Come November, Christians can often be heard expressing their intentions to remain focused this year on the “reason for the season” instead of getting caught up in the madness of the secular celebration of Christmas. Some put out an Advent wreath and gather nightly for family prayer. Others purchase daily devotionals that contain readings from Scripture and other spiritual reflections. Still others commit themselves to disciplines of fasting and almsgiving.
These are all good things. However, nothing can prepare us for Christmas like the Sacred Liturgy. The reason is because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together with the Liturgy of the Hours is the font of all grace. This means that when we pray with the Church, we are given direct access to the grace of Jesus Christ – in a way that is unequaled by any other prayer or devotion. In other words, it is through the Sacred Liturgy that we are able to enter into the Sacred Heart of our Lord and receive everything needed to be conformed to Him in the mysteries of his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.
Over the years, I have found that the anticipation begins to build in the last weeks in Ordinary Time. Usually around weeks thirty-two or thirty-three, I can’t help but to dust off volume one of my four volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours to take a peak at some of the prayers, readings, antiphons, and responsories that are slated for Advent. For good reason, the prayer of the Church shines in seasons like this. Whether it is Advent through Epiphany, or Lent through Easter, these seasons envelop us in the central mysteries of our faith and imbue us with a special grace.
If one were to pray with the Church throughout Advent by simply praying the Office of Readings every day, you would cover a good portion of the prophet Isaiah and see the prophecies contained therein of a coming Messiah and the dawn of a new age for God’s people. You would also read Advent reflections by Church Fathers such as St Irenaeus, St Gregory Nazianzen, St Augustine, St Cyril of Jerusalem, and more. If you added Morning Prayer and/or Evening Prayer, the readings and responsories from the Old and New Testaments would serve as daily reminders to remain watchful and vigilant, patient and persevering in hope. Still more, if you prayed any or all of the midday hours of prayer, the antiphons would invite you to contemplate the mystery of the Annunciation and the wonder of our Lord’s incarnation in the womb of Mary. Lastly, lest we forget Night Prayer, the Church closes every day of Advent with the Marian chant Alma Redemptoris Mater - a plea to Mary, “the loving mother of our redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea,” to assist us in our poverty and have pity on our sinfulness as we often fail to remain faithful to the One who dwelt in her womb.
While Advent is already underway, consider praying one of the Hours for the remaining weeks leading up to Christmas. In the Liturgy of the Hours, Christ has joined our prayer with His. There is no prayer that could lead us more directly to Him. He has given us the grace. We need only to open our hearts and receive His gift.
So keep lighting the Advent wreath with your family. Stay disciplined in your daily devotional. Fast regularly and give generously. But pray the prayer of the Church and you will supply all of these with a supernatural grace that can only come from the praying the Sacred Liturgy.