Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 24th
Today is Christmas Eve…But it is also the Fourth Sunday of Advent…But it is Christmas Eve. A part of me wants to stop the praying, the Scripture reading, and the blogging that have featured prominently in my life these past twenty-one days of Advent. A part of me doesn’t even want to attend Sunday Mass. I want to catch up with my aunts and my cousins at my grandmother’s house. I want to fry zeppole and the dozen types of fish that my family will eat tonight (can you tell I’m Italian?). I want to linger over the large tray of Christmas cookies that my grandmother has prepared for dessert. I want to…
But it is only Christmas Eve…It is not Christmas yet…It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. So, in addition to the Christmas Eve festivities I’ve already mentioned, I must spend some time today praying, reading Scripture, and blogging.
Today is the fourth time that we read Luke 1:26-38, the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, this Advent. This fact of reading this Gospel four times reminds me of Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, a Benedictine method of reading Scripture not for theological analysis but rather with Christ as the key to its meaning. Lectio Divina features four steps—reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating—that are usually performed in a single sitting. While Advent is certainly much more, the appearance of the Annunciation story as the Gospel four times this Advent allows me to think of Advent as an extended Lectio Divina of the Annunciation.
With the first appearance of the Annunciation as the Gospel on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we read the story slowly in order to understand its context. This first reading lets us answer the questions: Who are the characters? What is happening? Where is this happening? When is this happening? When we gain this basic context of the Scripture, we allow ourselves the opportunity to, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, enter more deeply into the Scripture on each subsequent reading.
Similarly, when we get to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which occurred on only the sixth day of Advent this year, we may still be thinking of Advent in a very factual way: What is Advent? Who am I now, at the beginning of Advent? Who do I want to be at the end of Advent?
With the second appearance of the Annunciation as the Gospel on December 12th, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we read the story asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the passage’s significance. We try not to immediately assign our own meaning to the passage. We wait, pensively, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak the meaning to us. We meditate on the question: How can this passage help me to achieve closer communion with God?
Similarly, when we get to the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which occurred on the tenth day of Advent this year, we may have already arrived at the understanding that Advent is a time for us to grow closer to God, to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ at Christmas. But we may still be wondering about how to actually do this in practice.
With the third appearance of the Annunciation as the Gospel on December 20th, the Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent, we read the story again and follow our reading with prayer. We might pray: God, can You please offer me clarification on what the Holy Spirit has revealed to me? God, can You please give me the grace and strength to carry out the actions that the Holy Spirit has revealed to me?
Similarly, when we get to the Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent, the eighteenth day of Advent, we may already know how the Holy Spirit is calling us to grow closer to God this Advent. But we may still have uncertainties. Or maybe our willpower is beginning to fail us. We need to pray for help.
With the fourth and final Advent appearance of the Annunciation as the Gospel today, on December 24th, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we read the story one more time and follow our reading with contemplative prayer. In contrast to the prayer of the third step of Lectio Divina, the contemplative prayer of this fourth step is not speech-like. Rather, contemplative prayer involves, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a “silent love.” We continue to be attentive to the passage, but instead of supplication, our prayer might be one of silent praise or adoration for what the passage (and the Holy Spirit) has revealed to us.
Similarly, when we get to the Fourth Sunday of Advent today, the twenty-second and final day of Advent this year, we may feel called to pray a silent prayer of adoration, praising God for how he has allowed us to grow closer to Him this Advent. We may express a “silent love” for the greater communion we have achieved, for the preparations we have made for the coming of His son, Jesus, at Christmas.
If I didn’t take time this Christmas Eve to pray and to read Scripture, and then to blog about the Scripture, then I wouldn’t have completed the extended Lectio Divina of this Advent. I would have read the story of the Annunciation. I would have meditated on it. I would have even prayed about it. But I wouldn’t have contemplated it. I wouldn’t have felt the “silent love” of adoration for the passage. Even more significantly, I wouldn’t have felt the “silent love” for the Advent season in general. Just as I wouldn’t have experienced the full extent of the evolution of my reading of the Annunciation story, I wouldn’t have experienced the fullest possible extent of the evolution of my relationship with God this Advent.
After hearing Mary’s “yes” four times throughout this Advent season, I feel ready to move beyond Luke 1. I am full of anticipation of Midnight Mass when I will finally, finally hear Luke 2: “…the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son…” (2:6-7). Then it will be Christmas.
Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Eliot House.