Local Catholics joined others around the world to begin Advent with prayers for the protection of unborn human life.
Archbishop Richard Smith led a solemn celebration of Evening Prayer at St. Joseph’s Basilica, coinciding with the first Vespers of the first Sunday of Advent.
Worldwide vigil centered in Rome
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict welcomed the beginning of Advent with a prayer for life and a defence of the human embryo.
The pope presided over an evening prayer service at the Vatican Nov. 27, part of a worldwide pro-life vigil. He said it was an appropriate initiative to launch Advent, the liturgical period in which the Church prepares to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
In a homily, he said the Church’s teaching against abortion comes from its teaching about the dignity of every human life.
Regarding the human embryo, the pope said science itself has demonstrated the embyro’s autonomous capacity of interaction with the mother, the coordination of its biological processes, the continuity of its development and its complexity as an organism.
“This is how Jesus was in Mary’s womb; this is how we each were, in our mother’s wombs,” he said.
Pope Benedict said the threat to human life does not end at birth. Children today are often subject to abandonment, hunger, poverty, disease, abuse, violence and exploitation.
“It was quite nice. I was not sure what to expect, but it was a nice touch by the pope to have everybody participate, and I’m glad the Edmonton Archdiocese did too,” said Chantal Chauvet.
The special vigil, held Nov. 27, began with Vespers, followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction. The celebration included praying the psalms and a reading from First Thessalonians, in which Paul expressed the truth that God is trustworthy and will do what he promises.
A reading from Genesis was a reminder of the first promise of redemption, when God foretold that the offspring of a woman would crush the head of the serpent and reverse the effects of the original sin of our first parents. That promise is fulfilled in the Son of Mary.
“May she hear our prayers tonight and intercede for us with her Son that human hearts will be changed and nascent human life will be cherished, honoured and protected,” Smith said in his homily.
Having the pro-life vigil to mark the beginning of Advent made sense, said Chauvet, because Mary, as an unwed mother, probably went through many of the same uncertainties that unmarried pregnant women go through today.
The vigil made the mystery of the Gospel all the more interesting, she said. For her, the intentions highlighted the vigil, especially praying for repentance for those who have harmed the unborn and forgiving them.
“In our archdiocese, I’d like to see more involvement with the 40 Days for Life. This might get things going in that direction,” said Chauvet.
The next four weeks of Advent, prior to the celebration of Christmas, are a time of expectation and anticipation.
Rebecca Stark, who attended the “beautiful and peaceful vigil,” said icons of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Hope at the basilica served as reminders of the anticipation of Jesus’ birth. Preparing for Jesus connects aptly with praying for life, she said.
“We all know the sacredness of life. As Catholics, we are to stand as a witness, stand as a sign of hope. It was a beautiful way to be together as Catholics,” said Stark.
The pope calling people together to pray carries an important message. The gathering testified to the truth that prayer is needed above all else in the cause of life.
Smith said that when we pray for life at its most vulnerable stage before birth, we can expect God to hear and answer.
“From this expectation there arises a real anticipation that God will act to change hearts and behaviours,” the archbishop said.
Human effort and witness are necessary but insufficient. Abortions continue happening, even when science reveals that from the moment of fertilization there is human life.
“For real change to occur, what is needed is a transformation of the human heart. God alone can bring this about, and so we turn to him in fervent prayer,” said Smith.