using strong, poetic language in our spoken prayer; by using sung prayer that is powerful and direct, in musical setting and text; with homilies that remind us all of the importance of our full participation; by lectors, deacons and priest-presiders practicing and proclaiming the Word of God with strength, understanding and conviction.
“Eucharist,” meaning thanks-giving, is a giving, not just a receiving. God gives to us and we give ourselves to God. As Catherine Vincie says in “Celebrating Divine Mystery,” it is a mutual presencing (Liturgical Press, 2009, p. 57).
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