Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Advent

Encourage & Teach: The Christmas Countdown – Catholic Style!

This time of year every kid, and dare I say a good number of adults, are eagerly counting down the days to Christmas. As a child, my family had one of those great window Advent calendars where you opened a window daily to reveal a thought or picture inside. It helped us to track where we were in the Advent season. The Church does the same thing through the liturgy and it starts tomorrow on December 17.

The church’s countdown system is called the “O Antiphons.” (Read more…)

Encourage & Teach: Advent and the Second Coming

jesus-revelation19In college I was surprised when a close friend explained her family crèche. It wasn’t the style or the model that caused me to pause. It was the addition of a figurine that I had neither seen nor considered before. This particular set included not only the baby Jesus figurine but an additional Jesus as described in Revelation 19:11-13,

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.

Let’s be honest, nothing says Christmas like an image of Jesus with “eyes blazing like fire and a robe dipped in blood.” (Read more…)

Rest Stop Before the Christmas Rush

snoopy.upThe Diocese of Arlington Chancery participated in an Advent Day of Reflection today in order to better assist us in our journey towards the Solemnity of the Nativity…otherwise known as Christmas. Fr. Stan Krempa, Pastor of Sacred Heart parish, shared a short piece by Fr. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. that I think encapsulates what we need to know this week. Wanted to share…Enjoy!

Advent Credo

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.
From Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, by Daniel Berrigan, S.J. Orbis Books, 2004.


Homily: Living Dangerously

second adventThere is much hustle and bustle taking place here in Northern Virginia to prepare for Christmas which is a little over two weeks away. Let’s consider a few thoughts together to place our preparation in context.

When we think of the first Christmas, we have a much sanitized perspective which does all of us a grave disservice. Consider the following:

A teenage girl rides into Bethlehem pregnant with a baby that does not even belong to her husband. And, he is so poor, that the best shelter he can muster for them in a “back-woods” poverty-stricken, no-name town is a stable that they will share with the local livestock. This stable is probably a rocky-hewn cave that is filthy, damp, cold, and smells like dung. Not to mention the only crib which the mother has to use is likely a disease-laden food trough lined with animal slobber to lay her first-born son in who also happens to be the Son of God. That’s not the bad part yet.«Continue Reading»

Encourage and Teach: Traveling with St. Nicholas

This Friday, December 6, is the feast of St. Nicholas. While most know him here in the United States as Santa Claus, he travels around the world, it seems, under a number of aliases…

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The Christmas Countdown

Children everywhere have suddenly become living saints. Consequently, parents love this time of year because we know our kids understand that ‘Ole Saint Nick is checking his list (twice) to find out who has been naughty and nice. The Church too recognizes the importance of these final days of Advent. The Christmas clock has officially begun the fateful countdown.

This sacred time countdown is liturgically framed during Vespers each day and have been called the O Antiphons. In a special way, these prayers allow the Father through the liturgy to gently woo our hearts to His Son. These scriptural texts both summarize and highlight all the promises of Father to His son’s intended.

Over the next eight days, it would benefit us to steal away and spend time in His presence reflecting on this scriptural passages. Let the Holy Spirit stir our hearts, heighten our expectations and till the soil of our hearts…the Lord will not disappoint us.

I pray that these final days of Advent prepare you to receive the Christ-child in all His splendor and glory. If our hearts are true and our preparation is not rushed, we will be able next Saturday to hear in the depths of our spirits Ero Cras!: Tomorrow, I come!

Here are the O Antiphons to assist:

Gaudete Sunday: A Season of Evangelization

The Church today has named this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. As we all know, Gaudete means joy but it is a very specific type of joy – a subdued, subtle joy. Not a full blown joy but more of a quiet “yay”. Why is that? Because we are still in a penitential season. The Christmas carols are not yet supposed to be playing, or at least, not constantly and at full blast. Of course that is a little hard at the office or on the Metro. That being said, we should be preparing for Christmas with an attitude of quiet and stillness. The words of Psalm 46:10 come to mind,

Be still and know that I am God.

If we do not embrace this season of Advent, how are we supposed to hear what obstacles the Lord desires to remove from our lives? If we do not make room for him in our heart, He once again will hear that there is no room in the inn.  We try to practice this at every liturgy when we say,

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Seriously, and let’s be honest, have we used the last two weeks to make room in our hearts for the revelation or the unveiling of His presence that He desires for us at Christmas? How are we to experience Christmas joy if we are celebrating up to that day? He has a special joy for us but it means we first must be still and quiet.

But there is a more important reason for us who claim Christ as our Lord and our love. Literally two weeks ago, speaking about the United States, Pope Benedict said:

“Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts” (Pope Benedict XVI, To the Bishops from the United States of America on their ad Limina visit, Nov. 26, 2011).

We need to use this time of preparation because it is our duty and obligation to provide a reason and a context for this season…

Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing two baby boys, Daniel and Joshua who can now say with the prophet Isaiah,

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; (Isaiah 61:1a)

We who have been baptized also share in that anointing and thus we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to:

bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners,(Isaiah 61:1b)

In imitation of John the Baptist, we need to be that,

voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”(John 1:23, cf. Isaiah 40:3)

Over the next two weeks, many of us here will be at holiday parties. And, while the culture encourages, much to its credit, a season of generosity and gift-giving…I look around and cannot help but wonder if it is not a distraction for hearts in which “the love of God has grown cold.” Bishop Loverde shared this week that he sees in the culture (and the Church) that Advent does not seem to build

“toward the coming (adventus) and reliving of the Christ Child’s birth in our lives, but rather toward some blend of sentimentalism, vacation and entertainment.”[1]

We will inevitably meet those who are not practicing Christians and who are looking at us…looking at me asking, “Does he have something that I do not? Is he any different because of Christ? Why does he celebrate this season?”

«Continue Reading»

Celebrating Advent

Today begins the new liturgical year and our “little Lent” in preparation for the Solemnity of the Incarnation. Why do we have a year that is separate from the secular calendar year? Simply put, the liturgical year is meant to be the guiding principal of a Catholic’s temporal cycle and life:

94.[1] The liturgical year is the temporal structure within which the Church celebrates the holy mysteries of Christ: “From the Incarnation and the Nativity to the Ascension, to Pentecost and to the wait in joyful hope for the Lord’s coming”(109).[2] [Emphasis mine]

Within the liturgical cycle the Divine Liturgy occupies priority of place. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,”[3] all our devotions are intended to flow to and from the liturgy. Our spirituality or liturgical life necessarily consists of those devotions that assist us to grow in holiness. And since we live in a temporal world that is meant to express eternity, our devotions are expressed within the appropriate season:

In the liturgical year, “the celebration of the Paschal Mystery […] is the most privileged moment in the daily, weekly and annual celebration of Christian worship”(110).[4] Consequently, the priority of the Liturgical year over any other devotional form or practice must be regarded as a touch stone for the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety.[5]

Even how we decorate and live out the various seasons is catechetical, not only to our children but also to our family and friends. Advent is no different. Don’t get me wrong, the “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” branding is great. However, I think we would make much more of an impact if we lived out our Catholic traditions with fervor and diligence in accordance with the appropriate seasons. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, everyone knew you were Catholic because you did not eat meat on Friday. And yes, it was abused at times but for the faithful who integrated the pastoral theology of the Church, the testimony was simple and profound.

So, what does the Church say about Advent? At first glance, I am sure you are saying, “Wait, they actually provide guidance of how we are to live out Advent?” Yep! We’ve been doing this for 2000 years and have collected a few good ideas.

The document for guidance is contained in the Directory for Popular Piety and the Liturgy (DPPL) which was revised and promulgated in 2001 by the Congregation on Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW). Additionally, for those who think it is just another document and lazy reading for a rainy day, it is issued by a Pontifical Congregation, therefore, is binding on all Catholics.

What does it say? Glad you asked. The DPPL provides a rich and beautiful set of options (not all inclusive but those that most generously express the richness of our faith in accordance with the season) to properly prepare us for and during this season. Advent of courses is a time of expectation and waiting,

  • waiting-memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge;
  • conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3,2);
  • joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and “we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is” (John 3,2).[6]

The Church recommends a number of devotions to assist us on this journey called Advent. This journey is meant to help us “relive” the four stages of revelation prior to the Nativity. To do so, we are encouraged to make use of the Advent Wreath by:

Placing four candles on green fronds has become a symbol of Advent in many Christian home, especially in the Germanic countries and in North America.

The Advent wreath, with the progressive lighting of its four candles, Sunday after Sunday, until the Solemnity of Christmas, is a recollection of the various stages of salvation history prior to Christ’s coming and a symbol of the prophetic light gradually illuminating the long night prior to the rising of the Sun of justice (cf. Ml 3,20; Lk 1,78).[7]

No one would argue that Advent is unmistakably Marian. Our Eastern brethren take our Lady’s role in the plan of salvation so seriously that it purposefully highlights her role through its calendar and liturgies:

In the calendars of the Oriental Churches, the period of preparation for the celebration of the manifestation (Advent) of divine salvation (Theophany) in the mysteries of Christmas-Epiphany of the Only Son of God, is markedly Marian in character. Attention is concentrated on preparation for the Lord’s coming in the Deipara. For the Orientals, all Marian mysteries are Christological mysteries since they refer to the mystery of our salvation in Christ. In the Coptic rite, the Lauds of the Virgin Mary are sung in the Theotokia. Among the Syrians, Advent is referred to as the Subbara or Annunciation, so as to highlight its Marian character. The Byzantine Rite prepares for Christmas with a whole series of Marian feasts and rituals.[8]

Of special note in the Latin Rite is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The themes associated with the Immaculate Conception are central to Advent. Here in the America’s, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place in our tradition because of its connection to the Immaculate Conception and evangelistic outreach to Central and South Americans.

Among the recommended devotions is the display of a manger or crib – and by extension the crèche,

As is well known, in addition to the representations of the crib found in churches since antiquity, the custom of building cribs in the home was widely promoted from the thirteenth century, influenced undoubtedly by St. Francis of Assisi’s crib in Greccio. Their preparation, in which children play a significant role, is an occasion for the members of the family to come into contact with the mystery of Christmas, as they gather for a moment of prayer or to read the biblical accounts of the Lord’s birth.[9]

There are a number of traditions that may assist us prepare during Advent and Christmastide. To the growing Hispanic American and our Italian population processions are a traditional expressions for devotions.

In many regions, various kinds of processions are held in Advent, publicly to announce the imminent birth of the Saviour (the “day star” in some Italian processions), or to represent the journey to Bethlehem of Joseph and Mary and their search for a place in which Jesus would be born (the posadas in the Hispanic and Latin American tradition).[10]

Since Pentecost, the very first novena, popular devotion and piety has developed a number of novenas in connection to various feasts. The Christmas novena is an exciting way to blend a child’s Christmas expectations with prayer and the posture of the Advent season:

The Christmas novena began as a means of communicating the riches of the Liturgy to the faithful who were unable easily to grasp it. It has played a very effective role and can continue to play such a role. At the same time, in current conditions where the faithful have easier access to the Liturgy, it would seem desirable that vespers from the 17-23 of December should be more solemn by adopting the use of the “major antiphons”, and by inviting the faithful to participate at the celebration. Such a celebration, held either before of after which the popular devotions to which the faithful are particularly attached, would be an ideal “Christmas novena”, in full conformity with the Liturgy and mindful of the needs of the faithful. Some elements, such as the homily, the use of incense, and the intercessions, could also be expanded within the celebration of Vespers.[11]

Most Catholics would connect this novena with the “O Anthipons” made popular through the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Just to add a note of snark, why is it that parishes use this song as the premier Advent song when it is meant to be used between the dates of December 17 – 24 ? Just a question.

Hopefully, this is a beginning to understand our tradition of celebrating Advent. Popular piety has a way of conserving the themes and practices that the Church desires us to keep during the Advent without losing ourselves in the commercialization:

Popular piety, because of its intuitive understanding of the Christian mystery, can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality.[12]

If we have learned nothing over the past 200 years, popular piety has taught us that that Advent is meant to be a time of sober and joyous simplicity. The sobriety is usually overlooked because we forget that we not only anticipating the first coming of our Lord but also His Second Coming. This understanding will cause us to examine our conscience, repent of our sins and make room for our Lord to be born in our hearts.

As we prepare for Christmas, let’s first live out our Advent. Christmas will be here sooner than we want. May this little Lent be a time of profound spiritual renewal. Take a look at your devotions and align them with the liturgy and watch your spiritual life deepen beyond your wildest dreams.

[1] Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments (CDW), Directory On Popular Piety And The Liturgy (DPPL), (2001) 94.

[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 102.

[3] Lumen Gentium, 11. cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324.

[4] PAUL VI, Apostolic Letter Mysterii paschalis, in AAS 61 (1969) 222.

[5] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 94.

[6] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 96.

[7] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 98.

[8] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 101.

[9] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 104.

[10] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 9.

[11] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 103.

[12] CDW, DPPL, (2001) 105.

Feast of Adam & Eve

On the old calendar, today is the Feast of Adam and Eve. In the Germanic countries, many families put up their Christmas or Paradise trees. The tradition finds its origin in the European Passion Plays which were performed in accordance with the particular feast of the day.

As we have mentioned in previous posts, first we fast then we feast. Christmas Eve we celebrate the fall of man and then on the Feast of the Incarnation we celebrate the Hope of our Glory. The Son of God condescends Himself from the Blessed Trinity to become the Word made flesh.

Blessings to you who are preparing for Christmas. Parents with young kids…well, you know…

The Last of the Great Antiphons

I thought we would end the sequence with the recitation of the O Emmanuel antiphon by the studentate of the Oxford Dominicans.