Especially with our shortened season this year, this tradition sounds especially delightful.
Every year it seems as though the spiritual preparation for Christmas lags behind the commercial preparation. What if there were more weeks to Advent?
For about 30 years, Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem have celebrated something called “Great Advent” that begins as early as mid-October.
During Great Advent, Israeli Catholics commemorate the biblical figures who prepared the way for the Messiah.
The season begins on the Sunday of the week of the Jewish feast of Simchat Torah or “Rejoicing of the Torah.” That week marks the beginning of the new Jewish liturgical year and the Book of Genesis is read in synagogues. Hebrew-speaking Catholics begin Great Advent with the commemoration of Adam and Eve.
The other figures remembered during Great Advent are Noah, Abraham, the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs, Joseph, Moses, and David, though because the dates of Simchat Torah can vary, all eight figures are not included every year.
During the last four Sundays of Advent, the Prophets, John the Baptist, the Joy of Advent, and Mary, Mother of Jesus are commemorated.
What does Mass look like during Great Advent? The prayers during the Mass relate to the biblical figure being commemorated. The readings are the same readings used by the rest of the Church with one extra, short, reading added that relates to the person or figure being commemorated.
The Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Israel belong to the St. James Vicariate for Hebrew speaking Catholics. One of the main goals of the vicariate — aside from pastoral care — is to foster better understanding and a close relationship between Catholics and Jews in Israel. The timing of Great Advent and the biblical figures remembered during the season were carefully chosen to emphasize the community’s link with the Jewish people celebrating their high holy days.
Members of the St. James Vicariate also celebrate a special liturgy in honor of “The Creator of the World” on the day that Jews celebrate the first day of Rosh Hashana. A special celebration of the Kingdom of the Lord can also be celebrated during the Jewish celebration of Sukkot or the Feast of the Tabernacles.
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