By: Sr Mara, OCD
Happy New Year! Liturgical New Year, that is! That’s right! It is the beginning of the Church Year again, marked by the holy season of Advent, when, as a Church, we consciously and solemnly prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. This sacred season of preparation is both a season of immense hope and sincere penance. Advent, indeed, is a time of great hope, for what can possibly be more joyful and hopeful than awaiting the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ?
In our day and age, however, as a time of anticipation for Christmas, we are often bombarded by worldly commercialism and hype, with an emphasis on material things, gifts, and parties. Surrounded with so much “holiday” enthusiasm, you may be asking yourself, where does the penance come in? The Early Church actually considered Advent, “the Lent before Christmas”, for they understood well that the true aim of the season was to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ. In this penitential season of preparation, the Church continues to call the faithful to pray and to examine how one is living out one’s discipleship, to turn away from sin and turn back to God, to be more open to His presence and, according to Eucharistic Prayer III of the Roman Missal, be ever more “ready to greet Him when He comes again”.
In its entirety, the Liturgical calendar consists of a sequence of specific feasts and seasons that are celebrated over a year’s time in the Church’s Liturgy, the official public prayer of the Church. Throughout the year, we celebrate the whole life of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and King: His birth, His youth, His public ministry, and His Paschal Mystery! In essence, we, as one Church, celebrate God’s free gift of salvation and His gift of ALL time!
So, you may ask, why not begin the year with celebrating His Incarnation? Why this intermediary season of waiting and expectation? There is a very good reason. The Church has us first prepare to welcome Him, and wisely so, for then, and only then, are we better disposed to celebrate the gift of His presence at Christmas and, ultimately, when He comes again at the end of time!