Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Though we are only at the second Sunday of Advent, many of you may already be having the thought – enough Christmas music! As much as we may enjoy Christmas music – I know I do – it seems like it started all the way back at the beginning of November. And as much as it may be festive and fun, I don’t think we realize that the constant noise takes away from one of the essential aspects of a good Advent – silence.
Perhaps this problem should be unsurprising, because we live in a culture that has a lot of trouble with silence. No matter where you go, there’s music playing – in the elevator, in the car, in the doctor’s office – and you won’t find a young person walking around without earbuds in. The silence that brings us face to face with reality, with ourselves, with God, is nonexistent. The silence which is necessary for recollection and reflection is nearly impossible to find, if it is even sought at all. Even a silence of the mind which steps back from the daily worries and concerns is hard to come by.
Yet Advent is meant to be a time of profound silence, because it is a time of expectation and waiting. In this darkest time of the year, we reflect on the darkness of a world without Christ. In the silence of that small town of Bethlehem, we reflect on the immensity of the coming of the Savior of the world. In the anticipation for Christmas, we reflect on the longing we should have in our hearts for Christ’s coming. Rather than rushing from place to place, store to store, while being bombarded with constant noise, Advent should be a time of retreat, of stepping back and placing ourselves face to face with the great mystery of the Incarnation which gives us hope of Redemption.
One of the great challenges for us as Christians then, in this time of Advent, is to create space for silence in our lives. Maybe we keep the radio off in the car or on the train while we commute. Maybe we take a few moments in the morning and evening to kneel quietly in our rooms without any distraction. Maybe we go for a quiet walk at some point in the day away from the rush. Our challenge is to set aside that time to be with God and to make contact with those mysteries we celebrate. Like Lent, the austerity of this time, the prayer and fasting, prepare our hearts and build an appreciation of the feast when it comes.
Paradoxically enough, one way to find silence, particularly when we’re trying to silence our minds, is to play music. But not just any music – sacred music – particularly the chant which is the greatest musical treasure of our Catholic tradition. The gift of chant is that it is a music set aside for spiritual use, and naturally draws our minds and hearts up to God. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, nor is its purpose to evoke emotion in us, but it lifts our minds from ordinary concerns to a far more peaceful place.
As I mentioned at most of the Masses last week, this was one of the motivations for the new Missals. Not only are they more attractive, but they also make more use of that form of music, Gregorian Chant, which the Second Vatican Council proclaims “should be given pride of place at Mass.” The hope is that the exposure to this music at Mass can help facilitate a greater appreciation for it and the way it can strengthen our spiritual lives.
Over these next two weeks then, as we prepare for Christmas with all the shopping and wrapping and cooking, let’s make sure we prepare our hearts as well. Let’s shut off the Christmas music until Christmas, and find some time for silence, or at least replace that music with the chants that for centuries have facilitated an encounter with the mystery of Christ shrouded in the manger at Bethlehem.
Yours in Christ,