As we approach the first Sunday of Advent, I thought I’d take the time to share about the seasons and changes that occur in services due to these seasons / holy days.
Advent is the beginning of the church year and has a dual purpose. Like Lent, it is a penitential season of preparation. It is both preparation for Christmas AND preparation for the second coming of our Lord in “glorious majesty.” While it is both, the majority of the weight of the lessons, collects, and proper’s for the season lean towards the latter. Advent is primarily about being ready for Jesus’ re-appearance in glory.
The Great Litany for the First Sunday of Advent:
We will begin Advent with the Great Litany from the Book of Common Prayer. It is the oldest of our Prayer Book rites, and meant for penitential seasons like Advent and Lent (thus we usually begin these seasons with the Litany just before the Mass). Thomas Cranmer, who compiled the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, composed the Great Litany in 1544 based on various traditional Litanies including the Litany of the Saints. King Henry VIII commissioned Cranmer to write a Litany in English so that people could join in the prayer. The Great Litany begins by asking each person of the Trinity for mercy and forgiveness of sins. A sequence of prayers follows asking for deliverance from all manners of evil and suffering. In the Episcopal service, it may be used before the Eucharist, or it is used before the Collect at either the morning or evening service.
It is our custom at the Chapel to not grow to unfamiliar with the great tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. Thus in Advent and Lent, we use the traditional rite that best preserves the prayer book tradition from the 16th century in England. This language is very similar to the 1662 BCP which was the book that shaped George Washington’s faith. English Literature scholars equate the Book of Common Prayer with works like Shakespeare and the King James Bible when speaking of the crowning achievement of English literature. In 1979 when the most expansive revisions ever were implemented, Rite One was developed so as to not lose touch with the treasure of traditional Prayer Book language. With a few minor edits, Rite One is very similar to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Besides this, for many the Tutor/Elizabethan English of the Prayer Book became “prayer language.” The only time we used the words “Thee and Thou, etc.” was in prayer. So this traditional language has a special place in the hearts of many Episcopalians. Many felt it jolting for their prayer book that had retained many of the same prayers and same traditional language for 400 years to go in a completely new direction in 1979 and abandon the traditional Tutor/Elizabethan English of the prayer book tradition. Rite One enables us to preserve this beautiful tradition and crowning achievement of the English language and pass it down to new generations. You can imagine that at a place whose mission is centered in preserving good and virtuous traditions, that we are passionate about our prayer book tradition as well. As a matter of fact, I learned in my former parish that when the 1979 prayer book was introduced at that parish, many of the parishioners transferred to Washington Memorial Chapel as they were much slower in transitioning to the 1979 book. Here, here!
As we pray this Advent using the more traditional rites, you are offering some of the same prayers with the same language that the heroes of our tradition have offered since the early 16th century in England including our beloved General George Washington! It may be challenging and even jolting for some who have only known the 1979 book, but if you open your heart to it, it can be a powerful experience.
Christmas: This one needs much less introduction! It is the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord who 9 months before (March 25 – the Annunciation) put on our flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary (The Incarnation). What is important is this: Christmas is not Advent. Christmas begins on December 24 with our Christmas Eve services (as the Christian tradition aligns with Jewish tradition in beginning the liturgical day at sunset (or the first evening liturgy) the day before the feast. Just as we do not prematurely celebrate Easter in Lent, we aim not to celebrate Christmas in Advent. This is much harder in our culture where Christmas has been co-opted by the “holiday season” which begins as soon as Halloween candy has been collected! Part of the discipline of Advent is to slow down, be centered, to wait expectantly upon our Lord and not rush into Christmas and joy and celebration too quickly.
Besides, right when the world stops all the holiday cheer, ours ramps up! Christmastide is not just one day but 12 days! Our joy cannot be contained in one single day but needs 12. But then it doesn’t stop either! January 6 we continue the feasting with the Epiphany – one of our principal feasts in the Episcopal Church. After Epiphany has come and gone, then we continue in the spirit of Christmas and Epiphany all the way through February 2 – the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple/The Purification of Mary (aka Candlemas). In this way, you could argue that Christmastide is forty days long as it was forty days after Jesus was born that he was then presented in the Temple.
So don’t worry – the celebration will come, but first there must be repentance and preparation. In the Christian tradition, we acknowledge that there is no true joy without repentance – there is no resurrection without death.
With all that said, here is our schedule for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and the Season after Epiphany:
Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany at the Chapel:
Advent begins this Saturday / Sunday Nov 27 and 28. We’ll begin the service with silence and the Great Litany. Advent is four weeks. The last Sunday of Advent is December 19, 2021.
Advent Lessons and Carols, December 12, 4pm
Longest Night Mass, December 21, 7pm
CHRISTMAS AT THE CHAPEL
Xmas Eve 5pm Family Mass with Youth Tableaux
Xmas Eve 7pm Choral Mass
Xmas Eve 9pm Choral Mass
Xmas Eve 11pm Choral Mass
Xmas Day 10am Mass
We will not have a 5pm Service on Saturday December 25
We will only have one service at 9am on Sunday December 26
EPIPHANY AND CANDELMAS AT THE CHAPEL
The Feast of the Epiphany, Thursday Jan 6, 2022 at 7pm
The Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas), Wednesday Feb 2, 2022 at 7pm
We look forward to joining you for this year’s journey from Advent to the Presentation. May Jesus be glorified in all we say and do in this new year.