From time to time I have posted here about our Christian Festivals and Feasts and I hope that the information I have given has been of some use. In the Christian Kalendar (strictly, list of things Christian) it is Advent and the Liturgical New Year began at the start of Advent back on the First Sunday in Advent on November the twenty-seventh. So, obviously, today is the Fourth, and last as it happens, Sunday in Advent – there are always four Sundays in Advent and Christmas Day, even if it falls on a Sunday, is not, and can never be, the Last Sunday in Advent. However, when the day before Christmas Day – what we now and somewhat inaccurately call Christmas Eve – falls on Sunday then it can be the last and Fourth Sunday in Advent for Christmas proper does not begin until sunset on that day. Well, apart from being the Church's New Year what then is Advent and what does it mean for Christians?
Obviously the name Advent, as one would expect, comes from the Latin word 'adventus' and means 'coming' and one can guess from that that the Season looks forward to and anticipates the Christmas Season. Now, the First Sunday of Advent was, as I mentioned earlier, on November the twenty-seventh which means that the Second Sunday of this Advent season was on December the fourth with the Third Sunday being on December the eleventh and today, the Fourth Sunday in Advent, is, naturally, and as you had no doubt already worked out, today December the eighteenth. Advent is a Penitential Season and is the second Fast of the Christian Year the first being Lent (which I briefly discussed here) and just like Lent the Advent Season is a Ritual Fast of Penitence and Abstinence and must not be confused with the ridiculous antics of the Mohammedan fast with all its 'showing off' and 'look at me and how virtuous I am' types of behaviour and its accompanying violence – not to mention the physically dangerous practice of actually giving up all food and liquid each day. The two Christian fasts (Lent and Advent) are designed to honour G-d and to gently remind the individual of the need for that currently most unfashionable of personal qualities – self-control. That human quality is most certainly not what the Mohammedan fast is about! However, it is a quality much valued by all Christian people.
Originally this Fast was known as the Martin Fast, or Saint Martin's Fast, or the Forty Days of Saint Martin (Quadragesima Sancti Martini), because it began on November the twelfth, the day after the Feast of Saint Martin, and lasted for the traditional forty days just like the Lenten Fast. On Saint Martin's Day (or on the day before for those who start their Fast on the Saint's day and end it a day earlier also) people eat and drink very heartily before they start to Fast. Goose is the traditional meat on Saint Martin's Day, or Martinmas, sometimes called Martlemass in Britain, because it is a symbol for Saint 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 Saint Martin's Day, before the winter months begin in earnest. Perhaps the more common term in English is 'Indian Summer'.
These days the Fast no longer officially starts on the day after Saint Martin's Day for it has been shortened by the Church to just the Season of Advent. However, many Christians still observe the original Fasting period as a token of their love for G-d and each year sees an increase in this private devotion.
At this season, just as in Lent, most Christians give up one or two things as an exercise in self control and to remind themselves that they should try to live a life of Christian humility and dedicate it to G-d, but it has to be remembered that, again, like Lent, this is a Penitential Season as well as a Ritual Fast. It is important to Christians to acknowledge their faults, confess their sins and remedy their bad behaviours and even more important to do so in Advent as we look forward to the birth of mankind's Saviour for we must try to be worthy of Him and it has always seemed to us to be a good idea to start the year shriven clean and ready for His love. Our prayers and observances in Advent are Penitential and real penitence is expected of us. Some Christians do take Fasting more as self-denial than Ritual Abstinence and they will give up many foods, and much else besides, for much of the Fasting periods (Lent and Advent) even though this is not required of them. Excessive zeal in Fasting and Abstinence has usually been deprecated by the Church and today it is certainly frowned upon given the bad example set by the G-dless Mohammedans in this matter. It is also dangerous and should not be undertaken lightly. However, one must bear in mind that those Christians who do manage to literally Fast, or who may be more thorough and self-denying in their observances, may have their own Spiritual reasons for so doing.
As well as our prayers of Penitence each of the Four Sundays in Advent is marked out by the special prayers said on them. On the First Sunday of the Season prayers are said for the Patriarchs of the Christian Faith; the Second Sunday has prayers said for the Prophets of the Christian Faith; on the Third Sunday we pray for The Forerunner, Saint John The Baptist; and on the final Sunday, this Sunday, we pray for, and for the intercession of, the Mother of G-d, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Regina Caeli (Queen of Heaven).
Advent is also something of a Christian festival of lights and different coloured candles are lit on the various Sundays. Purple candles are lit on the First and Second Sundays in Advent. Purple is the colour of Penitence and Fasting and the Vestments worn on those Sundays are usually of the same hue. 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...”), and the Vestments are also rose coloured. This Third Sunday of Advent is also known as Refreshment Sunday – as is the Fourth Sunday of Lent – which, confusingly, is also known as Rose Sunday. This is because on the Fourth Sunday of Lent the Pope at Rome blesses solid golden roses which are sometimes given as gifts to worthy individuals or institutions. There is therefore, and as is obvious, a Refreshment Sunday in each of the two Christian Fasts (Advent and Lent) and these Sundays mark a relaxation of Penitence and a more joyful anticipation of the Feast to come. It is purely because the Lenten Refreshment Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday that the Advent Refreshment Sunday (the Third Sunday) is called Rose Sunday and marked by its Vestments and Candles in the same way. (The Fourth Sunday in Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday or O Be Joyful Sunday, also so named from the incipit to its Introit – “ Laetare Jerusalem...” translating as “O be joyful, Jerusalem...” and the rejoicing theme, as can be seen, is therefore and naturally common to both Refreshment Sundays.)
Another purple candle is lit on the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Each Sunday, and on Christmas Day, the candle(s) from the previous Sunday(s) are lit as well as that day's candle, but the Christmas Day candle, which is lit at the principal service of that day, is pure white to symbolise the purity of the Christ Child and His birth.
Excluding the Christmas Day candle the four candles of the Four Sundays in Advent represent the four weeks of the Season and the tradition is that each week represents one thousand years and that this adds up to the traditional, but mythical although a lovely idea, 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, as Laetare Sunday does in Lent. In many denominations of Christianity Gaudete Sunday (the Third Sunday) is also a day on which ordinations take place which adds, of course, to the festive air.
Most Christians also mark Advent in their own homes as well as in their Fasting and their Devotions. They do this by burning an Advent Candle each evening. The usual colour for the single Advent Candle found in private dwellings is red with gold markings for each day in Advent, and it is all used up on the day before Christmas so that a pure white candle can be used on Christmas Day in honour of Our Lord, just as in Church. Some Christians will copy exactly the practice used in Church and have three purple candles and one rose coloured candle, all usually set in a wreath, or crown, of evergreens. These candles are lit in the same order as the candles in Church. The centre of the crown contains the pure white candle for Christmas Day. This can be very attractive if one has the space to display the wreath properly, but for most of us the single Advent Candle followed by the single Christmas white candle has to suffice.
Apart from the Advent Candle many Christians also have in their homes an Advent Calendar. Strictly speaking this is not a calendar but an aid to counting down the final twenty-four days of Advent. Many people buy a new one made out of cardboard each year but mostly Advent Calendars are made from wood and are treasured possessions which are kept and re-used each year just like Nativity Tableaux. Advent calendars always begin on December the first regardless of when Advent begins, which can be as early as November the twenty-seventh or as late as December the third. Every Advent Calendar is highly decorated with images representing the Season and the Christmas Season – the Nativity is especially popular – and has twenty-four little windows with a different one being opened each day. Behind each window is a verse from the Bible appropriate to the day and a little painted illustration of what the verse says. After Rose Sunday (Gaudete Sunday) the verses will be those that describe the Nativity and the pictures will be of aspects of the traditional Nativity story. Obviously, just like a Nativity Tableau an Advent Calendar is a teaching aid and if there are young people in the house then it is customary to place some comestible treat behind each window so that the message is remembered better by being linked in the young mind to something like a piece of chocolate.
The tradition of Advent Calendars is not very old at all. The first known actual Advent Calendar is one made of wood in about AD1851, although the tradition of counting out the last twenty-four days of Advent and marking them off in some way – burning candles, chalk marks on door lintels – dates from the seventeenth century amongst the peoples of the German speaking parts of Europe. According to the Lower Austrian Landesmuseum the first printed cardboard Advent Calendar was produced in Hamburg in 1902 or 1903. Other authorities state that a Swabian parishioner, Gerhard Lang, was responsible for the first printed cardboard Calendar in 1908. Whatever the case, Lang was certainly the first designer of the commercial cardboard Advent Calendars that we know today. He was a printer in the firm Reichhold & Lang of Munich who, in 1908, made 24 little coloured pictures that could be affixed to a piece of cardboard. Several years later, he introduced a calendar with 24 little doors just like the wooden ones. He created and marketed at least 30 designs before his firm went out of business in the 1930s. In this same period the Sankt Johannis Printing Company started producing religious Advent Calendars also made from cardboard and today we find all types of disposable Advent Calendars in our shops made for commercial gain by a variety of different companies. Nothing, however, can compare with a much loved carved wooden Advent Calendar which is brought out each year.
All over Europe there are also a wealth of customs and foods associated with the Advent Season. In England the rich fruit cake is traditional throughout Advent and also at Christmas. Mulled wine is the drink of choice almost everywhere. On Saint Lucy's Feast Day on December the thirteenth it's traditional to eat sweet bread drizzled with icing cut from a braided loaf made in the shape of a crown. The customs surrounding the Feast of Saint Lucy also illuminate the themes of Advent and Christmas. Lucy, whose name means light and whose association with light has made her the Patron Saint of the 'light of the body' (the eyes), once had her feast fall on the shortest day of the year. (Before the Gregorian calendar was reformed in the Middle Ages, December the thirteenth was the day of the winter solstice.) For all of these reasons, Saint Lucy is honoured with a number of customs involving fire. Lucy candles were once lit in the home and Lucy fires burned outside and these were known as the Lucy Lights.
Peppery, gingery biscuits are traditional on Saint Nicholas' Day on December the sixth and all sorts of little treats, different depending on where one lives, are associated with the Golden Nights of Advent (December the seventeenth to the twenty-third)*, which look forward to Christ's coming. The Golden Nights of Advent must not be confused, under any circumstances whatsoever, with the so called Golden Nights of the Year that are supposed to be the last ten days of the Mohammedan fast in honour of the Devil which is called Ramadan by them. A little research indicates that the G-dless Mohammedans plagiarised the idea of the Golden Nights from their mistreated subject Christians (and we have not forgotten the insult of attaching our Holy concept to the Satanic practices of Mohammedanism) as they stole so much else to create their evil mish-mash of a belief system.
St. Barbara, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, is the patron saint of artillerymen, miners, and a happy death and her feast on December the fourth obviously belongs to the cycle of Saints and not to the temporal cycle of Advent, but there is a custom observed in her honour that ties into the meaning of the Advent Season. A Barbara Branch is the name given to a twig that is broken from a fruit tree (especially cherry), placed in a bowl of water (these days: water, sugar and aspirin), and kept in a warm, well-lit part of the house. According to legend, if the Barbara Branch blooms on or before Christmas Day, good luck will come to the person whose Branch it is. Aside from this harmless superstition, Barbara branches are reminiscent of the image from Isaiah of Christ as a Flower from the Root of Jesse (Is. 11.2; the Epistle for Advent Ember Friday); they can thus be instructive in teaching children the meaning of Advent and Christmas. They are also used as the Saint's tribute to the Christ Child in the manger and are lovingly placed in the crèche of the Nativity Tableau when they have blossomed. Many different woods will blossom in like manner and some people use rhododendron, for example, to get even more impressive blossoms although, strictly speaking, the Barbara Branches ought to be from fruit trees.
Finally, much confusion surrounds what is arguably the Christmas Season's most famous symbol. Christmas trees start appearing in shops, homes, and even some churches from late November onwards even though they have nothing to do with Advent. Traditionally, the Christmas tree should not be put up until Christmas Eve and not taken down until the Vigil of the Epiphany. (Thus, it is only around for the Twelve Days of Christmas.) However, because finding a tree on December the twenty-fourth can be difficult, one practical measure is to buy the tree early and leave it in the home undecorated until Christmas Eve. An undecorated evergreen brought indoors is not a Christmas tree but simply a harmless and symbolic reminder of life that is used to help to dispel the gloom of winter. When the tree is decorated it will then be transformed from a natural token to a Christian statement rich with the supranatural symbols of the Season.
* The Golden Nights of Advent is the Octave before Christmas when we pray the 'O' Antiphons at the Eucharist (Mass) and at Vespers. The seven 'O' Antiphons (also called the 'Greater Antiphons' or the 'Major Antiphons') are prayers that come from the Roman Breviary’s Vespers and are used during the Octave before Christmas Eve, a time which is called the 'Golden Nights'.
The Greater Antiphons are, of course, the inspiration of the beautiful medieval hymn, Veni, Veni Emmanuel. Each stanza of this famous hymn is a poetic rendering of an antiphon, which is why the hymn is traditionally sung only during the eight days prior to Christmas.
In many places, however, the octave of preparation is extended over nine days, making a Novena. By special permission, the 'Golden Mass' of Ember Wednesday is sometimes offered in the pre-dawn hours for nine consecutive days prior to Christmas. Europe observes the "Golden Nights," a festive season honouring the Blessed Virgin, the expectant Mother of G-d; in fact, December the eighteenth was once the Feast of the Expectancy in Spain. In the Alps, schoolchildren observe the custom of Josephstragen – “carrying Saint Joseph”. Each night, a group of boys carry a statue of Saint Joseph to another boy's home. The night after the visit, the boy who had been visited joins the procession, making the number of carriers grow progressively larger. On Christmas Eve all the boys, accompanied by schoolgirls dressed in white, process the statue through the town to the Church, where it would be placed in the Nativity Scene. In Latin America, on the other hand, a Novena to the Holy Child (La Novena del Niño) is held in which prayers are said and lively carols sung in front of the Church's empty manger.
Each Antiphon begins with 'O' and addresses Jesus with a unique title which comes from the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, and the initials of these titles, when read backwards, form an acrostic for the Latin Ero Cras which means 'Tomorrow I come'. The antiphons are as follows:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Adonai**, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Clavis David,et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Oriens splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina
sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
These moving 'O' Antiphons were apparently composed in the seventh or eighth century when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our Salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great 'O' Antiphons became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the Church each evening as they were being sung. They translate as follows:
O Sapientia... (Is. 11:2-3; 28:29): “O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.” Listen here.
O Adonai**... (Is. 11:4-5; 33:22): “O Adonai** and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.” Listen here.
O Radix Jesse... (Is. 11:1, 10): “O stock of Jesse, you stand as a signal for the nations; kings fall silent before you whom the peoples acclaim. O come to deliver us, and do not delay.” Listen here.
O Clavis David... (Is. 9:6; 22:22): “O key of David and sceptre of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Listen here.
O Oriens... (Is. 9:1): “O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
O Rex Gentium... (Is. 2:4; 9:5): “O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.”
O Emmanuel... (Is. 7:14) : “O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Saviour. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”
** 'Adonai' in English is from the Hebrew for "my lords", which comes from Adon "lord, owner". The singular form is Adoni, "my lord". This was used by the Phoenicians for the god Tammuz and is the origin of the Greek name Adonis. Jews only use the singular to refer to a distinguished person: in the plural, rabotai, literally, "my masters", is used in both Mishnaic and modern Hebrew.
The name is used to signify that just like a servant to his master, nothing truly belongs to the servant. So too, none of our abilities or powers are ours. They all belong to G-d and we are lucky enough to be chosen to use them. In addition, a servant can't speak without the consent of his master. So too, the ability to open our mouths or to do anything else in life, can't happen unless G-d, so to speak, gives permission.
The plural form, 'Adonai', which we use in English is usually explained as pluralis excellentiae.
Posted on 12/18/2011 9:45 AM by John M. Joyce