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.
A priest of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese