(Station at St. Mary Major)
THE Collect Prayer of the first Sunday in Advent is an impassioned plea which arouses family and school from the lethargy of "just ordinary days." It begins, "Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come!" What a change and what a stir the realization that we have come upon the first Sunday in Advent makes within the soul! The warmth of new life and of a new year courses through our veins, and everything inspires us with hope, longing and excitement.
Therese Mueller, in "Our Children's Year of Grace," gives us some idea of what should inspire Christian parents at the opening of Advent: "With the beginning of a new year of grace, we parents face the responsibility of keeping our children in close touch with Mother Church, for she shows us the way to a fuller understanding of the sacred mysteries of our religion, wisely represented in the course of the liturgical seasons. Then let us use in the 'mother school' or 'home school' everything that helps our children to understand and to penetrate deeper into their faith. There must be no exclusion of the little ones, for they are still so near to the wisdom of paradise that they often express things in simple ways more clearly than we do with many words. So we tell the children that Advent means arrival, coming, and emphasize that it stands first of all for the approach of the promised Messias, and secondly for the return of the ascended Christ at the end of the world. Both thoughts are expressed in the liturgy of the Advent and Christmas season, including the feast of the Epiphany, which not only celebrates the revelation of the divinity of Christ...but also the final revelation of his Kingship in the last judgment."
On the Saturday evening before the first Sunday, the family gathers to put the wreath together. The children learn that the circle of the wreath represents eternity, or the unceasing flow of the sun following its prescribed course; the four candles divide the time, representing the "four thousand" years of waiting for the arrival of the Saviour. When all is in readiness, the wreath is suspended at some prominent place in the house, or else it may be placed upon a table which serves as a family altar. Then the family prepares for the Sunday Mass. "The King, the Saviour, will come, let us adore Him" (Invitatory for Matins).
The first spiritual preparation of the family centers about a full understanding of Holy Mass, of the three comings of our Lord: as the child at Bethlehem, as the Judge at the end of the world, and in sanctifying grace each day, provided we stay away from sin, and remain always ready to offer Him the thanksgiving which is the Mass and to incorporate ourselves into Him at Holy Communion. At the end of this preparation, or at the Sunday dinner, the father of the family begins the family prayer with the blessing of the wreath, and the oration for the First Sunday. In the light of the single candle the children lift up their voices in an Advent song.
We may scarcely neglect the importance of music in the education of the children, and we should do well to educate their tastes by good music with verses which are theologically sound. Perhaps it would be for the best if we were to forget many of the songs which we as adults know and love, and place the musical education of our children upon a basis as objective as possible. If we remember the "Motu Proprio" of Pius X and the various documents of Mother Church on the subject of religious music, we shall wisely apply their sound counsel to the musical education of our children. Instead of having the children learn "Jingle Bells," "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," "Santa Claus Is Coming to
Town" and the like, let us turn to better and more appropriate melodies and verses. The children will hear enough of all the paganized versions of Christmas songs from mid-November on--the stores and shops assure that. Further, it is not yet the time, when we have come to the First Sunday of Advent, to be singing Christmas songs. We shall sing these when Christmas arrives.
There are four songs which are appropriate and readily available for early Advent. The first one is, of course, the "Rorate Coeli" (well-translated into a singable English version, available from St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minn.) The longing of the ancient world for the coming of the Saviour, expressed in the words of Isaias, is adequately voiced in this love song. Learn it well, and the children will look forward to this hymn as the beginning of the joyous Christmastide.
The Vesper hymn of Advent is even more simple and appealing to children:
"Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting light,
Jesus, Redeemer, save us all
And hear Thy servants when they call...."
Indeed, this Vesper hymn pertains to the very liturgy itself, and along with the "Alma Redemptoris Mater" should become the theme song of Advent. The latter antiphon may be sung on the simple or the solemn tone. Some children seem to prefer the solemn one, and you may well imagine the joy in Mary's heart when-she hears children singing "Loving Mother of the Redeemer!" An old German medieval carol may be added to our list, a splendid little Advent song based on an ancient legend: "Maria Walks amid the Thorn." The recurrent "Kyrie eleison" will help to teach the children the Advent-like quality of the Kyrie at Holy Mass--the longing appeal to the mercy of the Trinity through the Incarnation and Redemption. May Isaias and our Blessed Mother be the heart and soul of our children's Advent carols!
Before our discussion of the first week of Advent becomes too extensive, let's consider some appropriate readings for the season. There are few better than the Scripture readings of Isaias according to the Roman Breviary, the Rorate Mass of the Blessed Virgin during Advent, the text of the Sundays of Advent in the Missal, the "Christmas cycle" of Pius Parsch in "Das Jahr des Heiles," or of Abbot Gueranger in "The Liturgical Year." A hidden treasure chest of inspirations and ideas may be discovered by digging about and uncovering the contents of these volumes. In addition, there are many collections of Christmas stories, some of which are associated with Advent. Perhaps you may choose the story of "The Other Wise Man" by Henry Van Dyke. But of all the stories, none are comparable to the liturgy itself, and Pius Parsch does wonderfully well in offering it to our twentieth century. The great advantage of his work lies in the fact that he centers our attention upon Holy Mass, the Divine Office and the Ritual. With these, and a profound understanding and imagination of our own, we cannot lead the children far astray.
One last comment. Children in the Middle Ages were taught the Psalter instead of being obliged to memorize so many useless ditties such as "Little Orphan Annie." The Advent psalms are psalms 24, 79, 84 and 18. It must be admitted that the psalm of the first week in Advent, psalm 24, is indeed a little difficult for children to understand. But after all, this psalm is the constant refrain of the First Sunday in Advent. Learn about it yourself, meditate upon it a while, and then see if it is really so difficult that you cannot interest children in its beauty.
- TRUE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT - Imprimatur 1955