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Musical Musings: Advent

An Advent Event??

by Gary Penkala

Part I: Whither Advent?

Advent is a difficult season! Christmas, Easter and Pentecost celebrate events: our Lord's joyful birth, his glorious resurrection and the dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit. But Advent and Lent don't celebrate an "event" -- they're preparatory seasons. The penance and sacrifice of Lent, and it's baptismal overtones, make it much more tangible than Advent, though. Modern American society seems to reinforce this. H. Myron Braun, in The American Organist, wrote "A Christmas hymn in the British Methodist hymnal has an expressive line that speaks of those who 'have winter but no Christmas.' If we turn the phrase a bit, all too many American churches have Christmas but no Advent... The pressures of our culture are almost overwhelming to have Christmas throughout December."

Christmas carols (as hymns, organ pieces or choir anthems) have no more place during Advent than "Alleluias" have during Lent. Robert Longenecker writes, "We should stop taking our cues from the world of business and entertainment... We tend to bypass the idea of anticipation, of yearning, praying for, longing, seeking, knocking, and we leave little to celebrate when Christmas finally comes... Let us seek to develop and demonstrate dramatically, graphically, with speech, music, symbols, and any means available, the sense of waiting, yearning, longing for the Gift of God. This does not come easily to an activist and 'do-it-yourself' nation."

What music director has not heard during Advent: "Why aren't we singing any of those carols we know in church?" The question comes from both young and old. A good response: "Tell me your favorite carol and we'll try to use it during Christmas." It is our duty to maintain the musical integrity of the Advent season. We are remiss, however, if we do not extend the celebration of Christmas through its entire season, which lasts from the Christmas Vigil Mass through the Baptism of the Lord. Carols should be used abundantly during all the liturgies of this season.


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Part II: Conversion! 


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