Detail from "Madonna of the Rose Bower," c. 1440–42, by Stefan Lochner.

Advent at USMC: Waiting before Celebrating

During Advent, we at USMC will be publishing articles that bring light to different facets of the season as it is celebrated on our campus. Today, Campus Minister Erica Tice invites us into Advent as a season of waiting, reflection, and anticipation before the great celebration of Christmas.

I remember the first time I heard it. It was the third week of Advent and I was kneeling in a beautiful chapel in the United States, waiting patiently for Evening Prayer to begin. Suddenly the bell rang to mark the hour, the sign of the cross was made, and time ceased to exist as the haunting sound of women’s voices began to chant:

Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie eleison.
Maria walks amid the thorn,
Which seven years no leaf has born.
Jesus and Maria.

What ‘neath her heart doth Mary bear?
Kyrie eleison.
A little child doth Mary bear,
Beneath her heart He nestles there.
Jesus and Maria.

And as the two are passing near,
Kyrie eleison,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear.
Jesus and Maria.

The chanting faded, the transition to Evening Prayer was made, and time began again, but the hymn resonated profoundly in my mind. The words were so simple and yet so meaningful in a way that I could not articulate. In the days that followed, I reflected on the words frequently and as I reflected, I slowly came to understand that all of salvation history was neatly presented in this 16th century German hymn. With that knowledge came the realization that Advent is the time in the year where we personally live out the experience of the Old Testament in three important ways: through waiting, through stillness, and through silence.

“Maria walks amid the thorn, which for seven years no leaf has born.” The Advent theme of waiting comes straight from the Old Testament, where our fathers waited patiently across thousands of years for the coming of the Messiah. But waiting was also paired with its sister, anticipation, to create an atmosphere of hopeful longing and eager expectation. The hymn, in particular, focuses on the root of Jesse – an allusion to the coming of Christ as the full flowering of Jesse’s line. Advent should be a time of hopeful longing and eager expectation as we look forward to the birth of the Lord. Preparation is an important part of that expectation but it shouldn’t supersede the element of waiting that Advent necessitates. This year, let’s resolve to observe the Advent season, to slow down, to wait like we used to do as children in eager expectation of the joy that Christmas promises.

“A little child doth Mary bear, beneath her heart He nestles there.” Stillness implies a sense of tranquility and a particular quality of being which Advent demands of us. Initially created as possessing profound inner peace, the Fall destroyed our innate stillness, replacing it with inner turmoil reflected in our fallen human nature which is prone to concupiscence and sin. Advent marks the restoration of our inner peace through the assent of Mary who, despite difficult exterior circumstances, carried Jesus in perfect interior peace and stillness for nine months. This Advent we can challenge ourselves to prepare the manger of our hearts in a similar way. Instead of doing everything, let’s focus on being. Being present, being watchful, being a resting place for the Infant King.

“Lo! Roses on the thorn appear.” This is the third week of Advent where the liturgical rubrics for Sunday indicate that rose vestments are to be worn by the priest at Mass and the rose candle is lit on the Advent wreath. This silent movement away from the dark shades of purple and into the blush of rosy hues signifies the passing from death into life, from darkness into light, from barrenness into a sudden flowering; in a word, growth! In silence is the Holy Child formed beneath His mother’s heart; in silence do roses bud on the stem; in silence do we hear the still, small whisper of God’s voice. Our world is full of noise and activity and yet Advent invites us to rest in the silence of God so as to foster our own spiritual growth.

This waiting, stillness, and silence produce the exclamation that resounds throughout the third week of Advent: Gaudete! Rejoice! In Latin, the verb is presented in the imperative, we must rejoice! Therefore, in the spirit of children, we anticipate with wide-eyed wonder, the miracle that Christmas brings forth from the withered root of Jesse: love Incarnate, the Word made flesh. Christus est natus, ex Maria Virgine, Gaudete!