Last Sunday of Advent—21 December AD 2008
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight His
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
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.
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.”
“Come O Lord, and delay not.”
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
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.
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.
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
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