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Preparing your manger for Christ
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DOWNLOAD YOUR ADVENT WREATH BLESSING & YOUR ADVENT WREATH DAILY PRAYERS FOR THE FOUR WEEKS OF ADVENT
The Advent Wreath & Advent Candles show the symbolism that can be found in both the wreath and its candles.
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What Does Advent Mean? treats of the spirit of Advent and shows how this spirit is radically opposed to the spirit of the world.
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Today's Advent is Too Easy gives a very brief overview of the history of Advent, showing how much more rigorous and demanding it was in the "Days of Faith" in comparison to these modern days where Faith is failing. Is there a connection between that?
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ADVENT'S A TIME OF CARDS FOR CHRIST!
A Powerful Way to Prepare for Christmas!
This article is currently being written. Sections will be posted as they are completed. Please check back later.
ADVENT'S A TIME OF STRAW PENANCES AND CARDS FOR CHRIST
Straw? Penances? Straw Penances?
“What on earth are you talking about?” might be a valid question. Hey! (or Hay!). What has straw to do with Advent and what has straw to do with penance? You may have heard of the saying: “You cannot make bricks without straw”—which is linked to the Old Testament passage where the Pharao in Egypt spitefully refuses to give his Israelites slaves straw to make bricks with, and forces them to go find their own straw. “You cannot make bricks without straw” and you cannot build buildings without bricks:
Straw and Slaves—Bricks and Building
“That very day Pharaoh gave the overseers of the works, and the taskmasters of the people, this order, saying: ‘You shall no longer supply the people with straw for their brickmaking as before. Let them go and gather their own straw! Yet you shall levy upon them the same quota of bricks as they made previously. Do not reduce it. They are lazy; that is why they are crying, “Let us go to offer sacrifice to our God!” Increase the work for the men, so that they attend to it and not to deceitful words.’ So the taskmasters of the people and their foremen went out and told the people: ‘Thus says Pharaoh, “I will not provide you with straw! Go and get your own straw from wherever you can find it! But there will not be the slightest reduction in your work.’” The people, then, scattered throughout the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw, while the taskmasters kept driving them on, saying: ‘Finish your work, the same daily amount as when the straw was supplied to you!’ The Israelite foremen, whom the taskmasters of Pharaoh had placed over them, were beaten, and were asked, ‘Why have you not completed your prescribed amount of bricks yesterday and today, as before?’” (Exodus 5:7-14).
Gathering Straw Was A Penance!
The Israelites, who at that time were the slaves of the Egyptians, were partially deployed and employed in the making of bricks for building purposes. Straw was mixed with clay to give sun-dried bricks greater cohesion and durability. Until that time, they had been supplied with all the materials they needed for that task. However, because of their religion and desire to practice it, Pharaoh spitefully became even more disdainful of them and as a petulant punishment refused to supply them with the straw they needed to mix with clay to make the bricks and forced into the added labor of finding their own straw, without reducing in the slightest their daily expected quota. That enforced finding and gathering of straw was a PENANCE for the Israelites.
Building a Temple of God in Your Soul
Similarly, as the Israelites were used as slaves for the erecting the buildings of the Egyptians and making the materials necessary for those buildings—the straw-clay bricks—we too are supposed to build a temple for God in our soul. St. Paul tells us: “Know you not, that you are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … "Or know you not, that your members are the Temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 3:16-19). “And what agreement hath the Temple of God with idols? For you are the Temple of the living God; as God saith: ‘I will dwell in them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people!’” (2 Corinthians 6:16). “But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy. For the Temple of God is holy―which you are!” [or are supposed to be] (1 Corinthians 3:17).
By the time Jesus came into the world, the Temple of God had become worldly. "And Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the chairs of them that sold doves, and He said to them: ‘It is written, “My house shall be called the house of prayer”―but you have made it a den of thieves!’” (Matthew 21:12-13). Has the Temple of our soul become worldly too? Have the walls of our Temple collapsed and allowed the world to come into what should a sacred and holy place—the soul of a Catholic which is the Temple of God?
At Christmas, Our Lord chose to be born in a cave or stable for animals, which is symbolic of sinners, who, behaving like animals, have sinned and transformed the once beautiful Temple of their soul into a cold, dark, stinking cave. That is where Our Lord chose to be born, “for the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). He was given no fancy bed, but was placed in a manger—an eating trough for animals, which was filled with straw (which they ate). We can prepare a softer ‘bed’ for Him in our souls by placing much straw on the wood of the manger, symbolic of the wood of the cross on which He would die for us sinners. We can look upon each sacrifice, each prayer, each act of kindness, each act of patience, each kind word, each penance performed as one piece of straw that we place in the manger in readiness for Our Lord at Christmas.
This is not just something that can be done mentally, but also practically. We can actually obtain a quantity of straw and literally place one small piece of straw in the manger of our Nativity Scene that is a reserved ‘bed’ for Christ at Christmas! This is not only something that can appeal to children, but also to adults—for, as Our Lord said: “Unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 18:3).
Not a Strawman, But a True Story
Here is a little true story to inspire you in your straw collection days ahead!
Michael gazed at the tiny, soft bed of straw. “I am glad that baby Jesus will have a soft, warm bed for Christmas Eve,” he thought.
For the past week Michael had carefully tucked little pieces of straw into this tiny manger, one piece at a time. Michael thought that it just might be the best Christmas he ever had because now he was old enough to understand what Christmas was all about.
A week ago Mom had given a family home evening lesson about the true meaning of Christmas. She said that Jesus Christ was the greatest gift Heavenly Father gave to the world. Then she presented each child in the family with a small, empty manger and a tiny figure of the baby Jesus.
“For the next week you will each have a chance to give a present back to Heavenly Father,” Mom said.
“How can we do that?” Michael asked.
“Your gift to Heavenly Father will be to serve others,” she said. “Each time you do a good deed or help another person, you may add a piece of straw to your manger. The more kindness you show to others, the softer the manger will be on Christmas Eve.”
“I hope I can get more straw in my manger than anybody else!” Michael thought.
The next day Michael started working to collect straw.
“Mom, can I help you sweep the floor?” Michael asked, when he saw her cleaning the kitchen.
“I’ll help you find your teddy bear,” he told his little brother when he cried for his lost toy.
“I want to shovel some snow too,” he said when his dad went outside to shovel the driveway.
Within a few days Michael’s little manger looked very different. It was stuffed full of straw! But Michael noticed a change in himself too. He started to enjoy doing kind things for others because he knew it was what Heavenly Father wanted him to do. Sometimes he even forgot to add a piece of straw to the manger when he helped.
Michael decided that doing nice things made him feel good inside. On Christmas Eve, as he stood by the soft lights of the Christmas tree, Michael gently laid his tiny baby Jesus in the manger, which was now overflowing with straw.
Michael knew he had done the best he could to show his love for Heavenly Father and Jesus. This was the best Christmas ever.
Gather Straw Now to Avoid "Grasping For Straws" on Judgment Day
Some will say: “I don’t care two straws” about this! It’s “not worth a straw”! That has probably been the approach to Advent penance of most Catholics, time and time again, year-in-and-year-out. Such souls may well find God saying: “This is the final straw!” And another such Advent may possibly be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” or God’s patience! The more penitential straw we bring into the ‘manger’ of our soul now, the less we will be “grasping at straws” on the Day of Judgment! We make our bed and we will have to lie on it—straw mattresses have been around for centuries, let us make a King-size bed of straw for Christ this Christmas.
Straw is highly flammable and burns readily and easily. Fire is what Our Lord wants! “I am come to cast fire on the Earth! And what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Luke 12:49). Our many little straw prayers, sacrifices, penances, mortifications, acts and words of kindness, alms-giving, patient enduring, etc., will provide excellent kindling material that Christ can easily set alight in the Temples of our souls and produce a fire of divine love. Go collect those little straws and pile them on the King-size bed you are making for Jesus! You will find a real fire of love in your soul this Christmas!
IN THE NEXT ARTICLE WE SHALL LOOK AT “CARDS FOR CHRIST”!
HUNGRY FOR FOOD! PREPARING THE FOOD! BUT WHICH FOOD?
Food, Glorious Food!
Food is an essential part of life and spiritual food is an essential part of the spiritual life. We do not fail to make provisions for our earthly food, but we often neglect to make provisions for our heavenly food. God has created food to preserve our life on Earth: “that you may be preserved upon the Earth, and may have food to live” (Genesis 45:7). Yet His spiritual food—the Word of God—is of greater importance than earthly food. If we refuse to eat God’s earthly food we die physically and are consigned to a pit in the earth. If we refuse God’s spiritual food, then we die spiritually and are consigned to the pit of Hell. “For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if, by the Spirit, you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live” (Romans 8:13).
Food for the Body, Food for the Soul, Food for Thought!
You are made of body and soul and therefore you must feed both body and soul. Yet, as our catechisms teach us, the soul is of more importance than the body—yet most people take more care of the body than the soul. We even see Our Lord care for and provide for the physical hunger for food. We have the two instances where He feeds 4,000 and then 5,000 persons: “I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with Me three days, and have nothing to eat!” (Mark 8:2)—but notice that He is not feeding them miraculously every day of those three days, but HE IS FEEDING THEM DAILY with the Word of God!
The Triumph and Tragedy of Advent and Christmas
Jesus is the WORD of God and during Advent we should be preparing for the Coming of Jesus, the Coming of the Word. How else can we prepare for the Coming of the Word of God, other than reading the Word of Word? The opening lines of the Gospel of St. John are perfectly suited for Advent and Christmas—that passage is a tale of triumph and tragedy, for it speaks of the Word coming into this world and the acceptation of the Word by some, and the rejection of the Word by others.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through Him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-14).
Darkness and Light
Likewise today, there are many who prefer to sit in the darkness of world and enjoy its dark pleasures, rather than abandon those treasures of darkness and come to the Light of Christ! Some will emerge from the darkness of this world by taking the tunnel of Advent in which they can see a glimmer of the Light of Christ at the end of the tunnel. Others will remain in that darkness for yet another year, as they already have, year after year after year in the past.
Advent and Christmas—All Focused on Food
Advent and Christmas go together like shopping for food and then eating that food, or preparing the meal and then eating the meal. Advent is a time of preparation for ‘eating’ of the Word of God (Christ) at Christmas. Find that a hard to believe? Well, look at Christmas then! What does the Hebrew word “Bethlehem” mean? It means “Town of Bread”! What is the Infant Jesus placed into once He is born? He is placed in a manger—an eating trough for animals―and the word “manger” comes from the Latin word “manducare” meaning “to eat” or “to devour.” The Latin “manducare” evolved into the Modern Italian “mangiare” also meaning “to eat” and the Old French “mengier” and the Modern French “manger” both of which are verbs meaning “to eat.”
Therefore, Our Lord comes to be eaten, to be devoured! Does that sound a bit strong and cannibalistic to you? Listen to Our Lord Himself, who offers Himself as a recipe for salvation! Yet, just as St. John pointed out in the above Gospel passage—some believed in Him and accepted Him, while other did not believe in Him and rejected Him—so too does Jesus bring out this tragic split between belief and non-belief, acceptance and rejection, in the following passage:
“Then Jesus said to them: ‘Amen, amen I say to you; Moses gave you not bread from Heaven, but My Father giveth you the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is that which cometh down from Heaven, and giveth life to the world!’ They said therefore unto Him: ‘Lord, give us always this bread!’ And Jesus said to them: ‘I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall not hunger: and he that believeth in Me shall never thirst! But I said unto you, that you also have seen Me, and you believe not. All that the Father giveth to Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me, I will not cast out. Because I came down from Heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.  Now this is the will of the Father who sent Me: that of all that he hath given Me, I should lose nothing; but should raise it up again in the last day. And this is the will of My Father that sent Me―that everyone who seeth the Son, and believeth in Him, may have life everlasting, and I will raise him up in the last day.’
“The Jews therefore murmured at Him, because He had said: ‘I am the living bread which came down from Heaven.’ And they said: ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then saith He, “I came down from Heaven?”’
Jesus therefore answered, and said to them: ‘Murmur not among yourselves! ... Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in Me, hath everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from Heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die. I am the living bread which came down from Heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is My flesh, for the life of the world.’
“The Jews therefore argued among themselves, saying: ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ Then Jesus said to them: ‘Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
For My flesh is meat indeed: and My blood is drink indeed. He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me. This is the bread that came down from Heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever!’
“These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum. Many therefore of His disciples, hearing it, said: ‘This saying is hard, and who can hear it?’ But Jesus, knowing in Himself, that His disciples murmured at this, said to them: ‘Doth this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. But there are some of you that believe not!’ For Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was, that would betray Him.
“After this many of His disciples went back; and walked no more with Him. Then Jesus said to the Twelve: ‘Will you also go away? And Simon Peter answered Him: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life!’” (John 6:32-69).
No Faith! No Food!
Most Catholics (of the minority who still retain a belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist)—in practice but not in theory—place more importance in their daily earthly bread or food, than they place in their daily heavenly Bread or Food! The Holy Eucharist clearly comes in second place after their daily earthly food and mealtimes. Most, unless they have the grace to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on a daily basis, rarely think about the greatest Treasure that exists upon Earth—Our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist. To be even more critical, most Catholics do not even think much of the Holy Eucharist when do go to Sunday Mass—and only 20% of baptized Catholics attend Sunday Mass regularly!
If you cannot get to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on a daily basis or even occasionally, then you find yourself in what could be called an “Advent Dilemma” or in “Advent Mode”—because during Advent we look forward to Christ coming, but Christ is not here, Christ will only come at Christmas. Similarly, during the week, perhaps you cannot get to daily Mass, Christ cannot come really and truly to your soul with His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—so you have an “Advent Dilemma” and find yourself in the “Advent Mode” of looking longingly (we hope) and expectantly (we hope) to the next Sunday when He will come again to your soul!
Spiritual and Virtual Presence
When someone is not physically present, then we make them ‘spiritually’ present or ‘virtually’ present—today the term “virtual reality” is a popular phrase. When a loved-one is absent, or even deceased (such as parents or grandparents), we make them “spiritually” or “virtually” present in our minds and hearts by thinking about them, looking at photographs of them, or even listening to audio recordings or watching video recordings of them. If they are alive—we can even call them up on the phone and talk to them—even though we are not in their physical presence. Though we would prefer to be with them, we temporarily satisfy ourselves with these “second-best” measures. If our “nearest and dearest” were not frequently made to be “spiritually” or “virtually” present in our minds, hearts and memories, then they would gradually cease to be classified amongst our “dearest” and would fade from mind, heart and memory. Generally, what we love the most is what we think about the most and talk about the most.
Spiritually Numb and Virtually Dead
What was just said of our “nearest and dearest” being made to be “spiritually” or “virtually” present, should be all the more true of the One Who really should be (but isn’t) our “nearest and dearest” to our minds and hearts—that is to say, Our Lord Jesus Christ! Not only is Jesus our GOD--“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment!” (Mark 12:30)—but Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, also made us--“The Word was with God, and the Word was God … All things were made by Him: and without Him was made nothing that was made” (John 1:1-3)—so we owe our very existence and life to Him more than we owe it to our parents.
Not only that, but we also—know it or not, believe it or not, like it or not, admit it or not—we also are totally dependent upon Him for EVERYTHING—as Jesus points out: “Without Me, you can do nothing!” (John 15:5). His Divine Providence is behind, not just the big things and major events of our lives, but His Providence is behind even the tiniest and seemingly most insignificant petty details of our lives--“Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them! Are not you of much more value than they? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow! They labor not, neither do they spin! And if the grass of the field―which exists today and tomorrow is cast into the oven―God doth so clothe: then how much more you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:26-30). “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father! But the very hairs of your head are all numbered by God! Fear not therefore! You are worth more than many sparrows!” (Matthew 10:92-31).
Such is the immensity and extent of Christ’s (God’s) interest and care for our lives—yet such love and care is repaid by a loveless and “couldn’t-care-less” attitude on the part of most of mankind! The problem of the world today, and the problem with most Catholics in Advent, is that their souls (like a computer) have entered “Advent Mode”—which is a kind of “sleep mode” that computers are programmed to enter into after a given period of time of the turned-on computer being left unused. “Sleep Mode” does not mean that the computer is “turned-off”, it just means that certain computer systems temporarily “go to sleep” until they are once again “woken-up” by the computer being used once again.
This is a common Catholic mode of existence—which is why the Church’s Advent liturgy tries to rouse us from our sleep, and urges us to move from inactivity to activity: “Brethren! Understand, for it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe! The night is far advanced; the day is at hand! Let us therefore lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us walk becomingly as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy! But put on the Lord Jesus Christ!” (Romans 13:11-14).
Yet most Catholics remain in spiritual “sleep-mode”—spiritually numb to Advent and what it is meant to achieve in our souls, and spiritually dead to its message, its requirements and its purpose.
This article is still being written. Please keep checking back!
WHEN ADVENT WAS WELL SPENT!
Today's Advent Is A "Piece of Cake" Compared to the Advents of Old!
A HISTORY OF ADVENT AND ITS PENANCES
The name “Advent” is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honor of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation (which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the west. since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the feast of Christmas, until that feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December; which was done in the east only towards the close of the fourth century; whereas it is certain that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.
We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Savior, by works of penance: and secondly, as a series of ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the feast of Christmas. We have two sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others which were formerly attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, but which were probably written by St. Cesarius of ArIes.
If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and what the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, St. Bernard, and several other doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the bishops admonish that prince not to call them away from their Churches during Lent or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfil, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.
The oldest document in which we find the length and exercises of Advent mentioned with anything like clearness, is a passage in the second book of the History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours, where he says that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that see about the year 480, had decreed a fast three times a week, from the feast of St. Martin until Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether St. Perpetuus, by his regulations, established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of forty-three days, so expressly mentioned, and consecrated to penance, as though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that which precedes Easter.
Later on, we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Macon, held in 582, ordaining that during the same interval between St. Martin's day and Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, should be fasting days, and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to the Lenten rite. Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for the laity: and it was commonly called St. Martin's Lent. The capitularia of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter; and Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of clerics, bears testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on St. Martin's feast, just as we see them practiced now at the approach of Lent and Easter.
The obligation of observing this Lent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, and the forty days from St. Martin's day to Christmas were reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed first in France; but thence it spread into England, as we find from Venerable Bede's history; into Italy, as appears from a diploma of Astolphus, king of the Lombards, dated 753 ; into Germany, Spain, etc., of which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dom Martene, On the ancient rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advent's being reduced to four weeks is to be found in the ninth century, in a letter of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona, and of Abbé of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove that, even then, the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true that St. Peter Damian, in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for forty days; and that St. Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that length of time; but as far as this holy king is concerned, it is probable that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.
The discipline of the Churches of the west, after having reduced the time of the Advent fast, so far relented, in a few years, as to change the fast into a simple abstinence; and we even find Councils of the twelfth century, for instance Selingstadt in 1122, and Avranches in 1172, which seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, would seem to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no doubt, to there never havjng been any uniformity of discipline regarding it in the western Church), we find Pope Innocent III, in his letter to the bishop of Braga, mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome; and Durandus, in the same thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that holy time.
This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse, that when, in 1362, Pope Urban V endeavored to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. St. Charles Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan to the spirit, if not to the letter, of ancient times. In his fourth Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to Communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent and Advent; and afterwards addressed to the faithful themselves a pastoral letter, in which, after having reminded them of the dispositions wherewith they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least, of each week in Advent.
Finally, Pope Benedict XIV, when Archbishop of Bologna, following these illustrious examples, wrote his eleventh Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the minds of his diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times had of the holy season of Advent, and of removing an erroneous opinion which prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent concerned religious only and not the laity. He shows them that such an opinion, unless it be limited to the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is, strictly speaking, rash and scandalous since it cannot be denied that, in the laws and usages of the universal Church, there exist special practices, having for their end to prepare the faithful for the great feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though with much less rigor than that of Lent. It consists of forty days, beginning with November 14th, the day on which this Church keeps the feast of the apostle St. Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain from flesh-meat, butter, milk, and eggs; but they are allowed, which they are not during Lent, fish, oil, and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is binding only on seven out of the forty days; and the whole period goes under the name of St. Philip's Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations by this distinction: that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of apostolic institution.
But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the season of Advent, have been, in the western Church, so gradually relaxed as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries, the general character of the liturgy of this holy time has not changed; and it is by their zeal in following its spirit, that the faithful will prove their earnestness in preparing for Christmas. (Our recent English observance of fast and abstinence on the Wednesdays and Fridays in Advent, may, in some sense, be regarded as a remnant of the ancient discipline.
TIME TO PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST!
The first and most important thing that you will need for a truly profitable, spiritual and successful Advent season is one commodity that most people protest is very hard to find! What is it? It is TIME!
Most people have developed a bad habit of “fitting God in” rather than “making time for God”! When we merely “fit God in”—we make God to be a secondary thing, an afterthought, an option, maybe even an inconvenience. When we “make time for God”—we make God to be our primary focus, we clear other things out of the way, we look upon God as an essential and a necessity. What will you do this Advent? “Fit God in” or “Make time for God”? Your choice will send a clear message to Heaven!
In case anyone ever needed a reminder, here is what Our Lord says: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His justice” (Luke 12:31). “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment!” (Mark 12:30). “Lay not up to yourselves treasures on Earth … But lay up to yourselves treasures in Heaven ... For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also … No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon!” (Matthew 6:19-24).
What is the most common response and reaction—God Himself tells us: “God looked down from Heaven on the children of men: to see if there were any that did understand, or did seek God. All have gone aside, they are become unprofitable together, there is none that doth good, no not one” (Psalm 52:3-4). Will your Advent be unprofitable (again)? Will you go aside from the path that God marks out for you? Will you prefer to be preoccupied with mammon rather than God? Will you cater more to the body than the soul? Hopefully not!
That is the whole purpose behind this Advent project—to seek first the kingdom of God. To seek His justice—and justice means giving someone what they deserve! Do we really think that God deserves nothing from us? Isn’t it about time we gave God at least one single worthy Advent after having given Him scores of imperfect, indifferent, lukewarm and lax ones? This is the first thing that we have to decide and settle upon before we go any further. The mind and the heart must first be resolved and unified—actions follow thoughts, ideas and resolutions. If you cannot decide in your mind and heart to give God a worthy Advent, then no amount of materials is going to change anything—it will be just another half-hearted, half-baked, half-interested, half-done Advent, just like all the rest! God deserves better than that!
TENTATIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. THE PURPOSE AND MEANING OF ADVENT
2. The MAIN CHARACTERS OF THE ADVENT SEASON
3. DAILY ADVENT Examination of Conscience
4. GENERAL PRAYERS FOR THE ADVENT SEASON
5. MORNING PRAYERS FOR ADVENT
6. NIGHT PRAYERS FOR ADVENT
7. THE ANGELUS
8. THE HOLY ROSARY FOR ADVENT
9. ADVENT CUSTOMS AND PRACTICES
10. ADVENT WREATH PRAYERS AND READINGS
11 PENANCES IN THE ADVENT SEASON
12 ADVENT HYMNS
13 PRAYERS, READINGS AND RITUAL FOR MEALTIMES DURING ADVENT
14 A LIST OF RECOMMENDED ADVENT READING