It’s the time of year when you might hear a voice crying out in the wilderness. It could be John the Baptist, calling us to prepare the way of the Lord… or it could be your friendly parish liturgist, crying “it’s not Christmas yet!” As other commentators have noted, forget the war on Christmas — the war on Advent is what we need to worry about.
Giving proper attention to the season of Advent is even more difficult in university communities. Christmas concerts are as much of a staple of December life on campus as off. And it is a good and worthy thing that campus ministries want to celebrate the great feast of Christmas with the students who make their faith home there for the rest of the year. But it leads to some rather strange juxtapositions.
Some Newman centers celebrated a Christmas Mass as early as last Saturday night, December 1 — at the very beginning of Advent. I have also observed “academic Christmas” on December 6, December 8, and December 12. These liturgies have included Christmas carols and music, although, if memory serves, the readings for Mass were left unchanged. So “O Come, All Ye Faithful” might lead into an Advent reading from Isaiah. So the tensions which Advent embodies — “Christ is coming” vs. “Christ is here” — are laid out even more directly.
But is this any worse than singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” at an evening Mass? (“Early in the morning, our song shall rise…”) Or “God of Day and God of Darkness” in the morning? Or, as has happened perpetually when I was planning music, singing Jaime Cortez’s “Rain Down” on a perfectly sunny day? Are our sung praises any less true if not sung at quite the “proper” time?
The celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is another celebration which gets rescheduled. It has been an issue in parishes when it falls on Sunday (getting bumped by the Third Sunday of Advent), and Mexican communities are eager to celebrate it regardless. It’s a challenge on university campuses, when it often falls during finals week, and often gets observed on a prior Sunday.
I thought of this conflict again yesterday while attending a liturgy that was part Immaculate Conception, part Our Lady of Guadalupe, at my local neighborhood basilica. It was a beautiful liturgy, replete with dancing from Ballet Folklórico Azul y Oro and excellent music from the Notre Dame Folk Choir, Mariachi ND, and Coro Primavera. Like many bilingual liturgies, there were large portions in both languages: one reading was in Spanish, and the scriptures were printed in the language they were not proclaimed in. The readings were from Immaculate Conception (although it should be noted that the gospel reading is the same for both celebrations). The homily was in both English (about Immaculate Conception) and Spanish (about Guadalupe).
However, the music seemed to be chosen with Guadalupe in mind. The psalm and preparation piece were bilingual (the latter was Steve Warner and Jaime Cortez’s “¡Escucha! Ponlo en tu Corazón / Put it In Your Heart,” which will be stuck in my head for weeks to come), and one of the communion pieces, Sr. Suzanne Toolan’s “I am the Bread of Life” was sung in both English and Spanish as well. Much of the rest of the music was traditional Marian favorites, from “Buenos Días, Paloma Blanca,” to “Adiós, Reina del Cielo.” (I did have compassion for anyone hoping to hear “Immaculate Mary,” but I presume they got word to attend another Mass.) Right after Mass was one of the traditional Guadalupan devotions, laying a rose in front of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I was impressed at the number of people who stayed to participate, and wondered how many might be doing it for the first time.
Like this liturgy itself, I find myself caught in two worlds. I join my student colleagues in shaking my head at this combination of feasts. Who was it that said “The reason for time is to keep everything from happening all at once?” I must say that I had a wonderful time at the liturgy and sang my heart out. I just wasn’t sure what celebration it was supposed to be.
Christmas and Our Lady of Guadalupe are both vital celebrations in the faith life of Christians. As one of the stanzas of “Las Apariciones Guadalupanas” we sang yesterday puts it, “Since then, for Mexicans, it is essential to be Guadalupan.” One could argue, in regards to the rescheduling of these celebrations, that “the sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath.” These celebrations are too crucial to miss.
Is there any better way to handle this conflict of calendars?
Chris Ángel is a graduate of Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary in Collegeville, MN, and is now a doctoral student in liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. He worked for Pray Tell blog during his time in Collegeville.