Is the season of Advent of any importance to parents in their effort to build a truly Catholic home? Many parents have undoubtedly asked themselves this question many times.
Advent is the beginning of another Church year, in which parents will try to live out in the sanctuary of their home the various mysteries of Christ celebrated in their parish church. It is also that season during which Mother Church encourages her children to prepare for Christmas. The spirit of the season is one of intense longing for Christ and His comings. Christ came many years ago, as the child of Bethlehem. He renews this coming in the flesh for us every Christmas through our liturgical anniversary celebration of His birth. For this celebration brings with it a new coming of Christ through grace, a greater outpouring of His divine life upon men. During Advent the Church also awaits the final coming of Christ as judge.
But how should parents try to create in their home this Advent spirit of longing for Christ? There are many ways. Since Advent is a season of preparation, it has a penitential character. There could be a home altar which could reflect this character easily by its purple covering and lack of decorations. Our Lady of Sorrows Priory advocates several practices particularly suited to create this Advent spirit in the home. They are the Advent Wreath, which all know and something a bit different, which is the Altar chart which bears a text from the Advent Masses and will serve to keep the Mass before the minds of all throughout the day. Also some time should be spent every day, in home and school, in the study of the Missal. On Saturday night especially, the family should gather for a study of the new Sunday Mass to be attended the next morning. Of course family prayers in common have a very important role in creating the proper Advent spirit. At least one member of the family should strive to attend daily Mass to carry God’s blessing from God’s altar into the home of God’s people. The Angelus, centering its thought round the Christmas mystery of the Incarnation, should receive added attention.
The special days in Advent should not go by unnoticed in the home. St. Nicholas’s day, on December 6 is always a favorite with children. Gifts are in place; they offer parents an opportunity to tell their children about the charity of this saint, and about the great gift Christ gives on Christmas. The Ember days offer parents the time to say something about priests and the priesthood, and about vocations. During Advent the father will of course be getting ready the family crib. As the Advent Wreath should be in every home during Advent, so too no Catholic home should be without its crib during the Christmas season. The purpose of any practice the parents will adopt will be of course to stir up within the home an intense longing for Christ and a serious preparation for this great feast. The practice of the family virtues of charity, brotherly love and obedience should receive first attention in this preparation. Here then, O Christian father and mother, are ways and means of living with the Church during Advent.
Advent commemorates the twofold coming of Christ, His birth at Bethlehem, and His coming at the end of time. The first time, “the desired of all nations” came in great humility. He assumed human nature with all its frailties and afflictions, in order to effect our cure from the dreadful malady of sin. “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty Word, O Lord, leapt down from heaven from Thy royal throne” (Sunday within the octave of Christmas) to the earth deluged in sin, in order to plant the royal standard of the cross, and on the cross, by death, to renew the face of the earth. At the end of time Christ will come with great power and majesty “and shall not keep silence“(Ps.49,3). This second coming vivifies the faith of Christians, strengthens their love, prompts them to despise the world, reminds them that they are but strangers and pilgrims, waiting with oil in their lamps for their Bridegroom.
Advent, however, reminds us not only of these two personal comings of Christ. It reminds us also of the more immediate coming of Christ into our souls on Christmas day, and by preparing us for that coming in particular; it helps to prepare us for the great final coming. The liturgy of Advent recalls to us that we, too, like the patriarchs and ancients, must sigh for the Messias, and bids us prepare for His approaching birth. Christ’s birth is to be a living reality for us on Christmas day. In our own hearts are we to experience the coming of the Redeemer. With a great longing should we therefore plead in the words of the Church: “Come, O Lord, and tarry not, forgive the sins of Thy people Israel.”(IV Sunday).
In order to prepare us better, Advent keeps before our minds the purpose of the first birth of Christ, and of all subsequent Christmas celebrations, by vividly portraying the final coming of Christ as Judge, when men “shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty” (I Sunday). When that time comes, we shall experience all the spiritual joys of all the past Christmases. The first coming of Christ brought liberation from bondage to our souls, was a resurrection to a new life for all men; the last will bring life and resurrection to both soul and body. Together body and soul will then reap their abundant harvest, for both now take part in the yearly preparation for Christ’s final advent, and both are being purified by a life guided by the expectations of faith. “None of them that wait on Thee shall be confounded” (I Sunday).
The First Sunday of Advent. The morning prayer of the ecclesiastical year is a solemn consecration to God. “To Thee have I lifted up my soul in Thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed.” These words of the Introit of the Mass are repeated in the Offertory, as a reminder, extended to us by the Church, that we should offer ourselves to God as a preparation for the receiving of Christ in our hearts. “Show, O Lord, Thy ways to me; and teach me Thy paths.“
In order to walk the path of the Lord, we must expel sin and darkness from our hearts. Aware of our own weakness we turn to the Lord, “Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy power and come that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may attain by The protection to be delivered” (Collect). It is sin that causes night and darkness in our hearts. But this darkness is about to be despersed by the approaching Christmas. “The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light” (Epistle). Indeed, now is the hour for us to rise from sleep,” and to enter strenuously upon the battle against darkness. Ever closer must we approach the true Light. Such is the program of Advent, and the program of our whole life. It can be achieved only under the inspiration with which the Mass begins: “In Thee, O my God, I put my trust.”
Nor will the waiting be long. Even now we can heed the call to “look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand” (Gospel). Christ is coming, the source of all good. “The Lord will give goodness: and our earth shall yield her fruit” (Communion). But lest we forget, the note of our own helplessness is again sounded. We must prepare ourselves for the fruitful birth of Christ, for the Christmas which is to be a special union of ourselves with the Christ-child. For this no better means are at our disposal than the reception of Christ in Holy Communion. And with the whole efficacy of this Source of grace poured into our hearts, we can the more fully enter into the prayer of the Church “that we may with becoming honor prepare for the approaching solemnities of our redemption” (Postcommunion).
Second Sunday of Advent. The Mass of the first Sunday of Advent was grave and earnest, anxious about the condition of human nature. This note continues the following Sunday, but a one week meditation and preparation has given a confidence resting in God, that is not without its joy of anticipation.
The Gospel tells us why we may hope and rejoice. “Art thou He that art to come, or look we for another?” ask the disciples of John. “Go relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them“, is the answer. Without God’s grace all human nature is blind, lame, leprous, dead to the true life, living in the extreme poverty of sin. But there is hope, for one is coming who is “more than a prophet.” With the patience and the perseverance of John we resist allurments, overcome ourselves, so that we are ready when “God shall come manifestly” (Gradual).
Hence the liturgy prays so earnestly, “stir up our hearts, O Lord to prepare the ways of Thine only-begotten Son; that through His coming we may attain to serve Thee with purified minds” (Collect). Our hearts become purified by a deeper penetration into the mysteries which our mother the Church places before us in her liturgical worship, by a fuller realization of what the Redeemer is to us, and by a proper contempt for all else.
Therefore the Church exhorts us; “Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from thy God” (Communion). We have, indeed, cause for joy in looking forward. We shall be cured of all blindness, lameness, and deafness of heart, through the loving ministrations of Him who is to come. “Thou wilt turn, O God, and bring us to life, and Thy people shall rejoice in Thee” (Offertory).
Nor is this joy for each one of us alone. “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people. And again: Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and magnify Him, all ye people,” cries St. Paul in the Epistle. The messianic salvation is for all peoples, both Jews and Gentiles. The new Jerusalem is to be truly a Church universal. As Jew and Gentile were to be united in the bond of love under Christ, so must we now be united to all men by the bond of charity and faith. The rooting out of all traces of enmity from our hearts is one of the most important steps in preparing ourselves for the coming salvation of the Christ-child, who is to be born anew and more fully in our soul. “Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one toward another, according to Jesus Christ…Wherefore receive one another, as Christ also hath received you unto the honor of God.“
Third Sunday of Advent. A ray of light has already entered our souls, and has given us cause to rejoice. With the increasing penance and preparation, our impatience also increases, the impatient love and on the third Sunday, the Gaudete Sunday, the faithful soul can contain herself on longer. She bursts out in an exultant note of joy.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” sings out the Introit, “again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men for the Lord is near.” The same statement begins the Epistle of the day. The promise of the Redeemer must animate us as it did the patriarchs of old, and fill us with joy. Our joy must indeed be ever modest and humble, but still we must let it “be known to all men.” We are then promised “the peace of God,” the noblest, most precious Christmas gift we could desire. This “peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding” will be granted to us on the condition that we “keep our minds and hearts in Christ Jesus our Lord,” and that “in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,” we let our “petitions be made known to God.” Ardently do we therefore pray to God: “Incline Thine ear to our prayers, we beseech Thee, O Lord; and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation“. (Collect).
“Stir up, O Lord, Thy might, and come save us,” our prayer again rings in the Alleluia verse; and the echo comes to us from the Gospel: “There hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not.” Many times has there been a voice crying to us: “Make straight the way of the Lord,” but it has been for us “a voice crying in the wilderness,” and like the Jews of old we did not recognize or follow it. How often have we ignored this voice coming to us in the persons of our neighbors, whom we offended. How often have we not failed to recognize this voice crying to us in the person of God’s poor and afflicted! We must henceforth make straight the way of our heart, and follow the voice of God from wheresoever it calls. St. John should be our model in this and we shall do well to imitate him in his humility. “The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.” Humility is the cornerstone of the edifice of virtue. It is the prop that will make us strong. It alone will give us the courage and confidence to repeat the words of the Communion verse, “Say to the fainthearted, take courage and fear not, behold our God will come, and will save us.“
Fourth Sunday of Advent. The holy feast of Christmas is near. The ardent longing of the Church for her Messias and Redeemer becomes more pronounced, almost impetuous. The special fasts of the Ember days have lent a keener edge to all her expectations. “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just,” she exclaims in the Introit, in a tone of sublime assurance.
The first Sunday of Advent emphasized penance, the second Sunday hope of the coming of the Redeemer, the third Sunday joy at the coming and now the fourth Sunday, there is an intense longing that even anticipates its object. The suspense, to which the expectant soul has been subjected, is broken by the Christmas carol, “the heavens show forth the glory of God,” chanted in the Introit of the Mass. The ardent expectation becomes a stirring appeal, “Stir up Thy might, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come and succour us with great power, that by the help of Thy grace the indulgence of Thy mercy may accelerate what our sins impede” (Collect). This is the principal petition of the Sunday. It fulfills the Gospel exhortation to prepare the way for the Lord, here reduced to the form of a prayer.
“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Gospel), for “the Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him” (Gradual). The longing and expectation of the patriarchs of old is about to receive its reward, “they shall see the salvation of God.” Also we, who have persevered in our preparation, will see our salvation. “Come, O Lord, and tarry not,” the Church prays in the Alleluia verse. She finds her immediate answer in the Offertory and Communion verses which announce the Mother of God. “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son; and His name shall be called Emmanuel.“
“The Lord shall come, go forth to meet him,” the Church sings in one of the antiphons of Vespers. “Go forth to meet him,” by preparing in your soul the way of the Lord. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight His paths; every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain.” Give ear to the voice of St. John the Baptist in the Gospel. Remove every obstacle in your soul that may prevent the entrance of the divine Infant. “Every valley shall be filled” make reparation for all omissions, negligences and transgressions. All the hills and mountains of pride and vainglory, self exaltation and conceit must be brought low by the practice of the virtue of humility. The crooked ways of deceit and duplicity must be made straight, and the rough ways of anger and revenge must be made plain by patience and meekness. Only then can we expect to “see the salvation,” the Emmanuel, the blessed fruit of the womb of the Virgin Mary, only then can we hope to receive Him into the lowly inn of our heart.
Christmas. Glory in excelsis Deo – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.” After the vigil of Christmas, vibrating with but one thought, the great event about to happen, the long expected day arrives. “Glory in excelsis Deo!” The angelic hymn sounds especially solemn today. The chanting angels surround the altar, as they surrounded the crib in Bethlehem, and with us they give thanks for the accomplishment of the great mystery, the Incarnation of the Son of God. Angels and men, heaven and earth, praise the kingdom of God, and the true peace given to men. Venite adoremus – “Come, let us adore,” “for the Lord is born to us” (Introit II Mass). God the Father Himself gives the testimony: “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee” (Introit of I Mass). With Joseph and Mary we pay homage to the “Word made Flesh,” when It appears on the altar in Holy Mass, and enters our heart in Holy Communion. The newborn infant is for us at the same time Victor, King and Judge, who shall come again in power and majesty, but who now permits us to anticipate that great day and fills us with joy and gratitude at the victory over sin and eternal death.
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men: and the light shineth in darkness, and darkness did not comprehend it” (Gospel of III Mass). Christ is the Light which gradually dispelled the darkness of Advent, the Light which made the holy night to shine forth with brightness, the “glad tidings of great joy” announced by the angels, against which “the gentiles raged and the people devised vain things” (Introit of I Mass). The soul that is still enveloped in the darkness of sin will not comprehend the Light, for Christ, the Child of Bethlehem, born of Mary, will not enter the soul. In the celebration of t he mysteries of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ by means of the eucharistic sacrifice, the divine light rises in our soul. “A light shall shine upon us this day,” is the Inroit the Church chants in the second Mass. In an Alleluia verse she lovingly calls us: “Come, ye Gentiles, and adore the Lord, for this day a great light hath descended upon the earth” (III Mass). Christ, the light, the Sun “that shines upon this day,” is in possession of our souls. “Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who are bathed in the new light, Thy Word made flesh, may show forth in our actions that which by faith shineth in our minds” (Collect of I Mass). We are becoming children of the Light, and should lead a life of light, thus becoming “worthy to attain to His fellowship” (Postcommunion of the I Mass). St. Paul in the Epistle of the first Mass gives us an admonition for this way of light. He had experienced in his heart the night and darkness of Advent. The Savior Himself appeared to Paul and dispelled the darkness. There was night in his soul no longer, but bright light. He exhorts us to live a life of light: “We should live soberly, and justly and godly, looking for the blessed hope.” This blessed hope, the brightness of the true Light, has entered our hearts, the Sun has dispelled the darkness. Christmas is for us not a pastoral idyll or an emotion. It is a reality, our hearts are the throne of the “Prince of Peace.” Therefore with this great gift of faith and charity let us prepare well this Advent for Christmas, that by preparing well our faith may become more deeply rooted in our soul and our Catholic life may bring this “light of the world” to a world that is in much need of the sweet yoke of Our Lord Jesus Christ.