Every year, I await the start of Advent like an excited child. It’s ironic, because when I actually *was* a child, it was Christmas morning that I could not wait for. Now I know that Christmas morning is made even more special by spending the four weeks prior preparing our hearts for that extraordinary day. Therefore, every year I come up with an Advent game plan: what devotionals I will use, what spiritual practices I will focus on. It all helps to set my soul to peaceful joy and silence when the season around us is awash in chaos and noise. Advent is one of my favorite spots on the liturgical calendar for this reason, and indeed, the ebb and flow of the Church’s calendar has always aided me in my spiritual life and boosted my spirits.
Several years ago, right at the beginning of Advent, and after my little one processed adorably up for the Children’s Liturgy of the Word during Mass, I took out my missal. I happily followed along for the readings, and during the collection, as I sat in the pew awaiting his return, I thumbed into the back. I found a lovely history of the liturgical year that really demonstrates why I find the liturgical calendar so meaningful (emphasis mine):
“Every Sunday, the Church keeps the memory of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery. She sanctifies time, consecrates it to God, and as it were inserts us into the History of Salvation. Within the cycle of a year, she unfolds the whole mystery of Christ – from his foreshadowings in the Old Testament to his majestic Life and Work in the New Testament.
Thus, the feasts of the Liturgical Year are first of all celebrations of the History of Salvation. The mysteries of our salvation are to be honored not as something past but as something present, for while the act itself (e.g. Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit) is past, its effects are present. Each feast puts before our mind the sign of some hidden sacred reality, which must be applied to us. We should celebrate the mysteries of our Salvation as happening to us now and we should undergo their mystical effect with an open heart …”
I love this excerpt SO MUCH. The quote exemplifies the Sacraments themselves: they are exterior signs of an interior reality. Our faith is alive within us, even when we cannot see or feel it. The Church reminds us of the past still being a part of our contemporary lives via the liturgy itself, and the feasts and seasons of the liturgical calendar. As I sat contemplating all of this, I also took note of this selection from my copy of Living Faith magazine for the First Sunday of Advent:
“God is With Us – There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay … Be vigilant at all times and pray … Luke 21:25, 36 … Advent asks us to look forward (to the end times), back (to the Bethlehem journey) and within (to our hearts) and discover in all three one thing: God is with us. Emmanuel. Prayer is our ally. We may feel pulled by Christmas preparations, shopping, baking, gathering, hosting, visiting. But preparation for Christ’s nativity requires prayer and vigil. Deep within, in the silence of human pain and hope, his word is uttered.
Lord, teach me to pray and keep vigil, so that your Word is born into the world.”
My heart sings as I read this. I love the joyful feeling in Advent, the sense of anticipation. As an adult, this has taken on a much more spiritual tone for me, but I still share in the excitement for Christmas morning via my children. This year is no exception. I purchased an Advent journal, I plan to read Scripture and observe many Advent traditions with my children, and I know that all of it will bring peace and solace to my household. Advent is a holy reminder to us all of Christ coming and dwelling among us. We may not see Him in the same way that others did that first Christmas, but we receive Him in the Eucharist, and are with Him during Mass. This season in the Church’s calendar is a time for us to experience Jesus truly among us. To see His face in those of our children, and to allow Him into our hearts in a unique way. This is a quiet joy that we can carry with us through the rest of the Church’s year.
What does the liturgical calendar mean to you? Has the meaning of Advent changed for you throughout your life?
Copyright 2017 Tiffany Walsh