Advent and Christmas in the Monastery:
All in the Family

December 15, 2020
By: Father Benet Phillips, O.S.B.

Like any family, we in the monastery have traditions and customs that help us mark the seasons and rhythm of the year. Our annual practices in the seasons of Advent and Christmas highlight that we are a family celebrating this great feast together. People often ask, “Are you going home for Christmas?” I say yes. “I will be at the monastery.” Home for holidays for sure. The monastery is more than a building on campus – it’s our home. It’s the place where we can be as we are. It’s a place where living in common is both a challenge and a grace, but it is home.

For many of us in the monastery, Advent is our favorite liturgical season. As the days get shorter, as it starts to feel more like winter, we are given a season of waiting, of preparation, and hope. We take Advent seriously in the monastery. No hauling out the holly just yet. The readings, hymns, vesture, conferences by the Abbot all work together to reawaken in us a sense of longing and urgency as we prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. We hear the words and sing songs that are familiar and yet ever new. We meet our old friends Isaiah and John the Baptist. We sing to the “Creator of the Stars of Night” and end our prayer with the special Marian antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater (Loving Mother of the Redeemer).

One of my favorite Advent customs is that we sing a short hymn as the Advent wreath is lighted each evening in the refectory (monastic dining room). While it’s not quite like singing for your supper, this custom, which is unique to Advent, reminds us something is different, something special is happening; pay attention.

But this all but preparation for the great feast of Christmas. A few days before Christmas we decorate the Abbey Christmas tree and the sounds of the Boston Pops Christmas CD ring out in the Chapter Room (monastery community/recreation room). We decorate the Church and monastery on Christmas Eve afternoon – our preparations are many: cleaning, polishing, putting up trees, struggling with the strings of lights that worked last year. Special foods are prepared – the smells of pork pies waft through the house. It’s a great afternoon albeit not without highly skilled negotiation and compromise – “you’re going to put that there?” It makes Brexit seem like child’s play. And then – tired and sore we process into the Church for First Vespers (Evening Prayer) and as we hear Brother Andrew playing “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”, we know it’s Christmas.

One of our great monastic customs after a wonderful candle lit meal is to sit around the fire place on Christmas night and tell humorous and larger-than-life stories, which seem to get larger every year, of our confreres who are no longer with us. We remember and celebrate for we are the individuals brought together by God’s providence to form our monastic family.

Questions for reflection:
1. As a family how do you prepare for Christmas?
2. What are some of your family customs or special meals or foods?
3. Whatis your favorite part of your family’s celebration?

Loving mother of the Redeemer,
the portal to heaven, star of the sea,
Assist your people who have fallen
yet strive to rise again.
You who bore your Creator
to the wonderment of nature,
Yet remained a virgin after as before.
You who received Gabriel's joyful greeting,
have pity on us poor sinners.

From all of us in Alumni Relations – MERRY CHRISTMAS