With each passing year, Advent seems to be getting shorter. And yet that is not the case — we have all four Sundays of the Advent season. Perhaps it is the busyness of our lives that seems to make these sacred days of joyful preparation go by faster.
And in the church’s liturgical calendar, there seems to be a lot less violet than usual. Violet, the color of this liturgical season, is used for church vestments and paraments to indicate a great sense of longing, to signify prayerful penance, in this often cold and dreary month of December. And yet we see a lot of white at Mass, because of feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We celebrated the great solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, and Dec. 10 has been declared as the memorial of Our Lady of Loreto by Pope Francis. And Dec. 12 is Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas.
With the Marian feasts, the lectionary cycle for Mass readings is disrupted, and so we may lose sight that we are in Advent. Sure, we have the wreath, but where’s the sense of this important four-week liturgical season? Are these Marian feasts in the way of Advent?
Not at all. Mary is the living embodiment of what Advent means. If Advent is a season of joyful preparation and expectant longing for the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t the Blessed Mother the most important example that we as a Catholic Church can have offered to us, both for our reflection and imitation? Mary is Advent in herself.
There was an old tradition in the Tridentine Rite called the “Rorate” Mass — a Mass in honor of Our Blessed Mother celebrated in Advent by candlelight in the early hours of the morning. The term “Rorate” derives from the first words of the Introit of the Fourth Sunday of Advent (we now call the Introit the Entrance Antiphon of Mass); it reads from the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
℣ Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum
(Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just)
℟ Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem
(Let the earth be opened and send forth a Savior).
This is the feeling each of us should have during the Advent season. We should long to have the Lord come down from Heaven to save us from our sins, to save us from our very sinful selves. In the current translation of the Mass, found in the Roman Missal promulgated in English in 2011, the Entrance Antiphon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reads:
Drop down dew from above, you heavens,
and let the clouds rain down the Just One;
let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.
Perhaps we should let these words, if they are said or sung at the Masses we attend this weekend, work their way into our hearts and minds, penetrating our souls. Perhaps parishes that normally sing an entrance hymn could instead use this striking antiphon this weekend. Mary is the model of Advent. Let’s look to her example during these last few remaining days of the season.