Advent. It seems the fastest moving of all liturgical seasons and for all practical purposes it seems many Catholics think Advent is "pre-Christmas". In the monastery, however, Advent is observed in all its fullness. Only then can you have a really holy and happy Christmas!
At 1st Vespers of the 1st Sunday of Advent the prioress blesses the Advent wreath which is placed in the nuns' choir near the grille. (To our faithful guests at our daily Mass, yes, that's why you can't see the wreath.) Starting with the prioress and then working down in Order of Profession each sisters lights the candles at the Magnificat at Vespers and the next day at the Alleluia at Mass. To watch the elder sisters light it one can only be reminded of the prophets waiting and yearning for the promised Messiah.
Advent is a penitential season, not quite the same as Lent but still penitential. We have the fast and abstain from meat on all days but Sundays and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. All the goodies that come in as gifts are quickly stored away to be enjoyed during Christmastide.
The beautiful hymns of Advent are sung and the only Christmas music we hear are the pieces we are practicing for Midnight Mass. Most of us, if we need to go out to the doctors find the "muzac" Christmas music more than jarring. Our minds and hearts are filled with longing and expectation, silent and caught up in the great words of Messianic prophecies and then suddenly we hear, "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer." Brrrr.
We also have a little custom of drawing names for our Advent Prayer Partner. We keep it a secret and pray for her during the month, revealing who our partner was on Christmas. Of course, there's nothing against dropping a hint!
And yes, on the 17th we begin the great O Antiphons. On that day, too, sisters are allowed to begin decorating their charges although most is only done at the last minute. This of course, leads to all sorts of rush and panic although we promise ourselves every year not to do this! The waxer makes its assault on the hardwood floor of the choir with help from an energetic Sister. Out come mops and dusters in the Chapel.
However, Chapel and Choir are only decked out in Creche, wreaths and pointsettias on Christmas Eve after we have announced the coming of the Solemnity of Christmas at Solemn Chapter after Mass on Christmas Eve morning. Out come fresh linens, new candles. The velvet curtains are hung at the Choir door entrance and behind the side altars in Choir. Somehow all is clean, fresh and beautiful by 1st Vespers of Christmas.
And our hearts? These too are prepared and awaiting Christ whose daily coming to us in Communion deepen our longing for that Everlasting Christ Mass when He will be with us and we will be with Him forever. Our hearts long for those who desire Him they know not. Our hearts long for those who feel like the Little One in the manager that no one wants or cares about them. Our hearts long for those separated from family whether because of war in a faraway land or the war we can sometimes fight in our own homes.
"Your light will come, Jerusalem," we sing every morning at Lauds. "The Lord will dawn on you with radiant beauty."
Come, Lord Jesus, and let the beauty of your Face heal us. May you be our rising star that never sets, leading us to the joy of the Father in the love of the Holy Spirit.