These weeks approaching Christmas can be chaotic. Deadlines and to-do lists and people to see and greet and parties and purchases.
To what end? What is it all about? For Christians, it’s preparation for the celebration of the Incarnation of God. Preparing room in our hearts for the Savior of the world to transform out lives has been known to take second seat to the busy-ness of life and the season.
If you happen to be in the nation’s capital this weekend, there is an opportunity to pause, reflect, and go deeper into this season of Advent, and consider what the greatest gift of the season entails.
Br. Athanasius Murphy, O.P., a student friar at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. (yes, they keep busy — do you know about their new CD?), talks with me about the Advent station service that he and some of his fellow friars are putting together this coming Saturday night.
All the logistical details are here. For anyone curious or in need of a little Advent break, read on.
KJL: What are “Advent stations”?
Br. Athanasius Murphy, O.P.: Advent stations are a mix of the readings and songs of Lessons and Carols with the movement and pace of Stations of the Cross. During one hour six Dominican priests will read Scripture and preach from different spots around the church. The readings will cover thousands of years of salvation history — from the fall of Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, Abraham’s offering of Isaac, Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, to David’s psalm of kingship (Ps. 110). The traditional “O Antiphons” and “O Come Emmanuel” verses are sung between each station to weave the night together. The whole night leads up to a reading of John’s prologue (Jn 1:1-14) and a veneration of some ancient relics dealing with Christ’s nativity.
KJL: Is there one way to do them or are there some options/variations?
BR. ATHANASIUS: I’d say the greatest variety is in the style and type of music and in the choice of readings. There are so many readings in Scripture that point to the coming of Christ in the Incarnation. For this year St. Dominic’s church decided on six passages that show a dramatic step in salvation history or a vision given to a prophet.
KJL: What’s important about them? How can they help one prepare for Christmas?
Br. ATHANASIUS: Advent stations can help us see the ways that God wants to talk to us. As humans we live a historical existence. God has chosen to speak to us in that history of ours by signs, wonders, and prophetic visions that lead us to see who Jesus is. Advent stations can help underline that message of God speaking to us in history about His Son and His coming.
KJL: What are the highlights of Advent stations?
Br. Athanasius: The big highlights are that most of the night will take place in a dark church with hundreds of candles. There will always be some kind of movement around the church, along with additional candles being lit on the altar after each station is completed. Since we have six Dominican friars preaching for the night, some have called this event the night of the six preachers.
KJL: Are there any surprises in the Advent stations?
BR. ATHANASIUS: One surprise is that we’re having the reading for the seventh station of John’s prologue chanted instead of just read. Another surprise is that we’ll have a relic of the True Crib in which Christ was laid two thousands years ago.
KJL: The Stations that most Catholics are used to have to do with sorrow and pain and penance. What’s the Advent difference? Can these Advent stations be seen in any kind of continuum?
BR. ATHANASIUS: The Stations of the Cross that most Catholics know about take place over about six to seven hours of Christ’s earthly life when he was condemned, beaten, and rejected by the Roman soldiers and the people in Jerusalem he had come to save. The Advent stations are taking place centuries before Christ’s coming in the Incarnation, but you could still see a connection in how God offers His people salvation and tries to communicate His love to them by all these signs, wonders, and covenants he made with them. Both are a story of God’s patience and love for His people.