For four Sundays prior to Christmas, the Church observes a season of waiting, anticipation, and preparation known as Advent. Advent literally means coming, the coming of the promised Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate. You will notice that throughout the Advent season, the front of the altar proclaims Adveniat Regnum Tuum, or “thy kingdom come.” Indeed, during Advent we not only commemorate the anticipation of the Christ child more than two thousand years ago, but also the coming of Christ the King, the Risen Christ who will come again in glory—a kingdom not yet in its fullness but nevertheless very much a part of the present moment.
So as we near the winter solstice, daylight growing scarcer, we light more and more candles around the Advent wreath, the light of Christ coming nearer and nearer. The month leading up to Christmas, then, is a way of preparing us for what has come and what is to come.
Each of the four Sundays of Advent is unique. The First Sunday of Advent features an Advent Procession, during which you will be treated to the choir singing from different parts of the church. The first half of the service is a woven tapestry of the entirety of Advent presented through music, word, and prayer, and dramatically ends with the singing of Come, thou Redeemer of the earth as the choir and clergy process down the center aisle, a moving sequence that will be echoed with the singing of Once in royal David's city at A Festival of Nine Lessons at 4pm on Christmas Eve. The second half of the 11am liturgy on the First Sunday of Advent is a celebration of the Eucharist at the High Altar. The Eucharist is not part of the 4pm service.
The Second Sunday of Advent features the Great Litany, in which the choir and clergy walk in a long procession through the aisles of the nave, among the congregation, as we ask God to hear our prayers.
The Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete) is a time of rejoicing, as we are now very close to the arrival of Christ. Gaudete features the Christmas Pageant by the Saint Thomas Youth at 1pm. This year, we offer the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on the Third Sunday of Advent at 4pm in addition to Christmas Eve at 4pm.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent always falls within the week before Christmas Eve, but in 2017 it falls on the same day, December 24. Therefore, in the morning we offer a Choral Eucharist at 11am sung by the Gentlemen of the Choir. This service is an Advent service and has the propers (the readings and prayers) associated with the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Then, in the afternoon, we transition to Christmas Eve services. The doors open at 3pm for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at 4pm. The doors then close and re-open at 10pm for the Midnight Mass, which begins at 11pm (preceded by Festival Music).