Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Stations in Washington DC

Guest post from Mr William Newton.

On Saturday, December 19th at 7 pm, the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph will be holding their second annual Advent Stations at St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C. The church is located at 630 E Street SW, two blocks from the L’Enfant Plaza metro.
What are Advent Stations, exactly? Perhaps the best way to think of them are as a combination of the tradition of Advent Lessons and Carols with that of the Stations of the Cross, but done in a way very particular to the Order of Preachers. There will be six stations set up around the church, at each of which a procession of friars will stop to hear a reading from Scripture, followed by preaching on that particular passage. This year’s Scripture selections are:
  • Genesis 49:8-12 – The Lion of Judah
  • Numbers 24:15-17 – The Oracle of Balaam
  • Isaiah 7:10-14 – The Sign of Emmanuel
  • Isaiah 9:1-7 – “For Unto Us A Child Is Born”
  • Micah 5:1-4 – He Will Come from Bethlehem)
  • Malachi 3:1-4 – “Prepare the Way of the Lord”
Between each of the stations, hymns or chant will be sung, while a final, seventh station will be the chanted Prologue from the Gospel of St. John.

There will also be a new tradition this year, called the “Canticle of Christ’s Advent.” This is an arrangement of Scriptural verses sung antiphonally between the choir and the congregation, in a dialogue about Christ’s coming. The concept is a bit like the Classical Greek plays, with a protagonist and a chorus exchanging lines, or the dialogues of a Medieval Passion play, but shortened and fit for the season of Advent. Think of the psalm lines “Who is the king of glory?.....He is the Lord of armies.....Let him enter the King of glory,” to get an idea.

One of the real treats for those attending the Advent Stations will be to see the interior of St. Dominic’s lit not by the usual carefully concealed electric light, but by quite literally thousands of candles. These will be placed all over the church, and tapers will be distributed to those in attendance. Not only is the effect visually superb, since only at the Easter Vigil – and sometimes not even then – do we get to see churches illuminated this way, but it ties in well theologically to Advent and the commemoration of the Lord’s Incarnation, when the Light of the World came to dwell among us.

For those who choose to arrive early, confessions will be available at the parish beginning at 6:30 pm. Following the conclusion of the Stations at around 8:00 pm, participants will be able to venerate a relic of the Crib in which the Christ Child lay. I can say from my experience last year, that this a deeply moving way to begin the 4th week of Advent. Afterwards, a reception will be held in the parish hall.

As anyone who attended last year’s inaugural Advent Stations can tell you, the setting for this event contributes greatly to its impact. St. Dominic’s is an enormous, 19th century Gothic Revival stone structure, which seats around 800 worshipers. Its prominent steeple is very familiar to those traveling to and from Capitol Hill, where it juts up into the sky from amid the maze of low, concrete brutalist structures, built in the mid-20th century to house various federal agencies. The interior features 24 stained glass windows with scenes from the life of St. Dominic, as well as a rare Roosevelt Pipe Organ Company instrument, dating from 1887.

A brief video on Advent Stations is posted below; further information can be found on the St. Dominic’s website. If you find yourself in the DC area, this is a wonderful tradition to become a part of, and as they do with their well-known and well-attended celebrations of the Vigil of All Saints and Tenebrae, the Dominicans do a beautiful job in making this evening a very special, very spiritual celebration.

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