The Advent Debate

      Lately  I  have heard  of  a local  ongoing  debate,  which  I fear  is  probably  pretty much  universal,  regarding the Season of Advent.  The debate  focuses  on whether Advent  is  just a  time of preparation for Christmas,  could  we then  call it  a  pre-Christmas,  or  a  penitential  season.  The  Church’s  answer,  as usual,  stands  in the middle – “Virtus in medio stat.”   While  it is  a  time for preparation  for  the great Feast  of the  Nativity of  the Son of God  made Man –  and as such  what a wonderful  event that is –  it  is  also  a  penitential season,  that is,  a time  of penance  and  sacrifice.  When we  were  little,  those  of us who  were  fortunate enough to have  had  good  old  fashioned  sisters  as our teachers  in grade school,  were   told  to  make  many acts  of  penance  and self-abnegation, sacrifices,  special  devotions  and  to have  a crib  for the Baby Jesus in which we  would  put  a  piece of  straw  for each act  we  performed.  The idea was that we  would  have so many acts  of penance  that we   would  make a  comfy  bed  for the Baby  Jesus.  It  was  childlike, yes,  and simple.  But isn’t  Christmas  all about childlikeness and  simplicity?  The  idea  was  that according to age-old  Church practice  Advent was –  and is –  a  season of  penance.  That is very difficult  in the  post-Christian  and secularized  world in which most of us live.  Christmas  carols  and decorations spring  up  as early  as Halloween (yes)  in many places  and for the most part  after Thanksgiving.  Those  same  decorations  are  thrown  out  and the carols  cease  the day after Christmas.  We  as  Catholics  should  be counter  cultural – as  Pope  John Paul II often reminded  us.  Christmas  lasts  for forty days  until Candle on February 2nd –  which goes  back to the Law  of Moses  which Christ came to  fulfill to perfection.  The  Vatican  is  a  good  sign of this  since  by order  of the Pope  the ancient  Roman  practice  of  leaving up all Nativity scenes (even in St.  Peter’s Square)  until  Feb.  2nd has  been   both  kept  up  and  restored in the last  few  years (as  far as St.  Peter’s  is concerned).  Thus we have Forty Days  of Christmas.  It  is then  that we  should have Christmas  parties and feasts,  not before Christmas Eve.  In too many quarters,  too many Parishes,  and  Catholic  organizations  we  have  succumbed  to the ways  of the world. Instead  of  bringing  the light  of the Truth to the  world  we have  molded  ourselves  about its erroneous  criteria.  This  must change.

        On the other hand  we have this time of Advent.   It  is  a  Season of  Penance  for which the Church vests Herself in violet or purple (except  Gaudete  Sunday in Rose  which signifies  a lessening of the rigors  of  penance).   So  it  is  a  Penitential Season,  primarily.   Yes,  it is a time of preparation for the Birth of Christ,  just as Lent  is a time of preparation for Easter.  Does  that mean we start to celebrate Christmas  before  Christmas  and forget the penance  which our Faith and Tradition  tell  us we  must do?  Does  that mean we start to celebrate Easter  on Ash Wednesday and forget  our Lenten penance?  I think  we  all know the answer.  The Liturgy and Discipline  of the Church (which follows  the Liturgy)  tell us otherwise.  We  prepare  for  Christmas –  or  for Easter –  by repentance,  by  penances, sacrifices, increased  quality and time and number  of prayers  and devotions.  We  gather,  as it were,  many pieces  of straw  to make  His crib more comfortable.  So yes,  this is a time  to performs  acts  of  fasting  and abstinence.  Of  giving witness   –  “No  I  cannot  partake of that because I am preparing for Christmas  which starts,  not ends,  on Christmas  Day.”   It  is a time  of renewed  repentance.  A  time  to   make  a good Confession of our sins.  Needless  to say,  we  repeat with John Paul II,  the  desire and advice  to all  that  they should  go to Confession regularly,  at  least  once  a month.  The  just man sins  seven times  a day.  Once  or twice  a  year  is  hardly sufficient  to make a good  thorough  confession  or to partake in the elements  of spiritual  growth which this  wonderful  Sacrament  affords  us.  It  is  a time  when we should try to attend  and participate  in the Sacred  Mysteries  of the Mass and perhaps  in at least the readings  of  the  Divine Office,  the Liturgy of the Hours  which are  so very beautiful.   A  time to meditate  more deeply  in the Joyful  Mysteries  of the Rosary  with Her  who was  so essentially central  to their  taking place and their remembrance  by the Evangelists and  the early  Church.   With  St.  John  the Baptist  who plays  a central role in this Season  we also  must  yell from the rooftops:  “Repent!  The Kingdom of God is at hand!”  “Make  straight the ways  of  the Lord!”   Fill in the valleys  and  bring  down the mountains  of our sins so the Lord’s  coming will be easy and fruitful  for us.  Repent!  Prepare!  Rejoice,  because  our salvation is close  at hand!
Fr.  Héctor  R.G.  Pérez y Robles, STD

A priest of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese