Advent is a time of waiting, anticipating and keeping vigil for the coming of the Lord. For many, these preparations are often accompanied by candlelight, which illuminates homes with a representation of the true light soon to arrive at Christmas.
A little-known Catholic tradition that emphasizes this visual effect within the liturgical life of the Church is the Rorate Caeli Mass, offered in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary during the Advent season. Said before dawn, the Rorate Mass gets its name from the opening antiphon, “Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem,” which translates to, “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down the just, let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior.”
As the Mass is offered before sunrise, its prayers evoke the joyful expectation of the emergence of the Son of God into our sin-darkened world.
Throughout this Advent, parishes on both sides of the diocese have given the faithful opportunities to experience this candlelit custom, including St. Charles Borromeo and St. John the Baptist parishes in Fort Wayne and St. Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr Parish in South Bend.
Father Daniel Koehl, parochial vicar at St. Charles Borromeo, shared his joy at being able to celebrate this unique Mass, which he first experienced as a seminarian when visiting a community of cloistered Carmelite nuns in Pennsylvania.
“The humble chapel was all aglow with candles. Many of us were praying in the darkness, but the first bright notes of their chants illumined our hearts and directed our prayer in just the right way,” he recalled. “As the consecration of the Mass approached, in the seemingly most perfect expression of the material world reflecting the love of heaven, it became noticeable that the sun outside was just beginning to shed its light on the world. With the elevations of the Sacred Host and Precious Blood, the brightness of the sun outside pierced through the windows with the dawn, and the entire chapel was filled with the warm glory of morning.”
He continued, “the Lord, the true rising light of the world, will illumine my heart and yours, right here in this place, as much as He already has in various other times and places. Are we ready to receive this light?”
Father Paolo Degasperi, parochial vicar at St. John the Baptist, elaborated on the prominence of the Blessed Virgin Mary and how reflection on her life helps to prepare one’s heart to worthily receive Jesus at Christmas.
“Mary is the perfect instantiation of the faith we are called to have as Christians awaiting Jesus’ coming. The longing for a savior that people had throughout all ages, and the desire of the prophets to see this promised Messiah come, is summoned in Mary’s heart as she prays in her little home at Nazareth. Through her prayerful yearning, her whole being is projected toward God, constantly and without interruption, calling down from heaven the expected one.”
Father Degasperi shared that: “Mary’s virtues, her forgetfulness of self, and lowliness in her own eyes, is why God chose her for His greatest work. Her availability, her ‘yes,’ brought this long waiting time to an end, and God became Emmanuel; ‘God with us.’
“Advent renews every year this centuries-long expectation,” said Father Degasperi. “The Church invites us to observe closely the Virgin Mother of Nazareth, in her house, prayerfully awaiting the Messiah. Today, we ask her to let us draw close to her as we contemplate the mysteries and miracles taking place in her. Most of all, let us ask her to give us her hunger and thirst for the Messiah who is to come at Christmas, that she may share with us her burning love for God and her ardent desire to see Him born once again in our midst.”
“As many times as there are days in the year, as many times as we will watch a sunrise happen, as many times as that Light will shed upon us and warm our hearts, Christ desires to enter in to find your heart to be another manger as at Christmas or another womb as at the Annunciation,” Father Koehl further emphasized. “At all the comings of Christ, He desires to find your heart in a place of perfect reverence, ready to receive Him when He comes. And so, as much as this is a Mass of Our Lady, it is certainly also a Mass of Our Lord; it is a Mass remembering the truth of the coming of the light of the world at Christmas.”
Father Koehl encouraged all Catholics to personally examine whether, like Our Lady, they are cultivating a daily life of prayer, communicating that love back to the Lord which He first gave to them, and praying with Mary, who knew Him best, to know Him in a deeper and more heartfelt way. “Let us continue to follow after the star in the East, just as certain Magi did, in a desire that that light should illumine our hearts in the most perfect way possible.”
A final opportunity to experience a Rorate Mass this Advent will be at St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne, Saturday, Dec. 18 at 6:30 am. All are welcome.
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