OFFICE FOR LITURGY

of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salford

ADVENT

The Year begins in darkness – a deep purple darkness where we long for light and the bright shimmer of a star is a sign of hope and life. In the Liturgical Year, purple or violet is a colour of longing, renewal and expectation: in Advent and Lent, at funerals or in the Sacrament of Penance, purple should speak to us of that which we long and yearn for: like a deer longs for running streams, so we yearn for the living God to come to us, to heal us, to be with us. Our purple is a sign of all we long for: the presence of Christ, the washing clean of all sin, the resurrection of the dead. Purple is also a sign of kingship and majesty – the One who comes, the One who heals, the One who raises the dead is himself the King who reigns from the cross.
 
To celebrate truly this part of the Year, Advent should be seen, felt and heard by all the faithful. The Church and the liturgy should be waiting – not quite there yet, just around the corner. Our decoration, our music, our gatherings should somehow create a sense of expectation – on the one level our expectation of Christmas, and the light and joy and glory that will burst forth in our liturgy – but also on another level our longing for Christ to come again.
 
Advent is the unfilled glass – polished and made ready – speaking in its emptiness of what is to fill it. Many symbols can emphasise this – an empty manger scene, an undecorated tree, the unlighted candles on the Advent wreath, even the unopened doors on the Advent Calendar. Our very Church buildings, and all our Advent celebrations, should lead us to cry out in our hearts “Tomorrow there will be an end to the sin of the world, and the saviour of the world will be our king!”
 

From the Catechism

524 "When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: "He must increase, but I must decrease.""

CHRISTMAS

If Advent has been celebrated full of longing and desire, then Christmas will explode upon us as a Season of true joy. Not joy in the lights and baubles and glistening array of the world, but true joy that “God-is-with-us” – Emmanuel! Even so, the lights and glistening array can help us to feel that joy and that presence – after four weeks of purple, of subdued decoration and music, of waiting, then the flash of white and gold, the peals of bells and call of trumpets, the colour and vibrancy of our Christmas celebrations should inform a very deep part of ourselves that something has happened, that Christ is born, and the world will never be the same again.
 
The key to Christmas is light – “on those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone”. The very fact that in our hemisphere the feast falls in the darkest depths of Winter gives us the opportunity to allow light to speak: the Church must be a place of dazzling light in the Christmas season, for the Light of the World has come among us. Christmas is about Revelation – and it is in the light that all things are revealed, and we become, like John the Baptist, “witnesses to the light”. For this reason, it is important that to some degree our Churches look different: there must be some transition from Advent to Christmas that announces without the need of words that something has changed. Traditionally the colour of vestments has always achieved this, as sombre purple flashes into gold. But how much more we can do! Let the Season engage the senses.
 
There is no reason why a Christmas tree cannot be part of the decorations in Church – there is a very beautiful prayer of blessing in the Book of Blessings: decorate it with red baubles to speak of the tree of Eden, where the “happy fault of Adam” led to this moment of salvation. Let it remind us of the wood of the cross, where the newborn Saviour triumphed over sin and death.
 
The traditional manger scene also teaches and inspires – let it be in a place where people, young and old, can quietly spend time gazing at the figures. Let there be a festivity in the flowers and other decorations of the Church, which raises the hearts of all. But also remember the need for quality and taste – our Churches must always strive to be places of beauty. Remember too the pastoral needs of the Parish Church – let the profound beauty of our Christmas music, apparel and decoration speak always of the deepest joy that Christ is here – so that the presence of a coffin at a Funeral is not embarrassed by a gaudiness which belongs to the world, not the Lord.
 
Christmas is a Season, not a day. This is difficult to realise in our liturgy, since the world wants to get “back to normal” long before we have arrived at the last day of Christmas: the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Each Parish must think of ways to sustain the joy of the Season through the great feasts – Nativity, Holy Family, Epiphany, all the way to that day when we celebrate the fullest revelation that Christ is the Messiah and the Son of God – that moment when the voice from the cloud says of Jesus, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” Our Scripture for this Season answers a question: “Who is this who has come to us?” Revelation gradually unfolds, as first shepherds, then Magi, then crowds in the River Jordan are told who this is. This is the Time of Manifestation, when we first begin to see not just a child in a manger, but the face of Christ. What can we add to our liturgy, day by day, in order to awaken this sense of gradual unfolding of the picture of Christ? And how wonderful to be able, day by day, to deepen that deepest joy, not just knowing that Christ is born, but realising once more just who Christ is!

From the Catechism

526 To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Even more: to become "children of God" we must be "born from above" or "born of God". Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us. Christmas is the mystery of this "marvelous exchange": "O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity."