Advent has been described as a countdown to the Incarnation and this is very evident, even if not well known, in the Liturgy of the Roman Rite. The first example of a countdown can be seen in the O Antiphons. These Antiphons are prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours at Vespers in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite beginning on December 17th. And with the release of the 1970 Roman Missal they are prayed in the Mass of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. I have previously written quite a bit about this here.
A lesser known countdown to the Incarnation can be found in the Gospel readings for the Sundays of Advent in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite – the 1962 Roman Missal.
The Gospel readings follow a reverse chronological order. We begin on the 1st Sunday of Advent with Luke 21:25-33 where Jesus tells his disciples about his second coming. On the 2nd Sunday of Advent we move back in time to Matthew 11:2-10 where the disciple of John the Baptist ask Jesus if he is the Messiah they have been waiting for. On the 3rd Sunday of Advent we go even further back to John 1:19-28 where John announces that he is not the promised Messiah but rather the precursor. And finally on the 4th Sunday of Advent we have Luke 3:1-6 where John’s mission as the precursor of the Messiah is shown as being foretold by the prophets. (This Gospel is used in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite on the 2nd Sunday of Advent Year C.)
And when we finally reach the Incarnation we cease our countdown and begin to move forward. The Gospel for the Vigil Mass of the Nativity, Matthew 1:18-21, shows us the angel Gabriel announcing to Joseph that his wife has conceived by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Midnight Mass, Luke 2:1-14, details the birth of Christ. The Gospel of the Mass at Dawn, Luke 2:15-20, gives us the story of the shepherds journeying to see Christ in the manger. And finally the Gospel reading of the Mass during the Daytime, John 1:1-14 is that famous passage that tells us that “the word (who) was in the beginning with God…was made flesh.” This “last Gospel” also is read at the end of almost every Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
Now, how cool is that?