Pastor’s Column

Second Sunday of Advent 2013

My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

We are in the second Sunday of Advent.  As I mentioned in my homily last week that Advent season is to begin the liturgical year and it is a very short season, even it is shorter when we are busy with many things getting ready for the Minnesota winter. The famous question often asked: what is Advent all about?  Since I come to settle here in the United States of America, many things I learned as part of European cultures now I see practicing in the Church.  This week I wish to remind us that Advent is about Signs and Symbols.

The Advent Wreath

Beginning the first day of Advent, many Catholic families will set up an Advent wreath – as well as  most of the Christian churches in our country, a wreath of greenery adorned by a set of four candles – typically, three violet-colored, and one rose-colored to match the celebrant vestments on each of the Sundays the candles are lit.   Advent is a hope and waiting season, it shouldn’t be highly decorated with colorful ornaments. The circular shape of the wreath is a symbol of eternity, and the greenery symbolizes hope and renewal. The colors of the typically-used violet and rose candles symbolize waiting and joy, respectively.

Each candle also represents one of the four weeks of Advent, and one thousand years of the four thousand years that (at least metaphorically) passed between Adam and Eve to Christ’s coming. The first candle also recalls the Patriarchs; the second candle recalls the Prophets; the third candle recalls St. John the Baptist; and the final candle recalls Our Lady.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, the Advent wreath is replaced by a white “Christ candle” that is suitably adorned with holly, or by being carved with symbols of Christ, etc. This Christ Candle is used until the Epiphany or Candle Mass, depending on the family’s particular Christmas customs. The greenery of the Advent wreath can now be decorated and turned into a Christmas wreath for use throughout the Christmas season.

The Jesse Tree

A Jesse Tree is a depiction of the genealogy of Jesus designed in such a way as to show that He springs from the “root of Jesse” per the prophecy of Isaias 11:1:  This prophecy was recalled by St. Paul, and on the first Sunday of Advent, we remember his words with the Epistle reading of Romans 15:4-13.  All throughout Advent, we will hear references to Christ’s ancestors in the Mass readings.

The artistic depiction of Christ’s royal genealogical heritage is very old; the West facade of Chartres Cathedral, dated to ca. A.D. 1150, for example, has a lancet window that depicts the “Jesse Tree” Some Jesse Trees depict the 28 generations listed in Matthew – starting with Jesse and ending in Jesus. The medieval German manuscript depicts only 6 elements in the Jesse Tree: Jesse, two prophets with scrolls filled in with verses concerning Christ and His Mother, two prophets with scrolls with no verses and, topping it all off, the Virgin holding her Son. Most modern Jesse Trees use symbols which summarize the Old Testament and show, basically, the history of the world up to Christ (Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, etc.).

The “O” Antiphons

The seven “O Antiphons,” are part of the Divine Office, the official daily prayer of the Church.  They have traditionally been sung in monasteries and in Christian communities during the evening prayer (last Sunday at St. Boniface, we have evening prayer together some 60+ people attending) particularly beginning December 17 to 23, the seven days before Christmas Eve.  Each antiphon begins with the letter “O” followed by one of the biblical names for Christ:
“O Wisdom,”; “O Lord,”; “O Root of Jesse,”; “O Key of David.”; “O Orient,”; “O King of the Gentiles,” and “O Emmanuel.”  As you may know by now that during  Advent we will have the instrumental “O Come, Emmanuel” as we begin the Mass and conclude with singing this most famous of all Advent hymns.

Next week I talk:  Advent is about Attitudes.

Rev. Joseph-Quoc Vuong