It was interesting on Sunday to see the fruits of the past several meetings our parish liturgy planning committee all come together in the celebration. It was a bit like eating a meal and recognizing the ingredients that you brought home from the grocery store.
First there were the invocations to the Penitential Rite we had written to connect with the focus on seeking the antidote to the darkness of the selfish, rude world in the light of Christ. Also reflecting this were the songs, the homily, and the General Intercessions. As the people went forth, singing a new hymn, "Stand Firm", all that we, the preparers of the celebrated season, could hope was that they carried the focus with them as they exited into the ordinary world.
I wonder how many of the people present at the Masses in my parish this weekend realized how much effort had been expended by other lay people to help them celebrate this season well. Most would probably be surpirsed to know about the hours we spent pouring over the readings, the struggle of some of our less-experienced members to write those invocations, the discussions, and all the work planning the season and putting it all together.
I also know that this does not happen in every parish. Sometimes, the ministers of the Mass just show up - and follow the Rite and its rubrics "on the fly" - and assume that things will work out. Although most of the time nothing egregious happens when there is no advance planning, it does the people a disservice and dishonors the Eucharist, when minimal or no preparation is afforded the celebration in advance. The richness of a community's celebration of the liturgical season is certainly enhanced by work that brings together the seasonal themes and the current reality of that community's life in the world.
At every Mass, we celebrate the mighty deeds our God has done in the past, certainly, but we also celebrate God's living action in the presence through the lives of the members. It is, in Advent, a case of recognizing the second of the three ways in which Christ comes to us. (The first coming - as a baby in Bethlehem, the second - in the hearts of those who believe in him, and the third - when he will come as King of Glory). It is all too easy to focus on the baby and the King. Not as simple, is the understanding of what this has to do with us today, now.
It is this, the catechetical component of the liturgy that connects the celebration to current lived reality. Careful preparation and drawing out of connections and "themes" help faith and life come together in ways that actually can make sense. When that is not done, the community experiences just another season, where the naturally occuring elements in the Mass resonate with memories of past years, and people are not called to grow in faith, except possibly by the homilies. Then the preacher bears the full burden of making the connections. When preparation is done well, the people are challenged, called to attend to how this season can effect change in their lives by the cooperative harmony of many parts of the celebration.
And so, in our parish, where we take this work of preparing the seasons seriously, another Advent has begun - and with it, a new way of looking at Advent's intrinsic movement from darkness into light, rooted in a reading of the signs of the times. It feels like work well done.