Intense expectation: this is the feeling and mental attitude of our worship as we begin the all-too-short season of Advent. It has so much to wait and watch out for, and yet it lasts not even thirty days. (The Eastern rites have more time of preparation, as does the Ambrosian rite of Northern Italy around Milan; they get six weeks, not just four!)
The texts of the Sunday and daily Masses of the season give us so many lovely motives for directing our hearts’ attention to the coming of the Savior. Unfortunately, we often miss these very ancient selections, as they are often omitted at weekday Masses (they shouldn’t be) or replaced by other songs from the missalette on Sundays.
Some of the most venerable selections going back to the ancient origins of the rite of the Church in Rome are the entrance antiphons and Communion antiphons for the four Masses that bring Advent to its close and fulfillment on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These are the most often forgotten, as we sing our familiar Christmas carols (why not do both?), but if we pay attention to them, they provide a profound ground for our meditation.
They just happen to correspond to the four times Our Lord offers us for watching for him in the Gospel lesson of this Sunday: Christmas Eve, Christmas Midnight, Christmas Dawn (“cockcrow’), and Christmas Day. They are found in both the current and the classical forms of the Roman Mass.
What I propose in this first week of Advent is a simple devotion you can easily use each of the days of Advent in preparation for the great graces of the Lord’s birth of the Virgin Mary. On the first Sunday of Advent, the Church had us sing or recite the entrance antiphon or introit: “To you O Lord I lift up my soul.” This little four-part devotion will keep us lifting our soul to the Savior as he comes to save us.
Christmas Eve: “Today you will know that the Lord will come and he will save us, and in the morning you will see his glory” (cf. Exod.16:6-7). Reflect on this promise of hope and of glory for a minute or so, and pray a Hail Mary and a Glory Be.
Christmas Midnight: “The Lord said to me: you are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day” (Ps. 2:7). Reflect on this mysterious birth of God the Son from all eternity from the Father’s heart—that in him is an eternal, everlasting Christmas between the unbegotten Father and his only-begotten Son. Pray a Hail Mary and a Glory Be.
Christmas Dawn: “Today a light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us; and he will be called Wondrous God, Prince of peace, Father of future ages: and his reign will be without end” (Isa. 9:1,5; Luke 1:33). Reflect a while on the marvelous names for the Holy Child, and pray a Hail Mary and a Glory Be.
Christmas Day: “A child is born for us, and a son is given to us; his scepter of power rests upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Messenger of great counsel” (Isa. 9:5). Reflect on how this child is, for you and for all the human race, born to rule over us and to teach us, and pray a Hail Mary and a Glory Be.
How sweetly and firmly we will prepare our hearts with these ancient themes for the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh! And this will take only a few short moments a day.
If we do this, we will be obeying the Savior’s command to watch for his coming as his faithful servants, eagerly expecting his arrival. There’s nothing better than that.
Now, if you have the time and the inclination, I have another optional recommendation. Each of these texts has a beautiful Gregorian chant setting from the Church’s gradual. You might want to hear them. So do a search online for Christmas Eve; it’s called “Hodie scietis.” And then do a search for Christmas Midnight; it’s called “Dominus dixit ad me.” For Christmas Dawn it’s “Lux fulgebit.” And for Christmas Day it’s “Puer natus est nobis.”
Maybe you won’t have time to hear them all at once, but it would be great if you could hear them each at least once during Advent. They are all certainly on the internet, and since you have the translation of the entrance verse, you will know what is being sung, and you can allow the genius of the music to convey to you the spirit of the Church down through the ages as she has sung for many centuries.
Our Lady and your good angel will inspire you with the spirit of hopeful prayer as you take up the prayer of our good Mother, the Catholic Church, in her incomparable and deep awareness of the events of our salvation that are renewed for us each year, beginning with this the first week of Advent.