Advent in the Monastery

Advent in the monastery is a time of such joyful expectation! Long before Advent officially begins, the Sisters are turning their thoughts eagerly towards this season of preparation for the coming of the Savior. As the short summer nights lengthen into autumn, one or another Sister will break into Christmas carols in the kitchen while doing dishes at recreation. “It’s not Christmas yet!” someone objects. “I know—but it’s coming!”

Our Lady of Advent

We hear the first real whisper of Advent in the special Ave Maria we sing after Mass beginning 40 days before Christmas. The haunting melody sets the tone for the season, continuing up until we sing it for the last time after Midnight Mass of Christmas, now bathed in the radiance of Christ’s birth. Ave Maria—Hail Mary, Hail you who were perfectly prepared to receive Him. Help us enter into the age-old longing of the Patriarchs and Prophets, help us to repent, be converted, do penance, and welcome the Kingdom of Heaven into our midst in the Person of its Infant King.

The call of our sung Ave echoes the summons of the liturgy, which is truly the heart of the life of a Dominican nun. The great cycle of the liturgical year, making present for us all the mysteries of Christ, is realized each day in the cycle of the Divine Office and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, its center. Hymns, antiphons, readings—all usher us more deeply into the longing, repentance, and joyful expectation of Advent.

Dominican chant antiphon O Radix for December 19

Today we begin the great “O Antiphons,” sung before the Magnificat at Vespers, which hail our coming Messiah under His various titles. Now the tenor of the liturgy changes—we are coming down the home stretch! The nuns’ spiritual preparation is now joined by increasing material preparation: there are cookies to be baked, holiday ironing to be done, the chapel to be decorated.

This is one of the best parts of Advent in the monastery: how the expectancy increases step by step, degree by degree, until the celebration of Christmas. First the Ave, then the St. Andrew (or Christmas) novena; then our other Advent devotions, preparing our hearts to receive the Divine Infant with greater fervor. Then Gaudete Sunday—now the octave of the O Antiphons, with the initials of their invocations forming an acrostic which spells in reverse, Eros Cras, “Tomorrow I will be there,” the great cry of Christmas Eve.

He is almost here! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!