By Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE – The U.S. bishops spotlighted two major initiatives focused on the central role of the Eucharist Nov. 17, the second of two days of public sessions of their fall general assembly.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a 26-page statement, “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” with 222 “yes” votes, and also OK’d plans for a three-year National Eucharistic Revival that will culminate with the National Eucharistic Congress 2024 in Indianapolis.
On other matters, they were invited to take a multicultural journey with young Catholics to Chicago next June; were urged to implement a framework for marriage and family ministry that they had approved at their spring assembly in June; agreed to begin review of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” earlier than planned; and heard how the pandemic may have slowed but not stopped a pro-life initiative called “Walking With Moms in Need.”
They approved guidelines governing the USCCB’s financial investments that include wider limits on where money would be invested. The guidelines advance a policy of engagement on corporate practices that impact human dignity.
The prelates, meeting in person for a national gathering for the first time since 2019, also approved guidelines for the exposition of the Eucharist and Benediction, affirmed sainthood causes for three U.S. laypeople, approve revisions of statutes for the catechumenate and voted for revised English- and Spanish-language editions of the Order of Christian Initiation of Adults.
The bishops assigned a feast date to St. Teresa of Kolkata – Sept. 5, the death date in 1997 for the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. It will be an optional memorial on the U.S. liturgical calendar.
Their vote on the Eucharist statement came a day after their discussion of the document – a discussion that was markedly different than their debate in June about what it could potentially contain, namely a call for President Joe Biden and Catholic politicians who support abortion to be denied Communion. But the final document had nothing like that and is addressed to all Catholics in the United States.
It “endeavors to explain the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the church,” said Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the bishops’ doctrine committee, in a short presentation on the statement Nov. 16. It “addresses the fundamental doctrine about the Eucharist that the church needs to retrieve and revive.”
Even bigger than the statement is the plan for the three-year eucharistic revival, ending with the National Eucharistic Congress 2024 in Indianapolis. The bishops approved it 201-17, with five abstentions.
The revival will officially start on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 16, 2022, with a diocesan focus that will include eucharistic processions and other events of adoration and prayer around the country. In 2023, the emphasis will be on parishes and resources aimed at increasing Catholics’ understanding of what the Eucharist really means.
As chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who was recently named bishop of Crookston, Minnesota, gave the bishops details about this planned revival just before they voted on it.
The revival could be a time of healing for the entire church, he said, as well as a movement of evangelization and a reawakening of understanding of the sacrament of the Eucharist for Catholics across the country.
Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez invited fellow bishops to a national gathering in Chicago in June to participate with young Catholics in a dialogue about issues of culture, racism and inclusion through the prism of faith.
“Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit’s way of telling us bishops that we really needed to take time to listen to young people, those who minister to them and, especially, those who are in the peripheries, feeling unimportant and unloved, and often alienated from the church,” Archbishop Pérez said Nov. 17. He is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.
He detailed the opportunity the coronavirus pandemic has provided in facilitating virtual gatherings between young Catholics and bishops over the last year and a half. More than 60 bishops have joined virtual gatherings as part of a process called “Journeying Together,” he said.
The gatherings have taken place online in the midst of a pandemic, under “social unrest, racial reckoning, and the polarization affecting U.S. society,” he said. The process created “an opportunity for bishops, young adults, youth ministers and campus ministers, and leaders of various other ministries with young people, to engage in respectful yet honest dialogue in matters of faith, culture, racism, inclusion and the issues that affect them as young people,” he explained.
The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth called on his fellow bishops to work “in every way possible” to implement the national pastoral framework for marriage and family ministry that they approved in June.
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said that addressing marriage and family life is vital in a time when families are under increasing threats from “sweeping ideological currents that destroy and undermine our sexual identity as man and woman and God-given vocations as father and mother, son or daughter.” Bolstering marriage and family ministry is an appropriate undertaking to start during the “Amoris Laetitia Family Year,” declared by Pope Francis, the archbishop said.
Titled “Called to the Joy of Love: A Pastoral Framework for Marriage and Family Life Ministry,” the document can serve as a practical guidebook to serve couples and families because it offers an adaptable set of principles and strategies for pastoral care, he said.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, told his fellow bishops that the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities’ “Walking with Moms in Need” initiative may have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but it has by no means stopped helping expectant mothers from any walk of life. It was launched March 25, 2020, just as the pandemic began to take hold.
This initiative “has the capacity to take what is often seen as a partisan divide and transform it into pastoral unity, bridging the divide between Catholics who describe themselves using the labels of ‘pro-life’ or ‘social justice,'” he said. “The vision of WWMIN is that a pregnant or parenting mother in need can turn to any local Catholic parish and be connected with the life-affirming assistance and accompaniment that she needs.”
The initiative’s website is WalkingWithMoms.com.
In presentations at end of the Nov. 17 public session:
– Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, told the bishops 3 million to 11 million people in the U.S. could soon benefit from some type of immigration reform.
– Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the USCCB’s migration committee, asked his fellow prelates to advocate, pray and walk with immigrants in their respective dioceses.
– From Haiti to Afghanistan, the work of Catholic Relief Services has focused on responding to the impact of climate change, natural disasters such as earthquakes, hunger, meager farm production and developing education for children, reported Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, president of the CRS board of directors. He gave the presentation with Sean Callahan, CRS president and CEO.
– Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, told the bishops the national network of Catholic Charities agencies had provided $5.1 billion in assistance in the last year, much of it connected to the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
– The synodal process the church is entering into is meant to show that “no one is unimportant in this time of listening,” said Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas. The bishop, a member of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine and voted its chairman-elect during the assembly, said the process over the next seven months must involve the participation of the whole church “listening together, praying together, discerning together.”
At sunrise Nov. 18 outside the hotel where the bishops held their assembly, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley and six other Catholic prelates joined survivors of sex abuse, some the victims of clergy in an invitation-only walk to pray for an end to the “evil” of abuse and call for a day of prayer for survivors and an end to the abuse.
(Contributing to this story were Carol Zimmermann, Dennis Sadowski, Rhina Guidos and Mark Pattison.)
By Tereza Ma
MERIDIAN – Sunday, Nov. 21 was a special day for the parishes of St. Patrick and St. Joseph in Meridian. After two years the parishes were able to celebrate with their annual Thanksgiving feast and were joined by Bishop Joseph Kopacz, also celebrating the feast of Christ the King at Mass with Father Augustine Palimattam.
Parishioners were thankful for many things. Here are a few of their responses:
– Valeria Rangel is thankful for the Spanish and English speaking parishioners to get together as community. “Even though we have different Mass times, speak in different languages and have different cultures, it is wonderful to come together.”
– For Ken Woodward the dinner was a renewal of the community. “It leads us to Christ because we are the body of Christ. On this day as we honor him as King of Kings, what better way to do it than enjoying community with our brothers and sisters and enjoy a meal together.”
– Lucila Vargas, originally from Columbia, has been a member of St. Patrick for 46 years. She has enjoyed the tradition of the parish gathering to give thanks and enjoy a meal, as in her home country “they normally just go to church and give thanks to the Lord.”
– Dorethea Cole of St. Joseph parish loves the way that both parishes “get together as one Catholic community.”
– Tina Nadeau traveled 1,450 miles from South Dakota by motorcycle for the event to spend her mom’s birthday with her and enjoy Thanksgiving together with her mother and stepdad, who cooked for the parish feast. “It is so special to be here and give thanks.”
From the Archives
By Mary Woodward
JACKSON – Since we focused on Bishop John Gunn’s surviving the arsenic attack in 1916, I thought I would share some more details about the bishop from the early pages of his diary.
Bishop Gunn was born on March 15, 1863, in County Tyrone, Ireland. He was the oldest of 11 children. His family originally came from Scotland to County Tyrone as descendants of Olaf the Black, a Viking ruler of the Isles off the coast of Scotland in the 13th century.
Hence, they called themselves the “Black Gunns of Caithness” and the family motto was aut pax aut bellum (either peace or war).
Bishop Gunn honors this heritage on his coat of arms with a Viking ship, but wisely chose not to use the family motto for his episcopal motto. He instead chose Monstra Te Esse Matrem (show thyself to be our mother) which comes from his formation as Marist priest.
He studied at the Gregorian University in Rome and was professed in 1884 and ordained a priest in 1890. He was ordained a bishop on August 29, 1911, at Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta where he had been serving for 13 years. Fellow Marist and Archbishop of New Orleans, James Hubert Herbert Blenk, was the principal consecrator.
In reading through the early entries of Bishop Gunn’s diary, it is evident that Archbishop Blenk was a great friend and mentor to him.
From Sept. 11, 1911, we read: “I went to Archbishop Blenk where the only misunderstanding I ever had with him was explained. I knew that I had been proposed for San Antonio and I made Archbishop Blenk promise he would oppose any and every effort to have me appointed a Bishop anywhere. When my appointment came, I accused him a breaking his promise and he showed me letters from Cardinal Gibbons which explained my appointment to Natchez and cleared Blenk. The Archbishop brought me to his friends in New Orleans and tried to give me the necessary courage to face Mississippi.”
His next entry from Sept. 14, supports the previous: “Started for Natchez with Father Larkin and my brother, Father Ed. I wanted Blenk to come – he refused, telling me that I was old enough to face the music without a chaperone and that the Natchez spotlight was not brilliant enough for two. I think his advice was correct.”
A few months later on March 21, 1912, Bishop Gunn gives us an interesting insight into his ministry as Bishop in describing a meeting of the Bishops of the Province of New Orleans. In 1912, the then Diocese of Natchez was part of the Province of New Orleans. Dioceses are structurally arranged according to provinces and then regions. Provinces center around an archdiocese and archbishop, known as the metropolitan.
Currently the Diocese of Jackson is part of the Province of Mobile that was established in 1980 when Mobile was elevated to an archdiocese. The dioceses of Jackson, Biloxi and Birmingham are suffragan sees under the archdiocese of Mobile. Coincidentally, our own Bishop, Joseph Kopacz, is the senior suffragan of the province led by Archbishop Thomas Rodi.
Back to 1912 where we were a suffragan see of New Orleans. Bishop Gunn describes the March 21 meeting in this manner: “That was my first introduction to the Bishops of the Province of New Orleans and a more congenial lovable lot of men I never met.
“I was born afraid of Bishops. I ran and hid from them when I could, feared them, and never met any of them that I thought worth knowing until I met the Bishops of the New Orleans Province. Such men as Gallagher of Galveston, Meerschaert of Oklahoma, Morris of Little Rock, Allen of Mobile and the younger crowd – Shaw of San Antonio and Lynch of Dallas, and of course, the greatest Roman of them all – the Archbishop of New Orleans [Blenk].”
“The meeting was a serious one and a useful one, but it did not prevent Meerschaert and Van de Ven from initiating Lynch and myself with some third degree work, especially suited to the Mutt and Jeff of the Bishops of the Province. I met most of these Bishops at my consecration, but I got to know them on the 21st and if knowing is akin to loving, I see my finish.”
Having served in the diocesan structure for more than 30 years, and in a particularly close way having served the office of bishop, I have observed a lot about the office and the men in it. I think often we forget that these are men, not statues, and they have very real fears and trepidations in accepting the office. Heavy is the head that wears the miter.
During this Advent, I am aiming some extra prayers for the bishops with whom I serve and have served. I encourage you to do the same. They need it.
(Mary Woodward is Chancellor and Archivist for the Diocese of Jackson)
From Nov. 19-21, about 20 young men, open to the possibility of a call to the priesthood, gathered at Camp Abbey in Covington, Louisiana to learn more about discernment, at Quo Vadis II retreat. The event was a big success!
This series of retreats that we are offering as a diocese are opportunities for young men to build community with others who take their faith seriously. After having a diocese-only event this past summer at Our Lady of Hope in Chatawa, this latest event included youth and young adults as well as leadership from our diocese and the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Father Josh Johnson, Vocation Director for Baton Rouge, contacted me over the summer about the possibility of collaborating, and I was very excited to do so.
The weekend included talks on vocations, prayer, and discernment by yours truly, as well as Father Josh and some of the seminarians from each diocese. The participants also were able to have a Q&A session with all the seminarians of Jackson and Baton Rouge.
As usual, however, the most important time was spent having fun and praying as a community of believers and seekers. I thought that it really helped having another diocese participate as it increased the number of participants and also brought new ideas and talents to the forefront in planning and executing the weekend.
I was also grateful that Father Aaron Williams and several youth ministers from our diocese joined me in leading our young men through the weekend. We had a beautiful Sunday Mass for Christ the King along with a Eucharistic procession which kicked off the Year of the Eucharist in moving fashion. I left that weekend with some ideas about how to continue helping young people discern throughout the year. I know that those who participated would jump at the chance to build community and pray together on a more regular basis, and not just on retreat every few months, and so this Advent is an opportunity for me to prepare for more regular offerings in the New Year.
Even during a year of pandemic, we have been able to offer our young church discernment opportunities that have invigorated their faith and helped them understand the importance of following the Lord’s will for their life. I trust that eventually this will bear fruit in priestly vocations and vocations to religious life. As always please keep this intention in mind when you pray and thank you for your support of the Department of Vocations.
By Carol Glatz
ROME (CNS) – With Advent coming during an ongoing pandemic, Christians are called to hold on to hope and foster a season of compassion and tenderness, Pope Francis said.
During Advent this year, too, “its lights will be dimmed by the consequences of the pandemic, which still weighs heavily on our time,” he said Nov. 22. “All the more reason why we are called to question ourselves and not to lose hope.”
“The feast of the birth of Christ is not out of tune with the trial we are going through because it is the quintessential feast of compassion, the feast of tenderness. Its beauty is humble and full of human warmth,” the pope said during an audience with organizers and participants in a Christmas music contest. The contest was proposed and promoted by the Pontifical Foundation Gravissimum Educationis and Don Bosco Valdocco Missions association, based in Turin.
The contest invited people between the ages of 16 and 35 to produce new songs inspired by Christmas and its values: life, love, peace and light, according to the initiative’s website, christmascontest.it/en/. Contestants were competing in three categories: lyrics, music and interpretation, and the best three pieces will be performed during the 2021 edition of the annual Christmas concert at the Vatican.
The pope thanked the groups who came up with the idea for the contest, “which gives voice to the young, inviting them to create new songs inspired by Christmas and its values.”
“The beauty of Christmas shines through in the sharing of small gestures of genuine love. It is not alienating, it is not superficial, it is not evasive,” he said.
The beauty of Christmas “expands the heart, opening it up to gratuitousness – gratuitousness, a word artists understand well! – to the giving of self,” and it can also foster cultural, social and educational life and activities, he added.
Pope Francis quoted what St. Paul VI told artists during Advent in 1965: “This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair.”
It must not be the false beauty “made of appearances and earthly riches, which are hollow and a generator of emptiness,” Pope Francis said. It must be the real beauty “of a God made flesh, the one of faces — the beauty of faces, the beauty of stories” and the beauty of “creatures that make up our common home.”
He thanked the young people, artists and other participants “for not forgetting to be custodians of this beauty that the nativity of the Lord makes shine in every daily gesture of love, sharing and service.
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
I was raised in a generation that taught that God gave each of us a vocation to live out. In the religious ethos of that time, particularly in Roman Catholic spirituality, we believed that we were put on this earth with a divine plan for us, that God gave us each a special vocation to live out. Moreover, this was not something we were free to choose for ourselves; it was God-given. Our task was to discern that vocation and give ourselves over to it, even at the price of having to renounce our own dreams. We remained free to accept or not, but at a peril. To be unfaithful to your vocation meant a misguided life.
There’s an important truth in that notion, though it needs some critical nuances. First, in that spirituality, they thought of vocations in a very restrictive sense, essentially envisaging only four basic vocations: priesthood, religious life, marriage, and single life. Further, they tended to put too much gravity on the choice, namely, if you chose wrong or if you resisted your God-given vocation, it might endanger your eternal salvation. There were some unhealthy fears connected to the choice.
I saw that first-hand when I served as the provincial superior for our religious order for six years. One of my tasks was to apply to Rome for the laicization of priests leaving the priesthood. I saw how many of those leaving the priesthood had chosen that vocation under undue pressure and false fear. Their choice had not been a free one.
That being said, the old notion of vocation is essentially still true and is too easily lost in a world and culture that generally puts personal freedom above all else. We need to learn again the importance of finding one’s vocation and giving oneself over to it.
Admittedly, vocation needs to be defined more widely than choosing between priesthood, religious life, marriage, and single life. Instead, it needs to be defined as an obedience to the inner dictates of our soul, our gifts, our talents, and the non-negotiable mandate inside us to put ourselves in service to others and the world.
James Hollis, a Jungian therapist writing from a purely secular viewpoint, highlights precisely this point. “Our real desires and our destiny are not chosen for us by our ego, but by our nature and ‘the divinities.’ … Something within us knows what is right for us and its insistence on expression is what keeps us awake at night, nudges us from within during our busiest hours, or causes us to envy others. Vocation is a summons of the soul. … It’s as if we were sent to this land with a royal assignment, and if we have only dithered about and forgotten the task, then we have violated our reason for being here.” How true.
Columnist David Brooks, also speaking from a secular place, strongly agrees. A vocation, he writes, is an irrational factor wherein you hear an inner voice that is so strong that it becomes unthinkable to turn away and where you intuitively know that you don’t have a choice, but can only ask yourself, what is my responsibility here? As well, the summons to a vocation is a holy thing, something mystical, a call from the deep. Thus, discerning your vocation is not a matter of asking what you expect from life but rather what life expects from you.
What would Jesus say? As we know, Jesus was fond of teaching in parables and his parable of talents (Matthew 25 and Luke 19) is ultimately about living out one’s God-given vocation. In that parable, those who use their talents thrive and are given even more talents. Conversely, those who hide their talents are punished. In essence, the message is this: If we use our God-given talents, we will find meaning and blessing in our lives; on the other hand, if we don’t use our talents, those very gifts will snakebite us, poison our happiness, and generally embitter our spirits. Show me a man who is bitter and envious, and most times you will see a gifted man who, consciously or unconsciously, is frustrated because he has not used his talents or has used them in a manner that doesn’t serve others. Bitterness and envy are often the unhappy residue from being snake-bitten by our own unused or misused intelligence and gifts.
There’s a voice inside us issuing forth from the depths of our souls that speaks for our talents, our temperament, our unique circumstance in life, our moral and religious sensitivities, and even for our wounds. This voice is gentle, but firm and unrelenting, as it tells us that we are not free to do anything we want with our lives. We need to surrender them to something higher than ourselves.
And indeed, there’s a peril in not listening, though what’s at stake in not our eternal salvation, but our happiness and generativity on this side of eternity.
(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser is a theologian, teacher and award-winning author. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com.)
By Fran Lavelle
The Year of the Eucharist was inaugurated in our diocese on the Feast of Christ the King and will be celebrated through the 2022 liturgical year. Our theme, “Stay with us, Lord,” comes from Luke’s Gospel (24:13-49) referred to as the Emmaus story.
In it we hear about two disciples, on their way to Emmaus, talking about the recent events in Jerusalem. Jesus encountered the two on the road and talked with them as they continued their journey though they did not recognize him. As night approached, they urged Jesus to stay with them. While he was at table Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Central to the Emmaus story is the journey of the two disciples. Not just the physical journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but the journey of faith and belief in the Risen Christ.
There is an old saying attributed to the Sioux Indians, “The longest journey is from your head to your heart.” This is true especially when it comes to matters of faith.
Our ability to believe in what we do not see and what we do not understand takes a lot of trust and faith. Believing in and understanding the Eucharist is one of those things that requires great faith and trust. If you have not considered your disposition at Mass when receiving Communion, I invite you to do so.
A favorite priest friend from Kentucky, would remind his congregants regularly that we need to check ourselves to make certain we are becoming more like that which we receive, that is Jesus. If our answer is no, we need to consider why not. If our answer is yes, we need to ask God for the grace to continue to be transformed by the Eucharist.
To find greater meaning in the devotional aspects of the Year of the Eucharist it is timely to focus on our personal understanding of the Eucharist. No matter how old you may be or how many years you have been a communicant, make this the year you take a deeper dive.
There are many great books written on the subject by many worthy theologians, from the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas to more modern studies like Alexander Schememann’s, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom or Bishop Barron’s most recent book simply titled, Eucharist. The point is to read something that will help you to continue to be transformed by the Eucharist.
Another idea is thinking about how we are present during the Mass. When I was working on my master’s degree, I took a course on the Eucharistic prayers. Prior to that course I had never read them independent of the Mass. We did a combination of exegesis and Lectio Divina of the text. In doing so I became aware of the text in a more comprehensive way and aware of what resonated most with me. It opened a whole new understanding and way of thinking about the Eucharist for me. I remember that year wanting to use my new insights on anyone who would listen. So instead of sighing when the priest began the first Eucharist prayer thinking – dang! this is the long one – I came to appreciate the hope-filled message that each prayer uniquely conveys.
The Year of the Eucharist will take on many different forms of observation. There will be the outward devotions like Eucharistic processions, exposition and adoration, and a diocesan Eucharistic Congress. All of these are exceptionally good expressions of faith and love. But we can also take on small and personal acts that draw us closer to Jesus in the Eucharist.
For example, being aware of how we treat people in the parking lot after Mass. When I lived in Northern Virginia, I was always astounded that we needed the local police to help navigate traffic after Mass. I mean if we ever had the incentive to be kind to one another on the mean streets of Alexandria, Virginia it should have been minutes after several hundred people just received Jesus!
It is fitting that we say, “Stay with us, Lord.” Stay with us beyond the dismissal rite. Stay with us in our cars, at the restaurant during brunch, and as we enter the new week be it at school, work or home. Stay with us, Lord when we are on social media, at sporting events and in the ordinary places we find ourselves each day. Stay with us, Lord and together we can become more like you. Let the Eucharist be the mirror we hold up to see ourselves growing to be more like Jesus.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)
THINGS OLD AND NEW
By Ruth Powers
Happy New Year! No, I’m not a month early: the first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical year for the church and begins a new cycle of feasts and readings for the year. Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” It is a time observed by several Christian denominations to anticipate the coming of Christ in three different ways. First, it prepares us to celebrate the physical coming of Christ into the world at Bethlehem. Second, it prepares us to receive Christ into our hearts as believers. Finally, it reminds us to be alert and prepare for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time when he will return in power and glory.
Many people observe Advent with such practices as keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath or praying an Advent devotional; but most Christians are unaware of how the practice of observing the season of Advent developed. There was no season of Advent until a definitive date for the celebration of the Nativity was set for Dec. 25, generally thought to be by Pope Julius I around 350 A.D. to correspond to and replace the pagan midwinter feast of Saturnalia. Earlier church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria placed the month of Jesus’ birth as April or May. The Dec. 25 date gradually spread throughout the Roman Empire and was brought to Northern Europe and the British Isles by Christian missionaries. In these areas, it often replaced other midwinter feasts such as Yule.
Once the date of Christmas was established, the first mention we see of a period of preparation for the feast was at the Council of Saragossa in 380. A four-week period was mentioned, but this was apparently localized to Spain. The practice of observing a period of preparation for the Nativity spread and remained highly variable for a very long time. It also varied from place to place. In many places, especially France and Germany, the preparation took the form of a forty-day period called St. Martin’s Lent, which began on the feast of St. Martin of Tours (Nov. 11) and concluded on Dec. 24. In other places, it began on Dec. 1. In the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great wrote an office for clergy which was to be said on the five Sundays leading up to Christmas, so he is credited by some as the originator of Advent. In addition, in some places only the clergy and monastics observed Advent, while in other places the laity observed it as well.
Practices for observing Advent were also highly variable. The first practice appears to be the preaching of special sermons in the weeks preceding the feast day. Some of these are still in existence, including ones attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. A little later, in the late fifth century, we begin to see mention of fasting as preparation for Christmas, with Advent becoming like a second Lent. Most of the practices many of us now associate with Advent, such as the Advent wreath or Advent calendars, did not develop until the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries.
Even though the liturgical season of Advent was formalized in the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent, the laity’s observing of the season fell in and out of practice for several centuries. St. Charles Borromeo worked to revive the observance of Advent in his diocese of Milan in the late sixteenth century. Pope Benedict XIV in the mid-eighteenth century led a revival in the observance of Advent for the whole church. Finally, the reforms of Vatican II led to our current emphasis on the 3-fold preparation we see in our liturgy now.
So once again, Happy New Year! And let us remember to carve out time in the secular hustle and bustle of the season to prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus at the celebration of his birth and when he returns again.
(Ruth Powers is the Program Coordinator for St. Mary Basilica Parish in Natchez.)