Catholic Values Column: The Rorate Mass: A reminder to experience Advent more fully


Advent is such a beautiful time to be Catholic. This time in the Church’s liturgical year allows us to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Almighty God to earth in the humblest form possible: a vulnerable babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

As it is with almost all things Catholic, we can immerse ourselves more intimately with the Advent season through the Church’s liturgical practices for it. The prayers and hymns, the lighting of the Advent wreath and the purple liturgical vestments; all of our liturgical celebration aids our preparations for the arrival of the Christ-child.

One especially unique way we can enter into the Advent season is through the centuries-long tradition of the Advent Rorate Mass. I came across it just a few weeks ago and was immediately struck by how it can affect the way we approach this wonderful liturgical season.

The Rorate Mass is a special Votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who holds a very special place in the heart of the Catholic Church for her fiat, accepting the role of being the Mother of God. Already, the Church sets aside Saturdays to honor Mary, but as one blogger put it, the Church doubles down in a sense during Advent with the Rorate Mass.

“In Advent, we live spiritually between the Annunciation and the birth of Christ,” writes Diane Korzeniewski of Te Deum laudamus. “Mary teaches us the spirit of Advent and inner attitude we should have during Advent. During the nine months of pregnancy Mary lived a hidden life, in the spirit of silence and intense intimacy with Christ she carried in her womb. This spirit of intimacy with God the faithful are to cultivate during the season of Advent more intensely by listening attentively to God’s message and by obedience to His word.”

The Rorate Mass gives us a special opportunity to participate in that intimacy. It is celebrated just before dawn, typically around 6:30 a.m., when the world is pitch black, a reminder of the world’s darkness before the birth of the Light of the World. To complement this, the church itself is lit only by candlelight; as the Mass progresses and the sun begins to light up the church, the faithful may be reminded that it is Christ that lights up our lives and our faith.

What a beautiful moment this is for us to participate in. The Rorate Mass seems to encapsulate the entire season of preparation in Advent: coming together in the dark, awaiting the light of Christ to enlighten our life.

Too often, I think, we allow ourselves to get caught up in the whole “Christmas spirit” and unintentionally neglect the spiritual preparation that Church calls us to do in Advent. And it’s understandable why. With all the hustle and bustle of decorating, gift shopping, office Christmas parties and the like, we tend to focus on getting ready for Christmas Eve Mass and the family and friends coming over afterward.

But it is practices like the Rorate Mass that force us to take a moment, slow down, and remember what it is we are preparing for. The visual significance of what this Mass represents goes a long way in helping understand that.

During Lent, if you recall, we cover our statues and crucifixes in purple veils after Holy Thursday and they do not come off until the Easter Vigil; this visual is a reminder of the stark reality that Jesus has died and we await his Resurrection. During the Rorate Mass, the darkness of the church represents the world before the arrival of its Savior, and the light that slowly begins to fill the church throughout the Mass tells us that the light always will overcome the darkness, as Jesus has over sin and death.

The uniqueness of this Mass helps those who have the privilege of attending understand what their focus should be on this season. Instead of preparing our homes for visitors and our Christmas trees for an array of presents, it is our hearts that we must focus our preparation on.

As we begin this season of Advent, I pray that each one of us makes a conscious effort to open ourselves up to truly prepare for the birth of Christ, fully recognizing what his birth has meant for all people.