The Fourth Week of Advent. Here we are. Typically I arrive at this point wishing I had taken more time to slow down, more time to pray or read spiritual writing, and taken more time to savor the coming of Christmas. I absolutely see missed opportunities in the past three weeks but this year feels a little different. My weekly prayer group, assisting on an Advent prayer guide at work and facilitating two Advent small groups has helped. Perhaps the more we immerse ourselves in something that we desire, the easier it is to attain the desired goal.
This weekend I was reminded of something that a parish priest, Fr. Tony, said to me when we were meeting to discuss my involvement in activities at the parish over 25 years ago. The priest assigned and then reassigned after one year, right before Fr. Tony, was the first one to reach out and ask me to get involved. He not only asked me to get involved, he gave me the task of writing a weekly prayer guide for Advent, with a prayer and reflection for each day. I had never written anything like that before! They turned out pretty good and I found the task of writing each week to be quite enjoyable. I wrote one for Lent as well. Then he was reassigned and Fr. Tony came to Holy Family. I shared some of my experiences of living in Michigan (parish life, women’s groups, studying at an ashram…), interests and ideas I had for Holy Family. He either thought I was from another planet but was desperate for the assistance or he saw potential. I chose to believe the latter.
The conversation I was reminded of this weekend was “I’m open to trying different things here at Holy Family…but before that I would like you to go to the deep, dark incense-filled corners of the church and experience the beauty of the rituals and traditions of the church.” That began a journey that has led me to a deepening of my faith life, an ever-growing appetite for learning about the Church and our spiritual mothers and fathers, and some of most amazing spiritual experiences. Not too long after that I considered religious life, but discerned I wasn’t cut out for community life. I compared and visited different communities to learn about their “associate” programs ultimately leading me to the Sisters of St. Benedict at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, IL (initially Nauvoo IL). After three years of formation and study, I became an Oblate. Again, the more we immerse ourselves in something, the more likely we will achieve the desired goal.
One of the rich traditions of the Church begins each year on the evening of December 17 with the recitation of the first of the O Antiphons, “Come O Wisdom”. The seven days of reciting the O Antiphons are absolutely my favorite week of Advent. Each of the seven antiphons (Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of the Nations and Emmanuel, God with us) have been sung (or recited) as part of evening prayer, with the Magnificat, since as early as the eighth century. The antiphons use images from the Bible that remind us of Old Testament prophecies of the coming of Jesus Christ.
My mother was hospitalized in early December many years ago after a fall that required spinal surgery. I visited the large chapel at St. Francis Hospital in Peoria every evening to pray before leaving her and beginning the hour or so drive home. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, the hospital sisters, came to the chapel during Advent and prayed each evening. Seeing me there a few evenings, they invited me to pray with them. Hearing them sing the O Antiphons each night, the final week before Christmas, was a profound experience. I will treasure it and the time with the sisters forever.
I saw a delightful version of O Wisdom, shared by the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies on Facebook written by St. Hildegard. St Hildegard, a favorite saint, was a Benedictine Abbess in the twelfth century. She studied herbs and oils and wrote about medicine, composed chants and sacred music, created amazing art, wrote poetry and was a mystic. She wrote “O Wisdom…hip, hip, hooray! From earthen clay have all God’s splendid wonders sprung, that the new Sun might come forth, the new Light shine, the new Song sound in us!” (oi, oi! De limo Terre in Latin)
There is still a full fourth week of Advent available to us this year. Next year it will only be one day long. Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday of Advent but also Christmas Eve, so we will lose a week of Advent. Treasure the full week this year. And what an amazing week it is! We began on Saturday hearing the genealogy of Jesus, then for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect on Joseph’s dream and decision to trust the message and protect his little family. On Monday we listen to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Zechariah’s visit by Angel Gabriel and his disbelief when Gabriel tells him aging Elizabeth will bear a son, John. We hear the Annunciation and Visitation stories, my favorites, scripture passages of Mary and Elizabeth. We experience the prayers, first declared by Zechariah and Mary, that are now prayed each and every day, the Benedictus and the Magnificat, in the Liturgy of the Hours, at Morning and Evening Prayer respectively.
How might some of these remaining days of Advent help you prepare for Christmas? How can we experience the joy that would leave us singing a “new Song sound in us”? With last minute baking, shopping or cleaning left to do, can you create time to enter into the rich tradition of our Church lived through scripture or the praying of the O Antiphons? What do you desire in these final days of Advent so that you feel ready to welcome Emmanuel, God With Us?
Peace be with you, Deena
Photo from Shutterstock on PicMonkey
Visit the monks at St John’s Abbey and scroll down to find the nightly singing of the O Antiphons