Fr Thomas O’Loughlin offers a treasure trove of extra resources, insights and practical suggestions for the liturgy of every Sunday and major feastday in the seasons of Advent and Christmastide for the three-year cycle. It is ideal for celebrants, coordinators of liturgy and interested layfolk.
273pp. Columba Press 2006. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie
The Themes of Advent’s Sundays
First Sunday of Advent A
First Sunday of Advent B
First Sunday of Advent C
Blessing for an Advent Wreath
Second Sunday of Advent A
Second Sunday of Advent B
Second Sunday of Advent C
December 6: The Feast of St Nicholas of Myra
December 8: The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Third Sunday of Advent A
Third Sunday of Advent B
Third Sunday of Advent C
The Christmas Tree
Fourth Sunday of Advent A
Fourth Sunday of Advent B
Fourth Sunday of Advent C
Visitors to church at Christmas
The Gospel Readings on Christmas Day Nativity of Our Lord:
The Vigil Mass Nativity of Our Lord: Midnight Mass
Nativity of Our Lord: Dawn Mass
Nativity of Our Lord: Day Mass
The Feast of the Holy Family A
The Feast of the Holy Family B
The Feast of the Holy Family C
1 January: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (A, B, C)
Second Sunday of Christmas (A, B, C)
Epiphany of our Lord (A, B, C)
Baptism of the Lord A
Baptism of the Lord B
Baptism of the Lord C
The Themes of Advent’s Sundays
Over the four Sundays of Advent the creators of the lectionary saw a definite evolution of themes, and it is these themes that form the overall texture of the season in the liturgy today. These themes were noted explicitly in the 1981 General Introduction to the Lectionary, n 93 (Lectionary vol 1, p xxxviii):
Each Sunday has a distinctive theme:
The Lord’s coming at the end of time (First Sunday of Advent);
John the Baptist (Second and Third Sundays);
The events that prepared immediately for the Lord’s birth (Fourth Sunday).
It is in accord with this scheme that the gospels for each day were chosen.
The Old Testament readings are prophesies about the Messiah and the Messianic age, especially from Isaiah.
So, unlike the pattern that links the first reading with the gospels on most Sundays during the rest of the year, there is no inherent connection between the first reading and the gospel reading.
The readings from an apostle serve as exhortations and proclamations, in keeping with the different themes of Advent.
Again unlike most of the year when the second readings are not linked to either the first reading or the gospel, during Advent there is some link between this reading and the gospel in so far as they can be seen to share a common theme.
Chapter One :First Sunday of Advent (Year A)
The liturgy communicates with us through all our senses for all of the creation is the handiwork of the Creator. However, when it comes to marking this new period in the year – this time of preparation of Christmas – there are few traditional symbols to mark it out and draw our attention to it. Most of those we have are borrowings from Lent – for as Advent emerged it became a kind of mini-Lent – such as violet vestments that are linked to penitence rather than preparation. However, while Lent begins with the wonderful symbol of ashes, there is no such equivalent for this day. This has led to a marvellous creativity in recent decades to find some rituals / objects / symbols that can mark this out as our period of specifically Christian preparation for the Christmas festival. Because there is no formal church-wide tradition, it is up to each community to be imaginative and find its own way of making this day, and these weeks, stand apart as special time. But it is also the case that most of this creativity is derived from catechetical sources and has the odour of the classroom about it: so that what we get is not a strong symbol with which we can relate, but a complex, sensible, aide-mémoire which cries out to be ‘explained’ – and that explanation is its meaning. What results is a set of codes – colours, dances, objects made in the classroom as ‘symbols’ – and then a set of decodings: usually a child reading a slip of paper which begins: ‘we do this to remind ourselves that…’ If this is what liturgy is about – reminders of what we should be conscious of – then it is just an elaborate religion lesson and not an encounter with the sacred. Moreover, such so-called’ symbols’ belong to the world of teaching, not the adult world of faith: symbols for adults do not need explanation and without any words can be embracing or dangerous: just observe the range of reactions to the secular symbol of flying a national flag.
So we need a symbolic opening for the season: it should be a genuine symbol belonging to liturgy rather than a visual aid supporting a lesson, and it should draw on the creativity of the community. However, if this seems too much then consider adopting a simple Advent wreath blessing as the introduction to this Sunday’s Eucharistic assembly.
Introduction to the Celebration
If you do not use the Advent Wreath Blessing (see page 39), then:
Sisters and brothers, today is the first day of the season of Advent. In four weeks’ time we will celebrate Christmas and the coming of the Son of God among us as our prophet, our priest, and our king. But to know who Jesus is, we must recall the faith of the people who looked out for him, we must look to the writings of the Old Testament to see what they say about the promise of God to visit his people – and during these coming weeks we will read much from the prophet Isaiah; we must recall those who prepared the way for his coming – and we will recall the work of John the Baptist; and we will reflect on how the Christ comes to birth in our world through our faith and discipleship – and we will remember Mary whose faith and acceptance of the invitation of God inaugurated the whole Christian era. Let us stop and in silence note that this moment is an important turning point in our year.
Rite of Penance
Lord Jesus, long ago you came among us as one of us and proclaimed your gospel of peace, Lord have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you come among us today as we gather in your name and offer us your consolation, Christ have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you will come again as judge of the living and the dead according to your law of love, Lord have mercy.
Headings for Readings
When the Lod comes he will inaugurate the reign of peace: ‘nations … shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’
We are people the day, we must act honourably for we walk in the light of Christ, and must reflect that light.
We Christians must stay awake: we do not know the moment when we shaIl have to give an account of how we have lived our lives as disciples.
Prayer of the Faithful
Friends, gathered here today we recall the first coming of the Lord Jesus long ago, we remind ourselves that he will come again, and we believe he is with us now in this assembly which meets in his name. So in union with him let us pray to the Father.
1. For all who embrace the name of Christ, that this will be a time of a renewal of discipleship as we reflect that the Son of Man is coming at an hour we do not expect. Lord hear us.
2. For all people of goodwill who over the coming weeks will see Christian images and hear snippets of our story, that these religious pointers may help them discover a new spiritual depth in their lives. Lord hear us.
3. For all who in the next month on hearing parts of our story will be offended by it, or angered by it, that the Spirit will give them a new tolerance and a new attitude of understanding. Lord hear us.
4. For all who are ill, for all who are suffering, for all who are persecuted for being followers of the Son of Man, that they may experience the consolation of the nearness of the Christ. Lord hear us.
5. For all who will die this day, that the Son of Man will present tern to their heavenly Father. Lord hear us.
Father, we are the people who long for the coming of your Son, hear our prayers and help us to be the presence of your Son in your creation, for we make these petitions through that same Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Preface I of Advent (PI).
Invitation to the Our Father
In Advent we are recalling Jesus’s first coming; we are looking forward to his final coming; meanwhile, with him we pray to the father:
Sign of Peace
Isaiah prophesied that in the time of the Lord ‘Nation shall not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war’ – let us who celebrate here that the Lord has come, and reaffirm to each other that we will be peacemakers.
Invitation to Communion
Behold the One who has come, and who will come again, who today comes to us as our food and drink for our journey of discipleship, happy are we who share in this supper.
Read the first four paragraphs of the second reading (from the Catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem) from today’s Office of Readings (Breviary, vol, p 49 to the second line of p 50).
Solemn Blessing 1 for Advent (Missal, p 367).
First Reading: Is 2:1-5
One can think of the Book of Isaiah as the collection (i.e. the whole canonical book) of collections (i.e. [First] Isaiah – chs 1 ~39; Second-Isaiah – chs 40-55; and Third-Isaiah – chs 56-66) of collections of oracles and other materials. The opening line of today’s reading is the introduction to one of these collections of oracles. The collection in question is ‘Oracles concerning Judah and Jerusalem’ and this collection embraces everything between 2:1 and 5:30. The remainder of the reading then stands as a nugget: the first oracle in this collection and it can be read as a single oracle to be interpreted as a message from the Lord through the prophet.
The oracle assumes a time of war when the nations do not know the Lord has his temple in Jerusalem and so attack his people. In contrast to this present state, the prophet looks forward to a future when the Lord is openly recognised as the universal king. In this ‘new world order’ the nations (Isaiah thinks of the world in terms of extended families each with a specific destiny within history) and their rulers do not come as conquerors to Jerusalem but as pilgrims. This is a reversal of history that takes place through the divine action, but the precondition is the abandonment of war by the nations.
This oracle has been read by Christians as looking forward to the time of the Christ who is universal king, brings peace, acts as the city on the hill that cannot be hidden, and whose message of salvation reaches out to nations (there are echoes of this oracle in Mt 5:14; Acts 2:17; Apoc 15:4; and Jn 4:22). But we should note that in Isaiah, this state of peace is placed in the indefinite future: it is not the promulgation of some earthly utopia, but a proclamation of the final victory of Yahweh and it is his gift presupposing covenant loyalty from his people. As such, the oracle can be read today as the promise of a world-to-come that God is preparing for his people beyond history; but that world sets the standard by which our actions in this world are to be judged.
The oracle supposes a tension: the reign of the Lord as the universal king is not some sort of perfection of this world ‘when peace finally breaks out’ – that would be to confuse the kingdom with an earthy utopia; but the coming kingdom does demand a way of living in the material world – to imagine that one could concentrate on heaven without working for peace on earth would be to separate God from his creation. The tension in Isaiah can be found again in the way we view Jesus as king (cf Jn 18:36), and in the way we set out the Christian hope alongside the Christian task.
This psalm picks up the theme of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Within the liturgical imagination of Israel to arrive in the holy city, to enter the temple, is to arrive in the very presence of God. This coming into the holy presence of the temple can be understood by us by noting that it evokes the same ritual/liturgical response as that found in the post- Tridentine spirituality of a Visit to the Blessed Sacrament: here in the holy place, the Lord is present now, I am in his presence, here I can pray ‘directly’ to him. Read as part of the theme of this Sunday within Advent, it is the notion that we are the people on pilgrimage who are seeking the holy temple of the Lord, the heavenly Jerusalem as our final destination (see Gal 4:26): there we will encounter the Christ in his fullness.
Second Reading: Rom 13:11-14
This is the rhetorically rich conclusion to a section of the letter (12:1-13:14) dealing with the demands of upright Christian living. The key element in such a life is that the Father is worshipped in the Spirit. Now at the end of the section Paul wants to introduce a note of urgency: these are the end-times, action is required now rather than in some far-off time. This sense of the end-times is here a genuine attempt to draw out the eschatological nature of Christian existence rather than some simplistic notion that the end of the world was about to occur in a matter of a few years. For Paul, at this point in his development, the Christian destination is not to be confused with either an imminent Second Coming or some sort of perfection of the material world; the Christian must look forward to life in Christ with the Father; but the demands of that desire manifest themselves here and now. Hence the Christian must be putting on ‘the armour (ta hopla) of light.’ This is one of a set of images that Paul uses whose general sense is that the Christian must be Christ-like in ‘fighting the good fight’ of discipleship. However, in 1 Thess 5:8 Paul gives a neat explanation of what he means by, ‘the armour’: faith, hope, charity. These are the ways that the Christian now must live for an upright, ‘godly’ life, and in that lifestyle s/he can be said ‘to have put on Christ.’
In most contemporary western societies the notion of clothing denoting office or the assumption of responsibilities or lifestyles is now only a vague memory rather than a living metaphor – even those who still wear uniforms explain them in terms of utility for the job rather than as the insignia of office. In such a society the notion of ‘putting on’ or ‘taking up the armour’ is very distant; however, there is a contemporary image that conveys the notion: to set out on the work of discipleship we must be properly suited-up: that is, we have to have faith, hope and charity or else we will not survive in the hostile environment in which we find ourselves.
Gospel: Mt 24:37-44
The narrative time-setting of this passage is the first day of Holy Week, after the arrival in Jerusalem and before the anointing in Bethany. In all three synoptics there takes place at this point a series of statements about the end-times and this part of these gospels is referred to as ‘the synoptic apocalypse’; in Matthew this takes the form of a long discourse (24:1-25:46) usually called the ‘Eschatological Discourse’. The passage read today forms a unit in Matthew with the message: you must keep close watch for you don’t know when the moment of the Son of Man will come. However, this is a matthaean construction because these verses are found as two separate items in Lk: verse 37-41 in Lk 17; verses 42-44 in Lk 12.
The theme of watching and waiting for the coming of the Son of Man – read by Christians as the return of the Christ – is the central message of Advent, hence today’s gospel passage can be seen as the perfect introduction to the whole season. However, it should be noted that it is taken into the liturgy without the apocalyptic baggage it has in Matthew. Here the watchfulness is seen to be part of the very condition of human existence and of Christian living – which is living in waiting and hope. However, the parousia of the Son of Man is imagined from the whole cloth of all we believe about the end-times with its images of completion, gathering in, restoration, healing, rest, and banquet. Here we take over Matthew’s sense of urgency and need for care, but assume that it is linked to our whole picture of the Christ.
1. The time we are now entering is for most people ‘the run up to Christmas’. It is that for us too, but it also has a far more serious side. To say that ‘The Lord is coming’ or to pray ‘Come Lord Jesus’ (maranatha) is part of the most basic Christian confession of faith: we are a people who are looking forward, who believe we are on a journey, a pilgrimage, towards a destination. This destination is an encounter with the Lord, and it is variously described as ‘the Second Coming’, the time of ‘the return of the Son of Man’, when he comes again to judge the living and the dead’, of ‘ the Day of the Lord’. Indeed, we believe this journey toward the Day of the Lord is something that responds to a most basic instinct implanted within our humanity by the Creator: ‘You [O God] have made us for yourself and our hearts are disquieted until they rest in You’ (St Augustine, Confessiones 1,1,1). And, it is the Christian confession that we encounter God in his Christ. So part of our reflection in Advent is on the end-times and our encounter with the Lord when he comes again. So, in short, we are a people looking forward to the Day of the Lord’s Second Coming. And this is the time of year when our cycle of ritual puts these thoughts, as in today’s gospel, before us.
2. To declare that we are waiting for when Christ ‘will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead’ (the creed), tells us nothing about the nature of the final judgment.
3. Since the first generation of Christians there has been a core belief that the time the people of Israel spent waiting for the coming of the promised Messiah is structurally similar to the time Christians spend waiting for the return of the Lord. Israel waiting for the first coming parallels the church waiting for the second coming. It is this logic of antetype and type that explains why we recall the waiting for the Christ in the first readings during Advent; while we then read about the Second Coming in the gospel readings in Advent. The common element between Israel and the church is that of waiting on the Christ to come; the difference is that Israel was waiting for the first coming, the church is waiting for the last coming. What Isaiah expected the Day of the Lord to be like is what we read in the first reading. ‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’
4. If we want to know what the judgement will be like at the Second Coming, we look to the message of the Christ in his first coming. Many then thought that the Day of the Lord would be the’ great crunch’ – a warrior messiah that would dole out vengeance and wrath. Instead the Lord came as the re-builder of Israel, the one who brought healing, who called disciples to love God and neighbour, and established reconciliation with the Father. This is the nature of the judgement we now wait for and proclaim. With truth we can call this, amidst the panics and fears that are always said to be on the horizon of the future, the good news. The Day of the Lord is not the ‘great crunch’, but the day of peace: ‘He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’
Blessing for an Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath appeared in Lutheran Germany in the nineteenth century as part of a renewed interest in celebrating the liturgical year. It soon spread within the German-speaking lands where it was a catechetical object in the church building and in the home. It was to be a specific symbolic object of ‘what was really being celebrated’ amidst the range of other preparations and trimmings that were and are part of German Christmas festivities. It began to spread to other countries through catechetical materials borrowed from German and Dutch sources in the 1960s. It is now firmly established in most parishes as part of the Advent decorations and has a place in the catechetical programme for this time of year in most countries. However, there is little evidence that in English-speaking countries that it has established itself as a domestic symbol. We should therefore note that its value as a symbol is more limited than some of the enthusiasm for its adoption would suggest. First, as yet it has little emotional currency for people in that it is not integrated within their family /household traditions. Put another way, if people were asked to think of things they associate with Advent, this wreath would come low down on the list. Second, it still is linked with the classroom: a little nice piece of craftwork/ artwork/ religion that belongs to the children of between 8 and 10 years. This means that it can become so burdened with questions-and-answers about ‘what does it mean?’ that it cannot speak for itself. Third, because of its links with the classroom it can be seen as belonging to something that is ‘done for the children’. A religious symbol must be able to speak to the whole community. Moreover, one of the secularising forces that undermines liturgy is the widespread notion that ‘Christmas is really about childrel1.’ That reduces the celebration of our wonder before the incarnation to nostalgic retelling of fairy tales. Hence any action that encourages the ‘Christmas is the children’s time’ must be treated with suspicion in the liturgy. On the other hand, the wreath is a simple object, it uses candles as lights which is part of the basic vocabulary of our ritual; it can mark the passing of the time of preparation, and it can mark off this time as special: so until you conceive- a better symbolic object, you should make use of this.
The simplest form is that it is four thick candles in a wreath or bed of holly or other greenery. In some catechetical books – and in some of the ‘ off the peg’ wreaths sold by church suppliers – it takes on more complex forms such as purple candles or three purple and a pink candle or a five candle arrangement that includes Christmas. Such added complexity miss the point: if you have to explain the pink candle then it turns it into a piece of code rather than a symbol; if you include Christmas you forget that it is to mark the movement of time up to Christmas: Christmas itself is something new, not the highpoint of Advent. And, as for coloured candles, they just make it harder to see the candles against the greenery. But it is important to use thick candles, as they have to be seen both lighted and unlighted (narrow candles are hard to see at any distance if they are unlighted). However, the whole arrangement must be large enough that it is visible to the whole community and be a public object in the liturgical space. Many of the wreaths used are based on those suitable in size for a classroom and are simply lost in a big building. Just look at the size of the Big Six candles of the former rite to see the size candles have to be if they are to make their presence felt in a building.
The area near the eucharistic table, in what is in most church buildings is the former sanctuary, is where most wreaths are located. A moment’s thought shows that this is not a good idea. Nothing should distract from the table around which we gather for the Eucharist – it is the centre of our worship and our building – anything placed near it piles on layers of complexity that can simply confuse. Moreover, the area around the table is already full of clutter: the ambo is often but a pace or two away, the chair likewise, sometimes a lectern, and a jumble of odd seats, stools, and kneelers – and this is not to mention a tabernacle. And, having everything near the president at the Eucharist can give the impression that the area around the table is a stage: you watch it to see what is happening up there. Yet liturgical space is something that envelops everyone at the Eucharist: the whole space is where we act our celebration. Probably the best place is near the door of the assembly. There can be a procession there to bless it, and it is seen close-up by everyone passing in and out over the four weeks of preparation.
Here is a possible rite of blessing.
Form a procession with incense, cross, lights, and proceed to the wreath while one of the Advent hymns is sung; then begin the Eucharist at the wreath.
The time .of Advent is once more upon us. In the coming days and weeks we will recall God’s plan of salvation when he prepared his chosen people to receive his Son; we shall recall that we today are called to bring Christ to birth in our world and that we must renew our commitment during these weeks to being his disciples; we shall remind ourselves that he shall come again at the end of time, judging the living and the dead.
Let us pray.
We pray you to bless + this Advent Wreath and make it holy. Today we begin to recall how your Son’s coming was proclaimed by all the prophets;
how the virgin mother bore him in her womb with love beyond all telling;
and how John the Baptist was his herald and made him known when at last he came.
Grant that this time of preparation will increase our holiness and give us new strength to follow in your Son’s way.
We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Incense the wreath.
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The beginning of the holy Gospel according to John [1:1-14].
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Pause while a new flame is struck and one of the candles lighted. Then continue:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
This is the gospel of the Lord.
The procession returns to area around the table, the celebrant going to the chair to pray the opening prayer.