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November 23, 2020

Suggestions for the First Sunday of Advent

Suggestions for the First Sunday of Advent

A few months ago, I received several messages from my friend Barbara. She told me that the virtual Masses from our parish and the prayer and praise livestreams that we do as a family had brought her much peace and comfort during these difficult times. She is in delicate health, fighting a serious illness which does not allow her to attend Mass in person. Our efforts to accompany parishioners during this pandemic have helped us to be aware and discover that there are many more people like Barbara — many who cannot physically attend Mass, but can instead participate with us through social media.

November 29 is the First Sunday of Advent beginning a new liturgical year, Year B. But this new cycle arrives during a year in which we have experienced many challenges as a Church. When planning our liturgies, we face this new reality with the limitations created to control spreading the disease. This year, we will not have the participation of choirs, music ministries or the singing community. Some places will not be able to have public Masses, and in some cases, the attendance of the faithful will be considerably reduced. Many are also eliminating portions of the music that would normally be sung to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. Regardless of the circumstance, we will continue to celebrate the liturgy while following local guidelines and the guidelines of the bishops. Below are some suggestions for this Advent season to help bring your community closer together even if we have to spend it apart.

Song Suggestions

Advent is a time of waiting and spiritual preparation for the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas. Many Advent songs are in minor keys, providing a different, perhaps more somber tone than the happy, joyful ones we are used to during other seasons.

Prelude: With churches limited in number, many faithful are arriving earlier. So, the opportunity presents itself to utilize instrumental music and/or a song of praise to inspire prayer prior to Mass. For this Sunday, I recommend “Sing Out, Earth and Skies” by Marty Haugen or “To You, O God, I Lift Up My Soul” by Bob Hurd.

Entrance:O Come, Emmanuel” by Bob Hurd and Pia Moriarty is an excellent choice. This song features English, Spanish and bilingual lyrics, making it perfect for any celebration.

Penitential Rite: Bob Hurd’s “Kyrie” is also a great English, Spanish or bilingual option.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 80, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” We have a version of the corresponding psalm for each Sunday in the resource Respond & Acclaim. You can also find a musical setting by Kevin Keil in Journeysongs, Glory & Praise, Heritage Missal, Breaking Bread and Unidos en Cristo/United in Christ. Remember that the stanzas of the psalms are ideally sung by a soloist or the choir. If this is not possible due to limitations of the choir or musicians, they can be recited while the accompaniment is played softly. After each stanza, if allowed, the assembly can sing the response.

Gospel Reading: “‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping’”(Mark 13:33–36).

This message takes on special significance in 2020 as many of us have relatives who left for the house of the Lord this year and are no longer with us. Let us ask the Lord to always keep us close to him and to keep us prepared. We really do not know when God will call us to his Holy Abode.

Offering: You can choose to perform instrumental music, make an offertory song or choose a song that also supports the Gospel’s message of preparation.

Communion: You might need more than one song if the Mass is with the participation of the faithful. You can use “Christ, Be Our Light” by Bernadette Farrell or “Let Us See Your Kindness” by Dominic MacAller. “Miracle of Grace” an original English composition by Curtis Stephan, has been recently translated into Spanish by Iván Díaz and is also a good resource for bilingual Masses. I recently introduced it to three different parishes, and in all of them, someone gave me positive comments after Mass.

Although there is the option to have a song of praise after Communion, given the circumstances, it is prudent to omit it, so as not to prolong the time of the Mass and to minimize potential exposure to the virus.

Recessional:City of God” by Dan Schutte, “Let the King of Glory Come” by Michael Joncas or “Let Heaven Rejoice” by Bob Dufford all serve as great choices. However, you might need to prepare many verses. In the parish where I serve, the ushers direct the faithful, family by family, straight to the parking lot in order to maintain social distancing. This makes the exit go much slower than normal. You can use all the verses or even make a mosaic by adding another song in the same key.

If you are livestreaming the Mass online, you can perhaps include a program with the choruses of the songs in the description or play them on the screen, if you have the necessary skills, licenses and technical support. Remember that you are also forming a virtual parish community. Find ways to engage them with messages by directing connected people to subscribe to your parish website and activate notifications so they will know of your next broadcast.

God bless you!

Silvio Cuellar
Silvio Cuéllar

Silvio Cuéllar was born in Córdoba, Argentina and grew up in Bolivia. He is currently the coordinator of the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, Associate Editor of the newspaper El Católico of Rhode Island and Director of Music and Social Media at San Patrick Parish in Providence where he conducts choirs in English and Spanish.

He lives in Rhode Island with his wife Becky. They have seven children who share their talents of music by holding concerts, retreats and family worship nights.