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Ring out the old and ring in the new!
Saturday 2nd December is the last day of our current liturgical year and Sunday 3rd December, being the first Sunday of Advent, the first day of a new liturgical year.
For centuries people have ritualised the end of one year and the beginning of another. While each culture’s New Year celebration has its own flavour, there are certain common themes. The period leading up to New Year’s Day is a time for setting things straight: a thorough housecleaning, paying off debts, returning borrowed objects, reflecting on one’s shortcomings, mending quarrels, giving alms.
In many cultures, people jump into the sea or other body of water, literally washing the slate clean. Ecuadorians make straw dummies to represent the events of the past year and burn them at midnight as a sign of letting go the past. The Jewish New Year is marked by atoning for the transgressions of the past year in order to enter the new one spiritually cleansed. In Japan people spend the last day of the old year cleaning their homes to welcome the New Year’s harvest god.
These customs all stem from a similar belief: by ending the old year with respect and beginning the new one in the way we would like it to begin, we establish our intentions for the future. Whether we gather together to watch fireworks displays or clink champagne glasses with loved ones, we are acknowledging an important transition and welcoming a fresh start.
When observing the end of one year and the beginning of another is such an ancient and widespread practice, it seems strange that a Church with ritual at its heart does not mark the transition from one liturgical year to the next in any way.
Mass on the first Sunday of Advent in many communities will include the blessing of the Advent wreath and lighting of the first Advent candle, so adding more rituals is not recommended. Perhaps there could be a time of silence before Mass during which worshippers are invited to think about the things they wish to leave behind from the previous year and to pray for God’s help in letting go and starting anew.
With water and washing often used symbolically in new year rituals, it would be appropriate sprinkle the assembly with holy water after the Advent wreath has been blessed and sprinkled.
The practice of making New Year’s resolutions is said to have begun with the Babylonians as early as 2600 BC. At the start of a new liturgical year we might consider making some new liturgical year’s liturgical resolutions. Possibilities include: to be more hospitable towards all those with whom we worship - not just the people we know; to participate more intentionally in worship by listening attentively, joining in the responses and singing, and being aware of the symbols and sounds of the celebration; to thank often and sincerely those who serve the liturgy as sacristans, readers, musicians, presiders, etc.
May the new liturgical year be a time of blessing for all!