To the modern mind, Christen or otherwise, Christmastide has become mottled and mixed with the season of Advent. To further complicate the situation the secular Christmas season has become an excuse for an orgy of consumerism, selfishness, rudeness, and sometimes even criminal behavior. Don’t believe me? …just look at the inevitable opening of the starting gates at any retail outlet on the pre-dawn Black Friday that will inundate the media this weekend. So bad has the situation become that most contemporary people today look on the current commercial “Holiday Season” as normal. Indeed, they look forward to the sappy canned music played in the shopping malls. Alarmingly, so-called family shows like the Grinch have replaced the Nativity stories and animations of our childhood; and secular songs like: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer has replaced reverential songs like: Silent Night on our radios. Well I’m here to tell you that at this time we desperately need to revert to previous Catholic tradition of Advent.
Technically, Advent, in the Latin, advenio, means to come to. It, of course, refers to the coming of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. For the Catholic is has meaning on three levels: the first, is of course, the coming of the promised Messiah to redeem mankind. The second level is the coming of the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The third and final level of the meaning is the coming of Jesus Christ as the promised Second Coming of Our Lord as the Awful Judge at the end of time.
We know as Catholics that when we plan on receiving Holy Communion we must have prepared for this union within ourselves with the Word made flesh. We must have gone to Confession to remove any stain of mortal sin from our souls; we must have also done penance and reparation to correct and repair any damage, physical and spiritual, caused by the sin which we just confessed and other personal sins as well. This is not just a cursory preparation but must be done with our whole mind, heart, and soul, lest we receive unworthily. So too, must we prepare for the anticipated Second Coming of Jesus Christ, whether it be our own personal physical death or the actual Second Coming with the Final Judgment of all. Since either may occur at any time, that means we must ever strive to be in a constant State of Grace.
In the more common experience of Advent, we must also make preparations for the Coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Redeemer through prayer, fasting, repentance, and reparation. It is particularly this uniquely Catholic concept that is now lost on the world, most ironically among Catholics including traditional Catholics. To the modern mind Advent has become a season of celebration with Christmas parties, food and drink, and reception of relatives near and close. Properly speaking this sort of celebration should be reserved for the period after Christmas; when we commemorate the Word Made Flesh among us.
Until recently in Hispanic countries Christmas was observed as a religious occasion strictly; festivities and gift-giving were reserved for Little Christmas or Three Kings Day, which commemorated the arrival and veneration given by the Three Kings, that is, Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior to the newborn King. The time leading up to Christmas was a time of spiritual reading; prayer, both family and individual; Advent wreaths with their symbolic anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah; and Advent Calendars containing Scriptural verses to be meditated on during each of the days.
The only exception to celebration during the Advent Season was on Sundays when we commemorate the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Christ Our Lord. Therefore, for instance, the Celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which falls during Advent and is an occasion of great joy and celebration, does not break the atmosphere of preparation of the Advent Season. Conversely, the celebration of the school, community, or office Christmas party is to be avoided as it contrasts with the Spirit of Mortification proper to the Advent Season. These must be postponed until the actual Christmastide. It is also important to avoid the celebratory decorating of the home with lights, wreaths, and Christmas trees, because the Light of the World has not yet entered until December 25th. Time was in my youth when about 50% of Christian neighbors would only set up the Christmas tree and other decorations on Christmas Eve after a traditional family meal of fish or other non-flesh dish and when the younger children were soundly asleep.
Within my own family, which has some Hispanic roots, we have in the past celebrated on The Feast of the Three Kings with the exchanging of gifts. With the pressure of modern American culture even this has changed. We now exchanged gifts on Christmas and hold a token few back for Little Christmas.
With the darkest of dark spiritual times in which Western Society now finds itself we should revert to the traditional observation of Advent with fasting, prayer and all. Speaking of fasting, perhaps we should actually assume the fasting attitude of the Eastern Orthodox, who though a truly schismatic religion, do put us Catholics to shame when it comes to discipline and mortification of the flesh in preparation for Advent, or what they refer to a “Little Lent” as opposed to the “Great Lent” leading up to Easter, or Pasch. An example of Orthodox Christian fasting rules follows:
During Lent, Advent (period leading up to the Nativity), and other fast periods they fast from:
2. Eggs & dairy,
3. Fish with backbones (other seafood – shellfish – allowed),
4. Wine & olive oil,
Fish, wine, & olive oil are permitted on celebration days within the fast period; wine & olive oil are always permitted on Saturdays & Sundays.
The reasons why this strenuous fast is undertaken is myriad and is too much to include in this article; suffice it to say, that the O.C. is quite serious when it comes to contrition, repentance, reparation, and fasting.
While much of the Orthodox Christian rules of fasting would seem excessive by Catholic standards, even traditional Catholic standards, we can, at least during Advent, fast and abstain as permitted by Holy Mother Church. Additionally, to compensate for the neglect and deficiencies of our contemporary society, we might also include some additional days of fast for our personal contrition and reparation. For instance, we might include, in addition to the usual Friday fasting and abstinence, an extension to Wednesday and Saturday fasts as well. Or, we might consider avoiding all meat during Advent, (excepting, of course, Sundays) as a mortification of the flesh.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, with Advent upon us we ought make additional mortifications for the times we live in and the overthrow of Christ the King in society. We also, through fasting and abstaining, can enhance the joy and celebration of Christmastide, when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is among us. Let us as a corporate body of Faithful Catholics revive the traditions of a truly Catholic Advent.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.