At St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C., Saturday night, what is becoming an annual tradition will be a beacon lighting the way to Christmas: an Advent Stations service, organized by students at the Dominican House of Studies. Brother Athanasius Murphy, O.P. (for the second year in a row, for the second Advent Stations at St. Dominic’s), talks with me about what it is all about. Read on whether or not being there in person is a possibility.
KJL: What are Advent stations all about?
Brother Athanasius: Advent Stations are about combining Scripture, beautiful music, and preaching together to better prepare for Christmas. There’s an “almost, but not yet” feel to the whole night. The readings will cover many prophesies of the Old Testament that predicted Christ’s coming in the line of Judah, as a star rising from the east, and as a child born of a virgin. The whole night leads up to a reading of John’s prologue (Jn 1:1-14) and a veneration of some ancient relics related to with Christ’s nativity.
KJL: What exactly are the “O Antiphons” you incorporate into it?
Brother Athanasius: The traditional “O Antiphons” are one or two lines of a chant that speak to Christ directly under different names. There are seven O Antiphons because there are seven names given to Jesus: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Morning Star, O King of nations, and O Emmanuel. We are more familiar with these names from the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which we’ll also sing that night.
KJL: Are there important similarities to the Stations of the Cross we know from Lent?
Brother Athanasius: Yes. First, we take the movement and pace of the Stations of the Cross and adopt it for Advent Stations. The Stations of the Cross reprise six to seven hours of Christ’s earthly life when he was condemned, beaten, and rejected by the Roman soldiers and the people in Jerusalem he had come to save. Advent Stations reprise events that took place centuries before Christ’s coming in the Incarnation. But you could still see a connection to Lent in how God offers His people salvation and tries to communicate His love to them by all these signs, wonders, and covenants he made with them. Both are a story of God’s patience and love for His people.
KJL: You did this last year for the first time, what’s new this year?
Brother Athanasius: There will 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.
Brother Athanasius: There are many things. Carving out some peace and quiet in your schedule is a good choice. It doesn’t have to be a day-retreat, but give yourself five or ten minutes a day to thank God for some meaningful gift or favor you received this past month. It’s good to remember that God meets us in the ordinary moments of our life, and our preparation for Christmas may be just as ordinary. We can prepare for Christmas simply by asking God for the grace to help us marvel at the beauty of the Incarnation. Show authentic kindness to people at your work or school. Show sincere love to your family members you’ll see this Christmas.
KJL: How could/should the Incarnation change us?
Brother Athanasius: The Incarnation gives a profounder reason for why we should be thankful. When it comes to gifts, we’re used to either buying a gift for someone else, or dropping hints to others about what we’d like to receive for Christmas. But the Incarnation is the gift of Christmas that none of us could ever have expected. It’s a gift whereby mankind is joined to heaven because the God of heaven became human like us.
KJL: Can Advent stations bring us closer to persecuted Christians, especially around the cradle of Christianity?
Brother Athanasius: Yes. There is so much violence in our world today that makes our hearts cry out for peace. It is sad to think that many Christians in the Middle East may not have a peaceful Christmas this year. Advent Stations is a prayer vigil that provides an occasion for all members to pray for peace both in the world and in our hearts. All coming to Advent Stations this Saturday are welcome to offer any prayer requests they have for persecuted Christians.
KJL: How did you wind up “Athanasius”?
Brother Athanasius: In college I was thinking about entering the Dominican Order. I told one of my school chaplains, who was a Dominican, that I was thinking about different names to request when I entered the Order. He recommended that I take “Athanasius” as a name. When it came time to choose a name, I requested that one and my superiors accepted it. In Greek it means “not dead” or “undying.” It refers to Jesus who was born of Mary, rose after his death, and will never die again.
KJL: What’s your Christmas prayer?
Brother Athanasius: My prayer this Christmas is that people begin to see how much God really loves them. We’re used to thinking about God as some aged figure who exists in another world apart from our own. But the Incarnation and birth of Jesus show us that God chose to become a human being like us. He’s not distant at all, but loves us so much that he now has a face we can look at and adore.