Instruction in Regard to Advent and The First Sunday of Advent

INSTRUCTION IN REGARD TO ADVENT
AND THE TIME OF ADVENT

What is the meaning of the word Advent, and what do we understand by it? 

The word Advent signifies Coming, and by it is understood the visible coming of the Son of God, at two different times, to this world.

When was the first coming of Christ? 

It was when the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the most pure Virgin Mary, was born, according to the flesh, in the fulness of time, and sanctified the world by His coming for which the patriarchs and prophets had so longed. (Gen. xlix, 10., Isai. lxiv. 1, Luke x, 24.)

Since Christ had not yet come how were the just of the Old Law saved? 

Immediately after their sin God revealed to our first parents (Gen. iii. 15.) that His only begotten Son would become man and redeem the world. In the hope of this Redeemer and through His future merits all in the old covenant who participated in His merits by innocence or by penance, and who died in the grace of God, were saved, although they were excluded from heaven until the ascension of Christ.

When will the second coming of Christ take place? 

At the end of the world when Christ will come with great power and majesty to judge both the living and the dead.

What is Advent, and why has the Church instituted it?

Advent is that solemn time, immediately preceding Christinas, instituted by the Church in order that we should in the first place meditate on the Incarnation of Christ, the love, patience and humility which He has shown us, and to prove our gratitude to Him that He came from the bosom of His heavenly Father into this valley of tears, to redeem us; secondly, that we may prepare ourselves by sincere repentance, by fasting, prayer, alms-deeds, and other works pleasing to God, for the coming of Christ and His birth in our hearts, and thus participate in the graces which He has obtained for us; finally, that He may be merciful to us when He shall come again as judge of the world. “Watch ye and pray, for ye know not at what hour the Son of Man may come”. (Matt. xxiv. 42. 44.)

How was Advent formerly observed? 

Very differently from now. It then commenced with the feast of St. Martin, and was observed by the faithful like the Forty Days Fast with strict fasting and pious devotional exercises; as even now the most religious communities fast, and the Church has forbidden all noisy amusements, weddings, dancing and concerts among Christians during Advent. Pope Sylverius ordered that those who seldom receive Holy Communion should at least do so on every Sunday in Advent.

How should this solemn time be spent by pious Christians?

They should recall, during these four weeks, the four thousand years in which the just under the Old Law expected and desired the promised Redeemer, think of those days of darkness in which nearly all the nations were blinded by Satan and drawn into the most horrible crimes, then to consider their own sins and evil deeds and purify their souls from them by a worthy reception of the Sacraments, so that our Lord may come with His grace to dwell in their hearts and be merciful to them in life and in death. Further to awaken in the faithful the feelings of repentance so necessary for the reception of the Saviour in their hearts, the Church orders that besides the observance of certain fastdays, the altar shall be draped in violet, that Mass shall be celebrated in violet vestments, that the organ shall be silent and no Gloria sung. Unjust to themselves, disobedient to the Church, and ungrateful, indeed, to God are those Christians and Catholics who spend this solemn time of grace presented to them, without any special devotions, without performing any good works, with no longing for the coming of Christ into their hearts, without receiving the sacraments, perhaps in foolish, even sometimes in sinful amusements.

What are Rorate, High-Masses, and why are they celebrated?

They are the solemn Highmasses celebrated in some countries in commemoration of the tidings brought to the Blessed Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel, announcing to her that she was to become the Mother of God, and derive their name from the words of the Introit in the Votive-Mass in honor of our beloved Lady “Rorate caeli desuper”; and are also sometimes called the Angel’s High-Mass. They are celebrated very early in the morning because the Blessed Virgin preceded our Lord, as the aurora the rising sun.

PRAYER IN ADVENT. O God, who by Thy gracious advent hast brought joy into this world, grant us, we beseech Thee, Thy grace to prepare ourselves by sincere penance for its celebration and for the Last Judgment. Amen.

INSTRUCTION FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT

The first Sunday in Advent is the first day of the Ecclesiastical Year, and the beginning of the holy season of Advent. The Church commences, on this day, to contemplate the great longing with which the just of the Old Law desired the coming of the Redeemer; on these days and during the entire season of Advent she unites her prayers with their sighs in order to awaken in her children also the desire for the grace of the Redeemer; above all to move them to do true penance for their sins, because these are the greatest obstacles in the path of that gracious Advent; therefore she sings at the Introit of the day’s Mass: “To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul. In Thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed. Neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on Thee shall be confounded. Show, O Lord, Thy ways to me and teach me Thy paths”. (Psalm xxiv. 1 – 4.) Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH.Show forth Thy power, O Lord, and come that we may merit to be delivered by Thy protection from the imminent danger of our sins, and be saved by Thee, our Liberator. Who livest and reignest with God the Father together with the Holy Ghost, God for ever and ever. Amen.

EPISTLE, (Romans xiii. 11-14.) Brethren! you know the time, that it is now the hour for as to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is passed and the day is at hand. Let as therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in eating and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.

What does St. Paul teach us in this epistle? 

After fully explaining the duties of a Christian life to the Romans who were converted especially by St. Peter, he exhorts them to hesitate no longer to fulfill them, and seeks to move their hearts in this time of grace, presented to them by the Christian regulation.

What is meant here by sleep?

The stupidity and blindness of the soul that, forgetting her God, is sunk in a luckwarm, effeminate, slothful and lustful life, which when it is gone, leaves behind nothing more than a dream had in sleep.

Why does St. Paul say, “salvation is nearer”?

He wishes to impress upon the Romans that they now have far greater hope of salvation than when they first became Christians, and that they should secure it by a pious life, because death, and the moment on which depended their salvation, or eternal reward, was drawing near. “What is our life”, says St. Chrysostom, “other than a course, a dangerous course to death, through death to immortality”?

What is the signification of day and night?

The night signifies the time before Christ, full of darkness, of infidelity and of injustice; the day represents the present time, the time of grace and of the gospel light in the Church, in which Christ enlightens the whole world with the light of the true faith.

What are “the works of darkness?”

All sins, and especially those which are committed in the dark, and shun the eye of God and man.

What is the “armor of light?” 

That faith, virtue and grace, the spiritual armor, with which we battle against our three enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, and in which we should walk honestly before all men. A Christian who in baptism has renounced the devil and all his pomps, dares not live in vice and impurities, but must put on Christ Jesus, that is, must adorn his soul with the imitation of Christ’s virtues, as with a beautiful garment. This text (verse 13) moved St. Augustine to fly from all works of uncleanliness in which he has been involved, and to lead a pure life which he had before thought is difficult to do.

ASPIRATION. Grant, O Lord, that we may rise by penance from the sleep of our sins, may walk in the light of Thy grace by the performance of good works, may put on Thee, and adorn our souls with the imitation of Thy virtues. Amen.

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GOSPEL. (Luke xxi. 25 – 38.) And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon, and in the stars: and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea, and of the waves. Men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heavens shall be moved: and then they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads: because your redemption is at hand. And He spoke to them a similitude. See the fig-tree and all the trees: when they now shoot forth their fruit, you know that summer is nigh. So you also, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen, I say to you, this generation shall not pass away, till all things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.

Why does the Church command the Gospel of the Last Judgment to be read to day? 

To move us to penance, and force us to prepare our souls for the coining of Christ by placing the terrible coming in the Last Judgment before our minds. For nothing can, and nothing should more deter us from sin and urge us on to virtue than the thought that in this judgment all good and all evil will be made public, and be either rewarded or punished in the presence of the whole world.

What signs will precede the Last Judgment?

The sun will be obscured, the stars will lose their light and disappear in the firmament (Isai. xiii. 10.), and in their place fiery objects will be seen in the heavens and will fall upon the earth; lightning and flames will surround the earth and wither up every thing; the powers of heaven will be shaken, the elements be dissolved and brought to confusion; the waters of the earth will rise up and break in upon the land, and their roaring joined with the howling of the winds, and the beating of the storms, will fill man with terror and dread. Such evils and distress will come upon the world that men will wither away from fear not knowing whither to turn. Even the choirs of angels and the heavenly dominations will be terrified, until at last the sign of the Son of Man, the sign of the cross, will appear in the heavens, the terror of the sinners who have scorned it, the consolation of the just who have loved it. (Matt. xxiv. 30.)

Why will all this come to pass?

Because the people have loved the creatures of God inordinately, more than the Creator, and used them only to His dishonor, He will destroy them in this terrible manner, arming all creatures for the vengeance of His enemies ( Wisdom v. 8.), and showing by the manner of their destruction the evils which will fall upon all sinners. The darkness of the sun will indicate the darkness of hell, the bloodred moon the anger and wrath of God; the disappearance and falling of the stars the fall of sinners into the abysses of hell and their disappearance from earth; and the madness of the elements the rage of the beast of hell (Ludw. d. P.). Sinners will then vainly and too late repent that they have attached their hearts to things which will end so horribly and that only increase their torments.

Why through all this does Christ command: “Lift up your heads for your redemption is at hand”?

These words are spoken to the just who as long as they live on earth are like prisoners and exiles, but at the Last Judgment will be taken body and soul into their long desired fatherland, the kingdom of heaven: into the freedom of the children of God. These will have reason to raise their heads, now bowed in mourning and to rejoice.

How will the Last Judgment commence? 

By the command of God the angels will sound the trumpets summoning men from all the four parts of the earth to come to judgment (Thess. iv. 15.). Then the bodies of the dead, of the just and of the unjust, will unite with their souls, be brought to the valley of Jehosophat, and there placed, the just on the right, the unjust on the left (Matt. xxv. 33.). Then will appear the angels and also the devils, then Christ Himself will be seen coming in a cloud in such power and majesty, that the sinners will be filled with terror, will not dare to look at Him, and will cry to the mountains to fall upon them and to the hills to cover them up. (Luke xxiii. 30.)

How will the judgment be held?

The books of conscience closed with this life, upon which all men are to be judged, will be opened; all good and evil thoughts, words, deeds and motives, even the most secret known only to God, will then be as plainly revealed to the whole world as if they were written on each ones forehead; and by these each one will be judged, eternally rewarded or eternally punished.

O God! If we must then give an account of every idle word (Matt. xii. 36), how can we stand in the face of so many sinful words and actions!

Why will God hold an universal public judgment?

Although immediately after death a special, private judgment of each soul takes place, God has ordained a public and universal judgment for the following reasons: First, that it may be shown clearly to all how just has been His private judgment, and also that the body which has been the instrument of sin or of virtue, may share in the soul’s punishment or reward; secondly, that the justice they could by no means obtain in this life, may be given before the whole world to the oppressed poor, and to persecuted innocence; and that the wicked who have abused the righteous, and yet have been considered honest and good, may be shamed before all. Thirdly, that the graces and means of salvation bestowed upon each may be made known; fourthly, that the blessed providence of God which often permitted the righteous to suffer evil while the wicked prospered, may be vindicated, and it be shown, on that day, that His acts are acts of the greatest wisdom Fifthly, that the wicked may learn the goodness of God, not for their comfort or benefit, but their greatest sorrow, that they may see how He rewards even the slightest work performed for His love and honor. Finally, that Christ may be exalted before the wicked on earth, as before the good in heaven, and that His word’s truth may be solemnly made manifest.

ASPIRATION. Just art Thou, O God, and just are Thy judgments. Ah, penetrate my soul with holy fear of them, that I may be kept always in awe of them, and saved from evil conduct. Would that I could say with the penitent St. Jerome: “Whether I eat or drink, and whatever I do, I seem to hear the awful sound of the trumpet in my ears: Arise ye dead, and come to judgment”.

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