CELEBRATING ADVENT: The Joyful Mystery of Waiting (1)
The Church opens the door of liturgical year with a four week season of great waiting of joy, hope, peace and love called “Advent.” Advent is a term derived from Latin usage “Adventus” meaning “coming.” In the Christian Church Calendar, it stands for the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and also of preparation for the second coming of Christ. It begins on the Sunday following the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. This mysterious season of waiting is associated with the ancient exclamation of “Maranatha” which is transliterated from the Aramaic in 1 Cor 16:22,it featured significantly in primitive Christian spirituality. It is clear from its occurrence in Didacheno. 10,in primitive Christian liturgy as well. However, in Aramaic and Syriac the term is in two words “Marana” and “tha”, which is a form of imperative force oriented toward the future, “Come, Our Lord.” In Greek transliteration, it could as well be presented as the perfect form expressing a complete event in the past, Maranathameaning “Our Lord has come.” With this in mind, let us journey together to unknot the sacred and joyful mystery enshrouded in this season of waiting, which has a two-fold character: a time of preparation for the festival of the Nativity when the first coming of God’s Son to the world is recalled and a period of reflection pointing us to Christ’s second coming at the end of time.
This solemn feast of human redemption which Prophet Isaiah foretold, “… the virgin is with child and will bear a son and will name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14); and being fulfilled in the gospel pericopeof Matthew (cf. Mtt 1:23). This scriptural passage indicates an early Jewish interpretation and expectation about the coming Davidic messiah. And in the New Testament, Matthew made reference to this prophetic message to proclaim that Jesus is the fulfillment of these messianic hopes, which is embedded in a great mystery of waiting in this season of Advent. These four weeks preceding this solemn festival in the annals of history of man’s redemption has a deeper meaning beyond what mere eye can see, words can interpret or human mind can easily conceive. It is entrenched in mystery beyond our understanding. That is why, it remains a joyful mystery of waiting with high hope and anticipation. In the same spirit, Luke Mbefo observed Advent as not being a transcendental concept pointing to the world to come, but a concept immanent in our everyday life which Jesus Christ during His public ministry often emphasized that the kingdom of God is among us. (cf. Mbefo, L. N., The Liturgical Year in Action, Onitsha: Spiritan Publications, 1997, p. 11).
CHURCH AND THE SPIRIT OF ADVENT:
The exact origin of this season is unknown, but following the available documents of the Church we can say that, the remote origin of Advent season is found in the Gallican custom,referring to a time of preparation for the feast of the Epiphany, which was a baptismal feast in the East. It had its season of preparation for Baptism similar to Lent. The main point to note about this early notion of Advent is that it was of an ascetical character rather than of a liturgical season as we have it today. An extract from the New Catholic Encyclopedia, further states that, “In 380AD, the Council of Saragossa ordered for a three week fast before the Epiphany. About 100 years later, the Diocese of Tours kept a fast three times a week beginning with the memorial of St. Martin, a custom that the Council of Macon in 581AD extended to all the Dioceses in France. During the next two centuries the practice found its way to England. At Rome the case was different, since the feast of Epiphany was never a baptismal feast there, the same reason for having a “Lent” before did not exist. When Advent first appeared at Rome, it was a preparation for Christmas and not the Epiphany as a liturgical season rather an ascetical period.
In the course of this season the church prepares spiritually and liturgically to create the enabling environment for her children to be in-watch while waiting for the coming of our Saviour and Redeemer – Jesus Christ. During this period, the church through sacred readings and prayers directs our thoughts and minds to the mystery of our redemption. The initial part of the season starting from focuses on the second coming of the Lord, while the second part of the season beginning from December 17 to 24 pays attention to the immediate preparation for Christmastide. In this season, we are called to prepare ourselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make our souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in the reception of the Holy Communion through grace and thereby making ourselves ready for His final coming as judge. These spiritual attitudes will give us that insight to recognize the Lord who comes to us. Though, the Lord is always present in our daily lives, activities and happenings, the season is a reminder to be conscious of His ever abiding presence among us in all facets of life.
We celebrate advent to recall the time in the history of man’s salvation when the word was made flesh but was still hidden, a mustard seed that would eventually become a shrub, an icon for human redemption. In this way, with the spirit of advent, we ought to recognize the finger of God in all events of life, no matter how painful it may be with hope. In the course of the liturgical celebrations within this season, the church invites us to meditate on the hidden presence of God and at the same time live in hope; since His coming into the world herald hope, comfort, joy, peace and love.
ADVENT AND LITURGY:
There was no trace of Advent at Rome until the 6th century. The Gelasian Sacramentary was the first to provide Advent liturgy as it exists today, although the idea of an Advent liturgy may have originated not at Rome but in Ravenna in then 5th century.” (O’Shea, W. J., “Advent” New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. I, p. 152).
In the light of this, Pope Gregory I developed the Roman Advent Liturgy. He further shifted the season from six weeks to four weeks as we have it presently. He composed prayers, antiphons and responses for this season. When the Roman rite was introduced into Gaul in the 9th century, Gregory’s Advent liturgy went along with it. The emphasis on the second coming which is a striking element in the present Advent liturgy is attributed to the Gallicans. This fusion of the Roman and the Gallican Advent found its way back to Rome in the 10th century, giving the Church the rich Advent liturgy. Many of us today find it difficult to contend with the idea of two comings, contrasted in the Advent liturgy. For the fathers of the church, with their unified vision of the mysteries of Christ, which posed no problem. That is why Pope St. Leo the Great, for example, in his sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, led his hearers and readers beyond the mystery of the incarnation and manifestation to the contemplation of Christ now enthroned in glory and to His return at the end of the ages. F. Nogues writes, “The mystery of Christ’s coming is something indivisible. His appearance on earth and the parousiaare two aspects of a single redemptive coming which is not yet completed: he who came will come again, and he has told us to watch and wait.” In the same line of thought, the church reminds us about the coming of Christ in all its aspects, past, present and future. This season recalls the coming on earth of the incarnate Word, deepens our awareness of Christ’s presence in the church today and heightens our hope and longing for His return as the king and judge.
PIUS RALPH EFFIONG, SMMM