Spend This Advent With Mary

COMMENTARY: Don't miss the world premiere of two Advent carols.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone consecrated the Archdiocese of San Francisco to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Oct. 7, 2017, marking the feast of the Holy Rosary.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone consecrated the Archdiocese of San Francisco to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Oct. 7, 2017, marking the feast of the Holy Rosary. (photo: Deborah Greenblat / Archdiocese of San Francisco)

This year, for Advent, we at the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship are launching something new: “A Very Marian Advent Prayer Service.” Every year, many of us (including me) struggle to keep Advent in its proper liturgical sense: a season of preparation for the coming of our Savior marked by fasting and other penitential acts, in addition to special prayers, rituals and symbols.

It’s not just the distractions of the secular and commercial; the sheer joy at the anticipation of Christmas keeps bursting through. So this year, why not spend Advent waiting with Mary for the coming of the Baby Jesus? Mothers know full well the challenges of the last month of pregnancy: the anticipatory joy amid what is often physical suffering or fears of the suffering that childbirth brings. It is the perfect metaphor for what we should be feeling during Advent: the incredible joy of knowing that God humbled himself to become one of us out of his great love for us, a joy, though, mixed with sadness from the realization that it was our own sins that caused this to happen; the cross lies ahead.

On Dec. 10 at Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco, I will lead this new Very Marian Advent Prayer Service. We will share classic hymns with a Marian focus, but we will also honor Our Lord with the world premiere of two new Advent carols, the work of two living Catholic artists who create in the great, high sacred music tradition of the Church.

The first world premiere hymn is a new setting of the “Chesterton Carol” (setting to music the text of G.K. Chesterton’s poem A Christmas Carol), by the composer Mark Nowakowski. We commissioned and launched a version of this hymn during COVID using the Vos Omnes Virtual Choir. Nowakowski’s hauntingly lovely composition clearly struck a chord, generating more than 17,000 views on YouTube. But the original version requires an orchestra and two high sopranos, making it difficult for most parishes to use. So we asked Mark to adapt this beautiful carol for a more achievable SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) choir and organ.

The second world premiere is a new hymn, Our Lady Expectant: An Advent Carol, which sets to music a lovely poem by Roseanne T. Sullivan. The hymn is in Mary’s own voice, expressing her longing for her Son using the titles of Jesus highlighted in the O Antiphons.

I met the composer, Mina Esary Pariseau, at the Composer’s Institute with Sir James MacMillan that the Benedict XVI Institute co-sponsored with the Catholic Sacred Music Project. Sir MacMillan himself described Mina as a “very, very gifted composer.” So did David Conte, the head of the composition department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Pariseau has previously been little known in the Catholic music world. I anticipate that the Dec. 10 world premiere will make more people aware of her talent and her devotion to Christ.

There has been so little new sacred music successfully launched in the last half-century for the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle. My sincere hope is that these new hymns will serve to unite in worship of the Lord not only those who come to the service, but many more in parishes across the country.

Come and join us in worship this Dec. 10 if you can. Both hymns will also be recorded and a link will be sent to everyone who registers. And if you are a music director or pastor who would like to consider performing either or both of these hymns, the scores will be available from Maggie Gallagher at [email protected].

I am also very proud to welcome 13-year-old vocalist Anselm Decker from Los Angeles. His haunting rendition of Frank La Rocca’s Aue Maria (in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people in which Our Lady spoke to St. Juan Diego) recorded at St. Michael’s Abbey will be released and made available to all on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On Dec. 10, the rare treat of the voice of this superb boy-soprano will raise our hearts and souls to the Lord.

Beauty is not a luxury item. Beauty reveals the very nature of God. Adorning our worship with sacred beauty, as the woman in Scripture adorned the body of Christ with rare perfume, is doing the most important work of all: giving our very best to God. It is the overflowing love of God that then moves us to serve our neighbor.

So with Mary this Advent, we will wait, longing for the birth of Our Lord.