Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Last Sunday of Advent—21 December AD 2008
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord;  make straight His paths.”


Ordinary of the Mass in Latin and English
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dominica Quarta Adventus

    Well over a 150 years ago, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Solesmes, Dom Prosper Guéranger, wrote about this last week of Advent:

        We have now entered into the week which immediately precedes the birth of the Messias.…  To-day, [the Church] makes a last effort to stir up the devotion of her children.  She leads them to the desert; she shows them John the Baptist, upon whose mission she instructed them on the third Sunday.  The voice of the austere Precursor resounds through the wilderness, and penetrates even into the cities.  It preaches penance, and the obligation men are under of preparing by self-purification for the coming of Christ.  Let us retire from the world during these next few days; or if that may not be by reason of our external duties, let us retire into the quiet of our hearts and confess our iniquities, as did those true Israelites, who came, full of compunction and of faith in the Messias, to the Baptist, there to make perfect their preparation for worthily receiving the Redeemer on the day of His appearing to the world.[2]

    In times gone by, Christians understood the importance of Advent preparation for Christmas.  If you read the chants and prayers of this Mass, you will see a sense of impatience—“Let the clouds rain the Just One:  Let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior.”[3]  “Come O Lord, and delay not.”[4]  Coupled with the impatience there is a sense that the delay of our Lord’s coming is something of our own making—in the Collect we ask that God’s “indulgent mercy may hasten what is delayed by our sins.”  Of course we know that December 25th will be here in just so many days, whether we are patient or not—so that concern with its “delay by our sins” might better express itself as concern for being appropriately prepared when Christmas day comes to pass.

    Dom Guéranger, whom I just quoted, was born in France in 1805, just a few years after the French Revolution;  just a year after the coronation of Napoleon.  While still a young priest he managed to establish the first Benedictine monastery in France since the Revolution.  A great deal of his efforts were directed to writing books intended to restore the Catholic understanding of the liturgy that had been crushed in France, and was severely damaged throughout Europe by the false philosophies of the so‑called “Enlightenment.”

    The “Enlightenment” was devoted to “naturalism,” by which I mean a worldview more or less devoid of God.  “Man,” himself was said to be “the measure of all things,” a phrase borrowed from the ancient Greek, Protagoras.[5]  With an almost religious zeal—an anti‑religious zeal, really—the philosophers of the “Enlightenment” set out to convince the people of Europe and the Americas that the world was just a random natural phenomenon.  In attempting to overthrow the rule of God, they undermined the dignity and rights of man as well—with no God, there was no natural law, no natural rights—with only man there was only a vast hoard of people who must be governed by those who perceived themselves as the intellectual elite.

    Under such a school of thought, religion in general, and the Church in particular, were purposefully marginalized.  Many of the functions traditionally carried out by the Church were usurped by governments—education, the solemnization of marriages, and the corporal works of mercy, among others.  Religion still existed—at least in some of the countries of the West.  It could still perform some of its traditional functions, receiving no help from the government, but with its people forced to support the government’s interference.

    The awful consequence of this is that people began to perceive secular society as “real” and “meaningful” and “essential”—and simultaneously to perceive religion more as “imaginary” and “escapist” and “optional.”  It was okay to be personally religious, but it became more and more something one kept to one’s self.  Religious holy days somehow became public holidays, with an observance and meaning quite different from their religious origins.  It is hard to think of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny as being “evil,” but they certainly have enabled secular society to push the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ out of the public consciousness—even out of the consciousness of some who are Christians.

    And even the secular holidays are now being pushed out of that same public consciousness.  It is not just Nativity scenes that now generate arguments in Western society.  “Happy Holidays” is now politically correct, replacing “Season’s Greetings,” for the “Season” was obviously a religious one—Christmas or Chanukah.  In some jurisdictions, “Rudolph the Red‑nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” must be referred to as “Winter Carols,” perhaps with the objectionable “C”‑word changed to something else wherever it occurs.  Frosty will not “be back on Christmas day,” and Rudolph will not help Santa some “foggy Christmas night.”

    Of course the “Winter Holidays” are too valuable for secular society to abandon altogether, so just after Thanksgiving (and perhaps before) the air fills with Christmas music—some of it genuinely religious.  But the “reason for the season” is spending money.  Some of the retail chains have even restored the use of the word “Christmas,” but only because of complaints from the paying customers.

    Very much lost is the realization that these weeks before Christmas are not intended for going into debt;  are not intended for parties and other acts of self indulgence;  not intended for showing off to the neighbors all the bright shiny gadgets we have given or get.  These weeks, which we call Advent are period of preparation.

    Curiously, we see this preparation going on everywhere except where it is most important.  The first White House Christmas tree appeared on Christmas morning 1889 during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison—today it arrives weeks before Christmas as part of a grand political spectacle.[6]  The manufacturers and the chain stores surely prepare.  So do the television networks and the print media.  Thousands of shoppers prepare, as do the Post Office and the parcel services.  Most people prepare their homes, both inside and out, perhaps expecting a stream of visitors and party-goers.

    But as Catholics, we must ask ourselves:  Do we prepare for Christmas as Catholics?  Recall the words that Abbot Guéranger used:  “penance, and the obligation ... of preparing by self-purification for the coming of Christ.”  “Penance” and “self-purification” are not part of the modern vocabulary—it is inconceivable that we will ever hear them in a commercial for the local shopping mall, or in a tree lighting speech anywhere.  But we must not be so dead to the Catholic Faith that we imagine that we have no need of them ourselves.

    “Let us retire into the quiet of our hearts and confess our iniquities,” Abbot Guéranger continued.  Many modern people fear quiet, but we must occasionally take the time to examine our consciences if they are not to grow cold and die.  There is no one of us who would not benefit from the graces of sacramental Confession, no matter how holy we may be ... or think we may be.

    “True Israelites ... full of compunction and of faith in the Messias.”  We are the spiritual descendants of those Israelites, who heard John preach, and followed Jesus Christ.

    There are a few days left.  If we have not been doing so, this is the time to begin to prepare for Christmas as Catholics.  Make these few days a time of prayer, of faith, of quiet, introspection, compunction, confession, and repentance.  Make them so, in order that on Christmas day you can greet our Lord with the same joy and enthusiasm as John the Baptist and those “true Israelites,” those many centuries ago.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord;  make straight His paths.”


[1]   Gospel:  Luke iii: 1-6.

[2]   Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, vol. I, p. 233

[3]   Introit.

[4]   Graduale.


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