An Advent Tale, Or, Christmas Miracles Do Happen

by John M. Joyce (December 2011)


Peter Mark Lignarius was a woodworker in my Parish, more precisely he was the woodworker in my Parish. He was a late thirty-something, tall and handsome woodworker with gray-green eyes and a head of curly dark brown hair. A plain gold wedding band graced his digitus annularis but his mien, at the time of this little tale, was not that of a happily married man but that of man who carried great burdens and who knew grief at first-hand. Such, indeed, was the case for despite being successful in his chosen profession (there was nothing about wood and the working of wood that he didn't know and he also owned a small plantation whereon he grew his own trees for future use) Peter Lignarius was a profoundly unhappy and very, very depressed man.

He had good reason to be depressed. Three years ago now, on the 2nd. of December, 2008, his wife of fifteen years had been the victim of an hit and run driver and had died in Peter's arms in hospital that evening. He was left to care for and raise their two children by himself. The driver of the van that had hit his wife and had sent her spinning into the gutter was never caught; witnesses described him as 'Asian' and 'young' and 'dressed strangely'. Despite that and his shock and his grief Peter knuckled down to the task at hand and comforted his children, Andrew aged ten and Mary aged twelve, and did his best to provide them with all the love and all the wordly and spiritual possessions he could manage.

However, cruel fate was not finished with Peter. The year after his wife was killed his son, Andrew, was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of leukaemia. Andrew didn't survive the treatment and he died on the 14th. of December, 2009. I buried him in our Churchyard next to his ancestors and in the shelter of the decani wall. As you can no doubt imagine Peter and his daughter, Mary, were utterly devastated. They clung to one another through a second horrendous, for them, Christmas and their grief and their grieving were all they could summon of themselves for many, many weeks. The two people in the whole world whom they loved the most had been called home in Advent,5 in the new year of their belief, and even their faith couldn't console them for their loss. Those of us who knew them that Christmastide were worried about them. We prayed for them. We visited them when we could and when they would let us, but it took until late April before they could bear to be with company other than at the Services in the Church which they regularly attended.

Time, and springtime, seemed to help them. They resumed their lives and even returned to the life of the Church and joined us all after worship for tea and chatter, as they had been wont to do. They weren't the happy people we had known before, but we didn't expect them to be. The gradually warming days as summer approached seem to help them – to carry them further away from their dark days of raw and immediate grief perhaps – and although we detected the odd silence in which memory was obviously present these grew further and further apart as the year progressed. Inevitably December, and Advent – the liturgical new year, the word is from the Latin word adventus meaning 'coming' – approached again and we were all glad to see from the list in the Church porch that both Peter and Mary were going to read a lesson each at the Christmas Eve Nine Lessons and Carols Service.

I should mention here that for many years our small village Church had felt the lack of a Nativity Scene. The Puritans had utterly destroyed ours at the Reformation (they had also done considerable damage to our Church which has taken us until today to put right and their vandalism has never been forgiven in our small community). Most Churches have one as a teaching aid to help the young understand the celebration of the Great Feast of the  Birth of our Lord and Saviour and the historical period of this most important event, and some of them are very old and exquisitely made. Some are large, almost lifelike, and some are small and intimate like children's toys, but all are remembered fondly, and treasured, by their respective congregations. My congregation didn't have one, but we had taken steps to remedy that lack. Just before Christmas 2009 we had raised a certain amount of money and we had commissioned Peter Lignarius to make us one; but obviously, given his tragic circumstances, we didn't expect to have any of it ready by the rapidly approaching Christmas of 2010.

Peter had opted to carve the scene in a two-thirds of life size representation and to make a representation of the traditional stable and people it with four shepherds, three 'kings', an Angel, some sheep and lambs, the symbolic ox and ass and, of course, the Holy Family itself with the Christ Child resting in a crib; all in all twenty figures, which, from all we had been able to glean from our records, was exactly what our original Nativity Scene had before its destruction. Obviously, the whole tableau was going to be too large for inside the Church (as was, apparently, the medieval destroyed one) so the only thing that remained to be decided was which porch it should be assembled beside. Due to the layout of our village both porches were used almost equally by those coming and going to Church. The porch on the cantoris side was, naturally, slightly more exposed to the weather than the porch on the decani side and the weather issue definitely swung the decision in favour of the southern side – a decision with which Peter wholeheartedly concurred.

So it was that we all got a big surprise that year when Peter was observed on Saturday the twenty-first of November, the Saturday before 'stir-up' Sunday, erecting hard by the south porch what could only be the stable of our new tableau. There was, naturally, great hope that Peter and his daughter were through the worst of their grieving time – and also we were all excited to see what Peter had carved for we all knew him to be highly skilled. As you all know the Collect for the Sunday Next Before Advent is “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”1 and we were all certainly stirred up to talk to Peter after Matins the day after he started to build the stable. However, he wouldn't give anything away about the figures other than they were nearly finished and as he finalised them he would put them in position once he had finished building the stable setting. He was equally as unforthcoming after Holy Communion and, fortunately for his sanity, he didn't attend Evensong or Compline. The Gospel reading that Sunday was John 6:5-14 (the feeding of the five thousand) and I couldn't help but think that Peter must have felt a bit like Philip being proved by Jesus.

*** *** ***

All through that week the stable took shape. Our verger, Henry Providor, laid aside his virge and put off his cassock, chimere and jabot and turned his attention to the electric lighting of the scene. Everything had to be done in such a way that the whole thing could be dismantled and re-erected relatively easily year after year and Henry and Peter were determined to get it right. By Advent Sunday they had finished it, and the stable could be lit at the flick of a switch in the Vestry. A large silver star made from highly polished aluminium had been hung above it suspended from one of the gargoyles on the roof edge of the decani side nave aisle. At the apex of its roof there was a base all ready to receive the carving of the Angel and the positions for the rest of the figures had their secure fittings in place as well. That Patriarch2 Sunday just before Holy Communion and the lighting of the first Advent Candle3 Peter brought the crib for the Christ Child to the scene and put it in place. It was a work of art, beautifully put together and impressively ornamentally carved, and it promised well for the rest of the figures, the faces of which, Peter explained, he was still putting the final touches to.

I'll always remember that first Monday in Advent, the last Monday in November of that year, for that was the Monday that Peter's daughter, Mary, was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a gang of 'Asian' youths. She had gone shopping in our nearby town and because her father was busy she had taken the bus and it was on her was back to the bus stop, as she took a short-cut through a narrow alley, that she was brutally seized, dragged into a back-yard and gang raped before being repeatedly stabbed with a large kitchen knife. The shopkeeper whose back-yard it was found her as he closed up and called the emergency services but she died in the ambulance on her way to hospital, crucially, after having identified two of her attackers, thank G-d.

The following day, as soon as I heard the news, I hurried round to Peter's place but he wouldn't answer the door or, indeed, speak to anybody. He didn't speak to anyone at the funeral on the following Friday as we laid the lovely girl to rest beside her mother and her brother in the shadow of the south transept amongst Lignarius' family tombs going back centuries. He looked terrible, as if all the life had been sucked out of him. I didn't think then that he would survive the winter for I'd seen that look often enough before amongst my parishioners and it indicated to me the lack of any will to stay alive.

You can imagine my surprise, then, on the day after the funeral to find Peter in the Churchyard hoisting his carving of the Angel onto its plinth at the apex of the roof of the stable as I hurried, slightly late, into the Church. I said Matins for my small Saturday congregation with my words punctuated by the thumps of Peter's tools and the striking of wood against wood. After the short service I deliberately left the Church through the South porch even though the Vestry door is more convenient for the village inn (whither I was bound on an errand of mercy and not, as you may think, for quaffing pleasure) in order to observe Peter's work and, if possible, to talk to him.

Peter was standing in the Churchyard in front of the Stable looking up at the Angel. He'd obviously finished fixing the statue onto its plinth and he was winding up the hoisting ropes he'd used. I looked up at the Angel and found myself gazing at the most terrifyingly austere carved face. It was a still face, a face that gave away nothing at all, a face without any trace of emotion whatsoever, but at the same time a face that was majestic and awe inspiring. There was something disquietingly familiar about the whole winged figure hovering there with his arms stretched out in the universal Christian gesture of blessing and welcome – something I couldn't quite put my finger on. The statue had hints of colour about it. Rather than paint the whole carving Peter had applied colour, slightly muted I think, at just the right points to allow the eye and the brain to interpret as the viewer willed. I will always remember it between Advents as clothed fully in lush and gorgeous red and white and gold even though I know that these are just some of the colours that Peter's work can allow one to see.

I looked at Peter and said: “He's wonderful, magnificent. You've excelled yourself.” A craftsman deserves the praise he's earned.

He grunted and glanced in my direction.

“Before you ask I'm doing pretty much as Our Lord did on the Holy Rood. It's all I can say and it's all I want to say.” With that he walked off in the direction of his house and workshop at the very edge of the village.

I knew what he meant, of course. Just like any Christian he was taking his pain and grief and suffering and offering it to G-d as some small token that he too now understood in some small way the suffering of Our Lord Jesus upon the Cross – and that that suffering and pain and grief brings us closer to the Crucifixion and allows us in some small measure to partake in Our Lord's suffering. In a sense, we offer our suffering to G-d as a gift from our inmost selves – a gift of sharing and understanding but always with thanks for the original gift to us by Him. I started after Peter but I had the good sense to realise that there really was nothing I could do for him at that time.

December the fifth, the day after Peter raised the Angel, was the Second Sunday in Advent – the Sunday when prayers are usually said for the Prophets and they are remembered. I will remember that Second Sunday as the day that Peter brought his carving of the Mother of G-d to the Stable and fixed it in place. She was beautiful. You would swear that she was clothed in lapis-blue robes as tradition dictates, but in reality Peter had just hinted at the colour in all the correct places. His skill and artistry were plain in the flow of the grain of the wood and in the swish of her gown that I swear you could almost hear. Her face, ah, her face – still and pure and clean-lined like a fine Byzantine Icon, with just somehow a hint of suffering around the eyes, but it was the radiant stillness of the face that spoke to me and it took me several hours to realise that the model was his late wife.

Again, Peter said nothing but took the plaudits directed to him as his undoubted due, but with modesty. I thought to myself that he looked a little more gaunt and withdrawn than on the previous day.

*** *** ***

Day by day throughout the rest of Advent Peter delivered the remaining figures. Each one, including the animals, was a masterpiece in its own right. Joseph was delivered on Rose Sunday – the Sunday of the Forerunner, John the Baptist, for whom we say prayers on that day – and like all the figures the face was still and calm and almost stylised but it was still, unmistakably, Peter's face if one looked closely. One of the Shepherds was obviously a shepherdess and her face was that of his daughter. One of the Kings had obviously been modelled on his son but the faces of the remaining two Magi and the other Shepherds were all based on different people from our village; all the faces were beautiful yet detached, still, calm and remote. Peter's face just became more haggard as each figure was delivered.

Finally, on the nineteenth, the Fourth Sunday in that Advent season and the one dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Peter delivered the model of the Christ Child and fixed It in the Crib. The face of the Child, just like all the others, was still and composed but also, in this case, happy. The tableau was complete.

That Sunday Peter attended all the services. He even came to the usually sparsely attended Compline service and departed, as we all did, in the quiet of the Great Silence.6

I meant to go and visit Peter on the Monday because I was very worried about him. He had looked so lost, so at the end, as he'd left Compline that all my fears about him had returned. However, he showed up for Evensong that Monday night before Christmas and although it seemed to me that his eyes looked as if there was no life in him I resolved to wait and see before offering any more spiritual comfort. On the Tuesday I said all the usual offices but Peter didn't show up to any of them – nor did I see him on Wednesday, as I realised when I prepared for bed that night. I made a mental note to visit him the following day then said my Prayers and fell into sleep.

I awoke on that Thursday the twenty-third in the sure knowledge that I couldn't, and mustn't, let this Saint Martin's Fast4 turn into Christmas without attending to the spiritual needs of Peter Lignarius. My day had been filled already with all the usual Services in the Church and with lots of other Parish work of equal importance, so I resolved to walk across to Peter's place after dinner that evening. I said an early Evensong and as I was leaving the Church I stopped in front of the new Nativity Scene. It was wonderful and as I stood there I felt inspired – it came to me exactly how I could work it into my Boxing Day homily. Then my thoughts turned to my dinner and to Peter and maybe because it was just beginning to snow, or maybe because of what I was looking at, I offered up a silent Prayer to Saint Nicholas, whom we had honoured, in the Roman tradition rather than the Anglican one, on Tuesday, and asked him to add his Prayers to mine as I prayed for Peter.

Anyway, I went across to the Vicarage and ate my meal and dozed in front of the fire for a while. Round about eight-thirty I bestirred myself and put on my coat and hat and stepped outside. There was a good two inches of snow lying on the ground and I had to be careful not to slip and fall as I walked through the village to Peter's house and workshop. It lay right at the end of the main street and was surrounded by its own orchards and paddocks. I noticed as I walked past the big workshop doors that the snow had been all cut up and messed about in front of them and they'd obviously been opened after it had started to snow to let something in. There was light shining out from the fanlight above the house door so I continued to it and knocked. There was no answer so after a few minutes I made my way round to the back door. I could hear lots of movement from some animals in the paddock off to my left as I approached the door and I could see lamplight streaming out from the big kitchen window over the back garden. I knocked and this time I heard movement in the kitchen and the sound of voices as Peter cracked open the door.

He saw it was me and said, apologetically, “I'm sorry Vicar, I'm rather busy at the moment. I've got a job on that I have to finish by Christmas Eve. Forgive me if I don't invite you in but I have to get back to it.”

I looked closely at him and he seemed alright. Indeed, he seemed to be smiling and looked quite happy. I remember thinking that work, whatever the job was, was probably just what he needed right now and that a rush job was even better for Peter was always a man who would go out of his way to help a customer.

“That's OK,” I replied as kindly as I could, “I won't disturb you if your busy. I'll see you at the Lessons and Carols will I?

“Oh yes. Wouldn't miss that.”

“Well, take care. G-d's blessings on you and a Goodnight to you,” I said and turned away to walk home.

“A very Goodnight to you, too,” I heard Peter say cheerfully as he shut the door.

My mind somewhat relieved of its fears I walked carefully home and then to the Church for Compline.

*** *** ***

The day before Christmas dawned frostily with a deep covering of snow and I said Matins in Church before a sizeable congregation. I returned to the Vicarage and rested before going back to Church and celebrating the Eucharist for some one-hundred and forty-eight souls. I broke my fast with some of them in the Church Hall before going home to luncheon. For us parish Priests the day before Christmas and Christmas Eve is usually very busy because our parishioners want the full complement of services and the routine work of the Parish doesn't stop. After lunch I had to take the message of Christmas and the Eucharistic Elements to the housebound amongst my parishioners for at the time I had no Eucharistic Minister.7 I actually rather enjoy visiting the housebound for they are always pleased to see me and I have known them for so long that chatting to them after the formal part of the visit is over is great fun and frequently I am surprised by how much they know about what is going on in the Parish that I, myself, am completely unaware of. Anyway, between visiting and other tasks it was after dark before I drove back into the village in what had become some really awful weather. It was snowing heavily as I passed Peter Lignarius' place and because I was travelling quite slowly I had time to see that the big workshop doors were wide open and in front of them stood a large object swathed in tarpaulins against the snow. Light streamed out through the great doors, and from the windows of the house beside the workshop, and I almost stopped because the scene was so beckoning in the snow.

However, I continued along the little street to the Vicarage and put the car away and went inside. Every Parish does something slightly different from the usual day-to-day routine at Christmas. In mine we don't have Evensong or Compline on Christmas Eve but we do have a service of Nine Lessons and Carols that starts half-an-hour before midnight and generally takes about an hour and half. I usually celebrate Holy Communion at dawn on Christmas morning, which is eight-fifteen in this latitude, and the Christmas of last year, 2010, was no exception. As is traditional for Christians on Christmas Eve I had fish for dinner (The day before Christmas and Christmas Eve should be meatless) and afterwards I grabbed a long deep snooze in front of the fire in my study.

I surfaced in time to go across to the Church for the Lessons and Carols service. Despite the fact that it had snowed heavily and that it was still snowing, albeit lightly and sporadically, the Church was almost full. Afterwards I had one of those silly conversations with a teenager who, in his ignorance, thought it fashionable to laugh at the belief that Christ was born on December the twenty-fifth and asserted that the Church had simply chosen that date to coincide with the winter solstice which the ancient Romans had celebrated on the same day – Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, birthday of the unconquered sun. A neat, but rather silly, theory often propounded by the under-educated but the simple facts are that long before the Church, and the lay people, adopted the practice of celebrating Christmas as a Feast there was just a simple rememberance at the principal service on the day in question (and there is plenty of evidence that that is what was done with no especial fuss up until about AD350). All Christians then and now knew and know that Christ must have been born on or about the twenty-fifth of December because everyone knows when he was conceived. The conception of Jesus is in Luke 1:26 and took place during the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy with John the Baptist which is detailed at Luke 1:10-13. Elisabeth's pregnancy can be dated by the duties Zacharias performed on the Day of Atonement during the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar Ethanim or Tishri (Lev. 16:29, 1 Kings 8:2) which falls in September-October so a simple bit of arithmetical calculation means that the date of Christmas which we have today has to be broadly correct and has nothing to do with any pagan celebration of anything. However, there'll always be some bright no-nothing that thinks he knows better.

After the congregation had left Henry Providor and I made the Church safe and then went to our beds. I awoke much earlier than I needed to and I couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and got dressed and decided to go over to the Church early and sit in the Vestry just in case I fell asleep again and was late for the Mass. As I left the Vicarage I noticed, by the light from our few streetlamps, that the snow on the main street had been completely messed up by what looked like hundreds of animal footprints and that some large vehicle had been driven down the street after them to judge from the two parallel ruts in the snow. I thought that it was a strange time to move livestock but, I supposed, bad weather has no respect for a farmer's need for rest and Holy days.

I walked along the street and looked closely at the tracks instead of taking the direct path to the Church. I'm glad that I did even though a year later I can hardly believe what happened next. A sort of very low rumbling started to come from the end of the street where Peter's house lay. As I watched a monstrously huge object was dragged into my sight by what I swear to you was a positive herd of deer – reindeer, to be precise. It came closer and closer and finally stopped beside me. I looked up and there was Peter Lignarius staring down at me with the biggest grin I'd ever seen plastered across his face.

“Merry Christmas, Vicar,” he said, “Let me introduce you to a friend and customer of mine.”

At that a massively rotund and jolly looking man with a neat white beard and hair to match and dressed in a bright red jumper peered over the top of what I now realised was a huge sleigh made of wood.

“Merry Christmas, Vicar,” this impossible figure boomed, “Great man your Peter. Fixed m'sled in next to no time. Deuced inconvenient time of the year to have it break down, doncherknow. The name's Nicholas. Fancy joining us back at my place for a spot of Christmas lunch? I've got a devilishly fine Port in.”

Despite the almost irresistible inducement (I'm rather fond of a good Port but a Parish Priest's stipend doesn't often run to such luxuries) I managed to stammer out a polite refusal.

“Next year, then,” he said in his deep resonant voice, “We'll pick you up after Mass. Be ready! Must go now and get the creatures home to bed.”

“See you tomorrow,” Peter called out with a look on his face like a cat that got the cream.

With that he shook the reins that he was holding and the whole equipage started into motion along the street getting faster and faster until it left the ground and shot up into the leaden sky and vanished beyond the streetlamps' reach.

Behind me a voice said: “Hmmm, I wondered if we'd see him again.”

It was Henry Providor.

“Again?” I queried in some surprise.

“Yes, again. When I was a young man I used to hang around the workshop with my best friend, Peter's father, who was our joiner and wood worker for many a long year before he was called home and Peter took over the business. Santa Claus brought that big old sleigh in for repair at least twice whilst I was there. He should have a new one built and he swore he would one day when he found the right man to do it. Anyways, them deer have fair messed up Peter's best paddock. It'll need reseeding, you mark my words, for it always did in the past.”

We made our way into the Church and as I vested for the Celebration of Holy Communion my Vesting Prayers were interrupted by two thoughts: I'd offered up a prayer to Saint Nicholas for his intercession on behalf of Peter and maybe the ancient Saint had finally found the one craftsman who could build him a new sleigh!

I celebrated for sixty-two people. After the service I strode out and stood in front of the Nativity Scene in order to wish my parishioners a Merry Christmas but they joined me there ungreeted for I was literally struck dumb by the figures in the tableau – on the face of each and every one of them was a broad and happy smile.

Christmas is indeed a time of miracles and answered prayers! Merry Christmas to you and may G-d's Blessings be with you all, always.

*** *** ***      *** *** ***      *** *** ***

 

            Footnotes:

  1. This is a translation of the Roman Missal's collect "Excita, quæsumus..." and is from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1549 and later. See also: http://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/book-of-common-prayer/collects-epistles-and-gospels.asp

  2.  Prayers are said for the Patriarchs of the Faith on the first Sunday in Advent, for the Prophets of the Faith on the second Sunday, for the the Forerunner (John the Baptist) on the third Sunday and for the Mother of G-d, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Regina Caeli (Queen of Heaven), on the fourth Sunday.

  3. Purple candles are lit on the first and second Sundays in Advent, a rose coloured candle is lit on Gaudete Sunday (the third, or Rose, Sunday often called Gaudete Sunday after the opening words of the Introit for that Sunday - “Gaudete in Domino semper...” translating as “Rejoice in the Lord always...”), another purple one on the fourth Sunday and, of course, an immaculately white one is lit on Christmas Day itself. Each Sunday, and on Christmas Day, the candle(s) from the previous Sunday(s) are lit as well as that day's candle. The third Sunday's rose coloured candle, and the wearing of rose-coloured vestments on that Sunday also, derives from the now defunct custom of the Pope blessing golden roses on that day, and on the fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday or O Be Joyful Sunday, also named from the incipit to the Introit - “Laetare Jerusalem...” translating as “O be joyful, Jerusalem...”), which were then sent to various Catholic monarchs. At the principal Christmas Service a white candle is lit in honour of the purity of the Christ Child. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent and the tradition is that each week represents one thousand years and that this adds up to the supposed 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Saviour. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolises the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming. The purple candles represent the penitential nature of Advent and the rose candle on Gaudete Sunday can also symbolise a sensible release from penitence to celebrate the mid-point of the season. In some strands of Christianity Gaudete Sunday is also a day on which ordinations take place which adds, of course, to the festive air. The usual colour for the single Advent Candle found in private dwellings is red with gold markings and it is all used up by Christmas Eve so that a pure white candle can be used on Christmas Day in honour of Our Lord, just as in Church.

  4. This is the second fast of the Christian year and lasts for forty days – from November 12th. (the day after the Feast of St. Martin) to Christmas – and is often known as the Forty Days of St. Martin (Quadragesima Sancti Martini) or St. Martin's Fast. On St. Martin's day (or on St. Martin's eve for those who start their fast on the Saint's day) people eat and drink very heartily before they start to fast. The fast has been shortened by the Church to just the season of Advent, but many Christians still observe the original fasting period as a token of their love for G-d. Like the Lenten Fast this Fast is one of abstinence and is tempered by Christian sense and, like the Lenten Fast, must not be confused with the heathen practice of flamboyant, look-at-me, showing-off, dangerous fasting indulged in by the G-dless Mohammedans. Goose is the traditional meat at Martinmas (sometimes called Martlemass in Britain) because it is a symbol for St. Martin himself. It is said that when he was hiding from the people who wanted to make him Bishop a honking goose gave away his hiding spot. Martlemass beef is beef from cattle slaughtered at Martinmas and salted or otherwise preserved (these days, deep frozen) for the winter. The term "Saint Martin's Summer" refers to the fact that in Britain people often believe that there is a brief warm spell common around the time of St. Martin's Day, before the winter months begin in earnest. The more common term in modern English is 'Indian Summer'.

  5. In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through December 24 until Christmas Eve. When the day before Christmas and Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth Sunday of Advent. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday it is never counted as the fourth Sunday in Advent but is always separate from the Advent Sundays.

  6.  The Great Silence is the silence of the night which should be observed by all good Christian folk until Morning Prayer – Lauds or Daybreak Prayer correctly – what many lay people call 'Matins' but 'Matins' as a term more correctly applies to the Night Office, or Nocturns – Nocturni or Nocturna – (because Matins has, or used to have for some Christians before it was reformed by the Second Vatican Council in AD1970 as the Office of Readings, one, two or three Nocturns; a Nocturn is a group of Psalms with antiphons and three Lessons), which used to be called 'Vigils' (Vigiliae). Since the Night Office is seldom observed amongst lay people many of us now say the Vigil Prayers with the Lauds Prayers and call the whole thing 'Matins'. The Office of Lauds gets its name from the 'Lauds' Psalms with which it traditionally closes, i.e. Psalms 148, 149 and 150 which are named from the Latin word laudate - 'praise ye' - which begins psalms 148 and 150.

  7. A Eucharistic Minister is a lay person licensed by his Bishop to assist his Priest in administering the Consecrated Bread and Wine (Christ's Body and Blood) at Communion. A Licensed Eucharistic Minister, if his Priest judges him fit to do so in any given circumstance, may also take the Eucharistic Elements previously consecrated by a Priest to those who cannot come to Church and he can administer them also.


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