Hymns help ready us for Jesus

Here we are again, at the beginning of another liturgical cycle; this year, Cycle C, the Gospel of Luke. We are also in a seasonal change as we leave Ordinary Time and enter into Advent. This will be most apparent as we enter church this Sunday and see the color change from green to violet in the vestments, the altar drapes and other decorative items. The Advent wreath will be prominent with the three violet candles and one rose candle. Noticeable too will be the simpler decor and flower arrangements.

The Advent readings are of heightened expectation leading up to the incarnation of Jesus as both God and Man as they relate to “end times”; John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus; and lastly the story of Mary and Joseph and their acceptance of their roles in God’s plan for salvation.

Finally, we hear and participate in music that is mostly sung just during Advent. Perhaps the most familiar of these are the “O Antiphons.” The origin of the “O Antiphons” is not really known, but evidence of their use at about the 5th to 6th centuries was found in the monastic communities. They eventually were transferred to liturgical celebrations in Rome in about the 8th century. The most familiar chant associated with these antiphons is, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” which dates back to the 9th century.

There is also a contemporary rendition of this traditional chant by Steve Angrisano, entitled, “Emmanuel.” It is starting to become my favorite “O Antiphon” song. Another Advent chant dating to the 9th century is a hymn Conditor Alme Siderum, or “Creator of the Stars of Night.” This hymn is most used at vespers, but it is well suited for other liturgies as it alludes to both Christ’s incarnation at Christmas for our salvation and then his final return at the end times.

As I was reviewing the Advent music selections for my choir this year, I couldn’t help but notice other songs like “People, Look East” or “Ready the Way of the Lord,” the first more traditional and the second, a contemporary hymn by Bob Hurd. Both hymns are anticipatory as the texts transport us to a state of excited readiness. When we have guests, we get ready by cleaning the house and preparing a repast. That is what these two hymns do, ready us for the coming of our Lord Jesus.

Listen and participate in singing the Advent hymns, but pay close attention to the texts as they transport your soul to that state of readiness.

Wettstein is a volunteer choir director and former director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.