The New Liturgical Movement pointed out that Advent just started on Sunday — if you’re part of the Ambrosian Rite (Milan, Italy) or the Mozarabic Rite (Toledo, Spain). Six weeks of Advent, with the Martinmas holiday pretty much your last fling before the fasting and preparation starts.
Over on the Eastern side of Catholicism, they don’t have Advent per se; but for most, their pre-Christmas fast (Philip’s Fast or the Nativity Fast) has started, as of November 15th, or will start soon on November 25th. (They keep off meat, fish, oil, wine, and dairy products, and then point out that this is an easy fast compared to the other biggies. But they do get feast days off.)
For us Latins, Advent is also quite close. It’s a mysterious and lovely season, and the whole point of it is to look to the Lord and try to let Him change your heart and your ways. The vestments (except on the Third Sunday of Advent) are purple, the color of repentance and turning to God. Some people still fast on Fridays in Advent. Just as in Lent, marriages were forbidden (until recently – and they’re still frowned on), because the bride and bridegroom were supposed to be repenting, and holding off on rejoicing until the Lord comes at Christmas. (At which point you’re supposed to keep rejoicing until January 6 or really, February 1. So it’s not like the Church is being a big joyless meanie.) We are all waiting for the Bridegroom, waiting for Mary’s little baby to come.
If you dislike the commercialization of Christmas, why not observe Advent or Philip’s Fast this year? Don’t put up red and green and lights after Thanksgiving; put out some purple candles, or a Nativity scene with no Baby Jesus. (Some people like to move their Nativity scene figures closer to the manger every week, or hide Baby Jesus for the kids to find, etc.) Lots of things to do, and none of them part of a relentless industry or a Hallmark movie. Countercultural!
Advent calendars, both secular and sacred, do seem to be gaining in popularity. (Especially the kind with chocolate behind every window.) Trader Joe carries inexpensive Advent calendars at the front of the store, and I think Aldi may also. But they seem to be available in many more card stores and grocery stores than when I was a kid.
In the Latin Rite, after the Church Year ends (with the great apocalyptic feast of Christ the King, in the new Latin Rite calendar, or just with apocalyptic readings in the old calendar), the new Church Year begins with the First Sunday of Advent.
The proper Latin Rite Introit to begin Advent is the ancient “Ad te levavi” (Psalm 24/25:1-3):
Ad te levavi animam meam;
To You, I have lifted my soul;
Deus meus, in te confido,
My God, in You I trust;
Do not let me be ashamed [blush from shame]
neque irrideant me inimici mei.
Nor my enemies laugh at me.
Et enim universi qui te exspectant, non confundentur.
And indeed, all who wait for You will not be confounded.
Psalm verse (the last half of verse 4 or verse 4 itself — and usually just intoned, like psalm verses are):
Vias tuas, Domine, demonstra mihi,
Your ways, O Lord, show me,
et semitas tuas edoce me.
and your paths, teach me.
(You may or may not hear people do another psalm verse of “Gloria Patri et Filii et Spiritui Sancto….” — the whole Glory Be thing.)
Repeat “Ad te levavi…confundentur.”
There are a lot of recordings of this introit available, because it is so ancient and such a staple. (Not to be confused with “Ad te levavi oculos meos” (To You, I have lifted my eyes), or with the Offertory settings of “Ad te levavi”, which are structured totally differently, or with any settings including “To You, O Lord”, because that’s not the liturgical wording of this particular introit.)
If you want to learn this chant, you can listen to it until your ears fall off! And honestly, it’s the sort of thing that really should be incredibly familiar to us from hearing it every year on the First Sunday of Advent… but since it’s not (for most of us), listening interminably is a good way to learn.
Cantores, St. Willibrord Seminary, Tiltenberg (Haarlem diocese in the Netherlands). These guys have a CD out called Lux.
From Suwon, South Korea, the all-women schola Almus. Nice example of the universality of the Church, as well as of the special vocal qualities of female choirs. (Not as common as all-male choirs.) Not so great on the camera work from the audience….
Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensis, Grandate Monastery, with Giovanni Vianini, Milan.
Video of the neume score on another recording of the same guys, but in a different church. The introit is run through three times, for learning purposes. Neumes look pretty different and they notate music with a little different emphases; but it’s easier to learn how neumes work by following along than any other way. Don’t fear the neumes!!
Unknown female choir with sorta video of the neume score.
The Chant Project — Phoenix, single male cantor. (Really beautiful, but single cantors can make these things sound scarier than they are. There’s strength in numbers!)
Giovanni Vianini, Milan — another single male cantor, but this one has church echo to help him. :) Notice how he sings slightly more slowly, to work with the echo instead of fighting it. You kinda want to run up against the edge of resonance, but not let it run over you.
Super-slow version from a single male cantor. Good for your super-slow initial run-through needs. (Just don’t lose the melody!)
Isn’t that good stuff for the beginning of Advent? You’ve got your waiting, you ask God to fulfill the Covenant, you express trust, and then you ask to be taught how to live more like God wants you to. Very Advent-ish.
You can read more about this stuff at New Liturgical Movement, where they link to a Sunday Mass mp3 by the Brazilian Benedictine guys, with a little organ in the background. You can also find a good big picture of the score here.
The Anchoress has some ideas for Adventish almsgiving combined with gift-giving and for repentance-type mortification. I have to say I’d rather suck up the peach brandy fudge than the suffering; but hey, if you don’t do it here, you gotta do it in the hereafter….