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Celebrating with Advent Hymns

by Kelly Beck

This year, as Advent approached, I was once again struck by the dearth of readily accessible Advent Hymns. Oh sure, everyone knows "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" with it's poignant words and longing tones. But what else was out there for us to sing?

In the past few years as a family, we have been striving to properly celebrate Advent by holding off on Christmas celebrations until Christmas. One of the hardest things has always been waiting to sing Christmas carols until Christmas Day. In December we are bombarded by Christmas tunes just longing to be sung. If only we had something to fill that vacuum!

Our family loves music, but I am not nimble on the piano. So even though I knew where to find Advent music (in the hymnal under "Advent" of course), I had a very tough time teaching same tunes - most of them unknown to me - to our children.

This year, however, I decided to do something about the problem. One day as I was shopping for material to make an Advent tablecloth, my eye fell on an advertisement for singing classes taught in the home. "Hmmm" I thought. I called the woman and asked if she would be interested in coming to our home to teach our family Advent songs, or (as she put it) "to recapture our Catholic song heritage". She was willing and interested but needed a list of songs and music. So I went to the hymnal and found other books on traditional Catholic hymns and picked out the top contenders. Since we started learning Latin this year, I decided to include several traditional Latin hymns and /or the Latin verses to some of the more commonly known hymns (such as O Come O Come, Emmanuel). Thanks to the musical talent of our teacher, we are at last adding to our Advent repertoire. It has proved to be enjoyable and very satisfying.

To help defray the cost somewhat, I put the word out among our local Catholic home schoolers and opened the class to other children and adults at a cost per child per class (Moms and children under six are free). Our core group of approximately 12 people meets once a week. Here is a list of the Advent songs we are learning:

  • Creator Alme Siderum (Creator of the Stars of Night)
  • Savior of the Nations, Come
  • Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)
  • Benedictus Qui Venit (as a round)
  • Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent

Obviously there are many more songs out there. We decided to focus on learning a few well, rather than a larger number in a more cursory fashion. Our goal is to continue our singing classes every year and expand our repertoire gradually. Also, we hope to learn more verses every year. I would ultimately like to learn some Advent hymns that reflect our ethnic heritage, too...but first things first!

As an added highlight, we have included other songs geared to the liturgical season. For example, when we began our classes in October, we started by learning "O Queen of the Holy Rosary" and "I Sing A Song of the Saints of God" since October is the month of the Rosary and the Feast of All Saints. For November we added "We Gather Together" and "America". In anticipation of Christmas we have started practicing a few Christmas carols such as "Adeste Fideles" and "Angels We Have Heard On High", and "Good Christian Men, Rejoice". For the Feast of St. Stephen and Epiphany we will add "Good King Wenceslaus" and "We Three Kings". We have also included some other "evergreen" hymns that can be sung year - round like "Tantum Ergo" and "Dona Nobis Pacem".

With any luck, we will continue singing along these lines throughout the liturgical year!

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