How the Church Awaits Christmas

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How the Church Awaits Christmas
Dom Prosper Guéranger

Initially let us consider the number of the days of Advent. Forty was the number originally adopted by the Church, still maintained in the Ambrosian Liturgy and in the Eastern Church. If, at a later period, the Church of Rome and those which follow her liturgy have changed the number of days, the same idea is still expressed in the four weeks that replaced the 40 days.

The new birth of our Redeemer takes place after these four weeks, as the first Nativity happened after 4,000 years, according to the Hebrew and Vulgate chronology.

As in Lent, so likewise during Advent, marriage is not solemnized, lest worldly joy should distract Christians from those serious thoughts wherewith the expected coming of the Sovereign Judge ought to inspire them, or from that dearly cherished hope that the friends of the Bridegroom [Jn 3:29] have of being soon called to the eternal nuptial-feast.

The people are forcibly reminded of the sadness that fills the heart of the Church, by the somber color of the vestments. Excepting on the feasts of the saints, purple is the color she uses. The deacon does not wear the dalmatic, nor the sub-deacon the tunic. Formerly it was the custom, in some places, to wear black vestments.

This mourning of the Church shows how fully she unites herself with those true Israelites of old who, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, waited for the Messiah, and bewailed Sion that she had not her beauty, and “Judah, that the scepter had been taken from him, till He should come who was to be sent, the expectation of nations.” (Prov 8: 31). It also signifies the works of penance, whereby she prepares for the second coming, full as it is of sweetness and mystery, which is realized in the souls of men, in proportion as they appreciate the tender love of that divine Guest, who has said: “My delights are to be with the children of men.” (Gen. 49:10)

It expresses, thirdly, the desolation of this bride who yearns after her Beloved, who is long a-coming. Like the turtle dove, she moans her loneliness, longing for the voice that will say to her: “Come from Libanus, my bride! Come, thou shalt be crowned. Thou hast wounded my heart.” (Cant 4: 8, 9)

Excepting on the feasts of saints, during Advent the Church also suppresses the angelic canticle, Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntati. For this glorious song was sung at Bethlehem over the crib of the Divine Babe, and the tongues of the Angels are not loosened yet. The Virgin has not yet brought forth her divine Treasure. It is not yet time to sing, it is not even true to say, “Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.”

Again, at the end of Mass, the deacon does not dismiss the assembly of the faithful by the words: Ite Missa est. He substitutes the ordinary greeting: Benedicamus Domino! as though the Church feared to interrupt the prayers of the people, which could scarce be too long during these days of expectation.

In the night Office, the Holy Church also suspends, on those same days, the hymn of jubilation, Te Deum laudamus. [The monastic rite retains it. N.T.] It is in deep humility that she awaits the supreme blessing that is to come to her; and, in the interval, she presumes only to ask, entreat and hope.

But, let the glorious hour come, when in the midst of darkest night the Sun of Justice will suddenly rise upon the world. Then, indeed she will resume her hymn of thanksgiving and all over the face of the earth the silence of midnight will be broken by this shout of enthusiasm: “We praise Thee, O God! We acknowledge Thee to be our Lord! Thou, O Christ, art the King of glory, the everlasting Son of the Father! Thou being to deliver man didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb!” …

But, there is one feature that distinguishes Advent most markedly from Lent: the word of gladness, the joyful Alleluia, is not interrupted during Advent, except once or twice during the ferial Office. It is sung in the Masses of the four Sundays and vividly contrasts with the somber color of the vestments.

On one of these Sundays, the third, the prohibition of using the organ is removed, and we are gladdened by its grand notes, and rose-colored vestments may be used instead of the purple.

These vestiges of joy, thus blended with the holy mournfulness of the Church, tell us, in a most expressive way, that although she unites with the ancient people of God in praying for the coming of the Messiah (thus paying the debt that the entire human race owes to the justice and mercy of God), she does not forget that the Emmanuel is already come to her, that He is in her, and that even before she has opened her lips to ask Him to save her, she has been already redeemed and predestined to an eternal union with Him.

This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that Holy Night, which will be brighter to her than the sunniest of days and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.

Gaudete in Domino Semper

Gaudete in Domino Semper
Dom Guéranger on the Third Sunday of Advent

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestrae innotescant apud Deum.

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous: but in every prayer let your petitions be made known to God.

The Introit for today’s Mass reminds us that, while the season of Advent is one of penance and anticipation, we must also pause and rejoice at the nearness of Our Lord. The following excerpt comes from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger. A Benedictine priest, as well as abbot of Solesmes Abbey and founder of the French Benedictine Congregation, Dom Prosper was one of the foremost liturgists of the late 19th century. Guéranger writes:

“Today, again, the Church is full of joy, and the joy is greater than it was. It is true that her Lord has not come; but she feels that He is nearer than before, and therefore she thinks it just to lessen some what the austerity of this penitential season by the innocent cheerfulness of her sacred rites. And first, this Sunday has had the name of Gaudete given to it, from the first word of the Introit; it also is honoured with those impressive exceptions which belong to the fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare. The organ is played at the Mass; the vestments are rose-colour; the deacon resumes the dalmatic, and the subdeacon the tunic; and in cathedral churches the bishop assists with the precious mitre. How touching are all these usages, and how admirable this condescension of the Church, wherewith she so beautifully blends together the unalterable strictness of the dogmas of faith and the graceful poetry of the formulae of her liturgy.

“Let us enter into her spirit, and be glad on this third Sunday of her Advent, because our Lord is now so near unto us. Tomorrow we will resume our attitude of servants mourning for the absence of their Lord and waiting for Him; for every delay, however short, is painful and makes love sad.”


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The Church’s Year
By Rev. Fr. Leonard Goffine

On this Sunday again, the Church calls on us to rejoice in the Advent of the Redeemer, and at the Introit sings:

INTROIT Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men: for the Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing by prayer let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4). Lord, thou hast blessed thy land; thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob (Ps. 84). Glory be to the Father.

COLLECT Incline Thine ear, O Lord, we beseech Thee, unto our prayers: and enlighten the darkness of our mind by the grace of thy visitation. Through our Lord.

EPISTLE (Phil. 4:4-7). Brethren, rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous; but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Continue reading