(From The Twelve Days of Christmas, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN,

The theme of the Advent season has been one of joyous expectancy as the
Church, in vigilant preparation, waited and watched for the first signs of
the coming of the Lord. The very name Advent, and the Masses of the four
Sundays with their urgent plea to Christ to "hasten and delay not" have
reminded us that we are awaiting His coming in grace at Christmas, and in
glory at the end of time.

On the evening of December 17 the last and most intensive phase of Advent
preparation begins. On this evening is inaugurated the first of the Great
"O's" of Advent. The "O Antiphons" are seven jewels of liturgical song, one
for each day until Christmas Eve. They seem to sum up all our Advent longing
as they paint in vivid terms the wretched condition of mankind and his need
of a Savior. Addressing Christ with seven magnificent titles, they beg Him
with mounting impatience to come to save His people.

The "O Antiphons" are intoned with special solemnity in monasteries at the
Vesper Hour, before and after our Lady's great song of thanksgiving, the
Magnificat, which is sung every evening as the climax of this Hour of the
Divine Office. But in recent years families interested in the liturgy have
discovered these gems of poetry and have used them as part of their family
evening prayers, sometimes in conjunction with the "O Antiphon House." This
is a little house which can be bought or constructed simply; it has seven
sealed windows, each masking an appropriate symbol for the different "O
," and an eighth window hiding the Christmas scene. These windows
are opened one by one each day at the singing of the antiphon. The Twelve
Days of Christmas Kit
contains an "O Antiphon" Tower which the children can
cut out and put together.

Finally comes Christmas Eve, the day of immediate preparation. An
atmosphere of joy and solemnity pervades the house. It is on this day (and
not before) that the Christmas tree and all other decorations should be put
up. The hearts of the children are filled with the spirit of the day, which
alternates between devotion and happy excitement.

With a little effort on the part of parents, the activities of
Christmas Eve could be organized into an inspiring unit of prayer, work and
celebration. A division of tasks and a spirit of teamwork will heighten the
joys of the day. According to ancient traditions, the evening meal might be
arranged as a festive occasion. For the last time, the Advent devotion is
held, and a little prayer or song might be included which expresses the
thought of the glorious vigil, like this ancient prayer-hymn, inspired by
the Introit of the Rorate Mass:

Dews of Heaven, bring the Just One,
Clouds may rain Him from above!
Thus the nations, still in darkness,
Cried for mercy, peace and love.
Open, earth, and grow the flower
Radiant with grace and power!
Lift your hearts, the time is near:
Christ the Lord will soon appear.

God the Son, in human nature
Was made flesh and dwelled on earth;
Life and light, in grace abundant,
He bestowed of priceless worth.
Men rejoice, exult with gladness;
Do not fear, dispell your sadness.
Raise your hearts, the time is near:
Christ the Lord will soon appear.

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