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.
KJL: Why do you hope people come to St. Dominic’s in D.C. this weekend?
BR. ATHANASIUS: I hope people come to St. Dominic’s this Saturday in order to get to know something about the God Who loves them unconditionally. I hope the people that come receive graces from God that lets the Holy Spirit work in their hearts on a deeper level every day. I hope that St. Dominic’s church, in our singing, reading, and preaching, acts as a good medium for God’s love and grace.
KJL: The advertising for the night reads:
For types and figures of Christ
Worth their lessons in learning.
What do you mean? Who can we best learn from?
BR. ATHANASIUS: The types and figures that we’ll hear from the readings, songs, and preaching all have to do with Christ’s coming in the Incarnation. By listening to what Scripture has to tell us about Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, and prophetic visions that those of Ezekiel, we can learn something about Christ who comes to us by his Incarnation and who wants to be even closer to us by dwelling in our souls by His love and mercy.
KJL: How do you know you have a piece from the “True Crib” of Christ?
Br. Athanasius: When you receive a relic — a small piece of a saint, his clothing, or of a holy object — it usually comes with a letter documenting where it has come from. The Dominicans in Washington D.C. have held onto a number of holy relics throughout the years with their letters documenting their authentication. One of these relics is a small piece of the True Crib (Lat. praesepio) that comes from a much larger piece found in Rome (ex praesepe D.N. Jesu Christi).
KJL: What do you appreciate most about Advent?
BR. ATHANASIUS: I really enjoy the tone of music and different readings we get to hear in the liturgy during Advent. There are some great passages from Isaiah that are chock-full of stories and images that point to Christ as Savior, Servant, Sufferer, Redeemer, and Victor. Outside of the liturgy I really enjoy when the brothers and sisters go out Christmas caroling around the metro stations of Washington, D.C. People are already in a Christmas spirit by mid-December, and they take to the singing friars and sisters very well.
KJL: What is the Dominican House of Studies like during Advent?
BR. ATHANASIUS: The friars at the Dominican House of Studies do a few things differently for Advent. We sing a few different chants during the liturgy of the hours, especially in night prayer. Outside of mass the brothers are also offering a talk series at the Dominican House and other parishes for three of the weeks of Advent on poverty, chastity, and obedience. Information about them can be found here.
KJL: Has Advent changed for you since becoming a Dominican student friar?
BR. ATHANASIUS: Yes, it has. The brothers are good about celebrating all the seasons of the Church’s calendar, including Advent and Christmas. It’s very easy as a friar living with other Dominicans to take part in the season of Advent. Being a brother in formation has made me thankful for the many gifts we have from Christ’s coming into the world in his Incarnation: his life of preaching, service, and charity, his passion and resurrection.
KJL: What’s most important to you about Christmas?
BR. ATHANASIUS: For me the biggest things about Christmas are the midnight Mass we celebrate at the Dominican House of Studies and the big meal the friars all have together on Christmas day. These are just two signs of the wonderful community life I have here with my brothers in Washington, D.C. I also love going to see my folks in New York around the Christmas season. So I’d say what’s most important to me about Christmas is that I can enjoy a real communion of friendship with people who love me. The bonds I have with my brothers and family are as wonderful as they are because of the Divine Friendship that Christ has chosen to make with us by taking on our humanity. That’s why I love Christmas.