+First Sunday in Advent+
“Of all the feasts throughout the year the celebration of Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are the most popular of all, both for children and for adults. There are more traditions and customs associated with Christmas in all Christian countries than with any other feast. It is true, of course, that the logical culmination of Advent is attained with the Epiphany; the season of preparation, however, truly ends with the Nativity. The celebration of these two feasts may be explained only upon an historical basis. Christmas is the Occidental celebration of the Nativity of the Lord, and the Epiphany is the Christmas of the Orient. There is a very important difference to be noted between the two great Paschal feasts and the two great Christmas feasts. In the Easter cycle, Pentecost, with the mission of the Paraclete, represents an organic development in the work of our salvation; in the Christmas cycle, Christmas and the Epiphany center about an identical theme: the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Saviour and King of Kings. The East adopted Christmas from the West; the Occident received the feast of the Epiphany from the Orient. These two Christmas feasts are a venerable spiritual monument of the union of the Church in East and West. In the Roman rite, the third, or Day-Mass, of Christmas is really a Mass of Manifestation or Epiphany. The Station at St. Peter’s is the same station as that of the Epiphany and the Mass is intended to be truly one manifestation of the new-born Saviour to the City and to the World.
“To Christians of the Western world, Christmas always seems to be more important than the Epiphany, despite the fact that the latter feast is of higher rank. It is very true that Advent, and the period of waiting and preparation are concluded with the feast of Christmas. The texts of the liturgy indicate this by saying that “Tomorrow original sin shall be destroyed,” and “Open, ye Eternal Gates, that the King of Glory may enter in.” The realization of the glorious visit of the great King which dominates the whole of Advent is not accomplished, however until the feast of the Epiphany. The East has enlarged our perspective of the spiritual meaning of the Incarnation. We are elevated above the historical fact related by the Gospels to a perspective of the kingship of Christ, which dominates all time and space. At Christmas, we may be said to be reborn with Christ as the Sun of the Nativity rises over the town of Bethlehem; at the Epiphany, we celebrate the mystical wedding of the King with His Spouse, the Church: the glory of the Lord shines forth in noontide splendor over Jerusalem. On the feast of Christmas, Christ is born to us in the intimacy of the family represented by Mary and the shepherds; at the Epiphany, He manifests to the entire world His glory and His kingship, which are represented by the adoration of the Magi, the baptism in the Jordan, and the marriage feast of Cana.
“It is necessary, furthermore, before offering suggestions for the celebration of Christmas in our cities and homes, to note some of the historical developments of a truly Christian conception of the holiday season. A readily available source of information for families concerning the history of Christmas and its tradition is to be found in The Christmas Book by Francis X. Weiser, S.J. There is no historical record nor even a well-founded tradition which gives the date of the birth of Christ. The date of December 25 was established about the year 320, and the Popes seem to have chosen the twenty-fifth day of December principally to divert the attention of the people from the celebration of a pagan feast of the Mithras cult which was called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” (Natalis Solis Invicti). This does not in any manner indicate that Christmas is merely a “christianized” pagan feast, for Christians of that time realized with St. John Chrysostom: “The pagans call December 25 the Birthday of the Unconquered. Who is indeed so unconquered as Our Lord? . . . or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.”
“Throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas came to be celebrated more and more. Especially during the period from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries all the arts and crafts of the Christian nations were made serviceable to the festivities associated with the Nativity of the Saviour. Plays and songs, carols and dances, spices and flowers, images and statues — all creation was made to serve the celebration of the feast. The foundation of all these customs and traditions was always Holy Mass — the Christ-Mass — the Divine Office and the sacramentals. In many countries of Europe a sharp change in the Christmas solemnities came with the Reformation during the sixteenth century. The spiritual and scriptural foundation of the liturgy, including the Mass itself, was ridiculed and forbidden. The Calvinists and Puritans in particular condemned all religious celebration of the feast, and when the “new” method of celebrating Christmas was revived it tended to become only a more or less pagan feast of good-natured and humanitarian reveling. The attempt was particularly successful in England, and post-Reformation English attitudes concerning Christmas have affected most of our own notions concerning the celebration of the holidays.
“When the Puritans came to political power in England, they immediately proceeded to outlaw Christmas. It was their contention that no feast of human institution should ever outrank the Sabbath (Sunday). Since Christmas was the most important of the non-Sunday festivals, it was abolished altogether. The first ordinances issued forbidding church services and civic festivities on Christmas came in 1642, finally, on June 3, 1647, Parliament enacted a ruling that the feast should no longer be observed under pain of punishment. Riots and strife broke out among the people, but the government stood firm and even broke up celebrations by force of arms, though the punishments were not too severely inflicted. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the observance of the “old” Christmas returned with a “new” attitude. The religious observance of Christmas was almost entirely replaced by amusement and reveling over plum pudding, goose, capon, minced pie and roast beef, with decorations of mistletoe, holly and ivy, and the yule log. Two of the best exemplifications of this “new Christmas without Christ” are to be found in the Christmas Stories of Charles Dickens, and the Sketch Book of Washington Irving. We must admit that our present-day celebration of Christmas is greatly affected by these works. The only thing that may be said in favor of these well-written books is that they do contain interesting stories upholding a spirit of good will to men and of generosity to the poor. Christ the Saviour and the King of Kings is indeed very remote in the background.
“The unfortunate zeal of the Puritans has certainly influenced the American celebration of Christmas. It is very difficult in our day to realize that Christmas was outlawed in New England until the second half of the last century. As late as 1870, classes were held in the public schools of Boston on Christmas day, and any truant pupil was gravely punished or even publicly dismissed from school. Through the influx of German, Irish and French immigrants, together with the multiple immigrations from all the European nations, Christmas has been more fully restored within the last seventy years in this country. Two currents are now manifest: the pagan, good-natured humanitarian sort of celebration represented upon Christmas cards by sleigh bells, Santa Claus, peppermint sticks and the like; and the Christian spiritual and traditional customs originating from medieval Christian Europe. In view of the objective principles found in the liturgy of Holy Mass, the Divine Office and the sacramentals, we shall try to outline certain ancient and modern customs which are truly Christian in foundation and based upon Christian Doctrine and practice.”
Source: True Christmas Spirit by Rev. Edward J. Sutfin, Grail Publications, St. Meinrad, Indiana, 1955
A Do-it-Yourself Kit for the Christmas Crib
The following directions show you how to build a spiritual crib in your heart for Christ. Use it to put Christ into your Christmas in a real, living way.
Start on December 1. Read the thought indicated about Christ’s first crib. Practice it during the day. Do this daily during December and make your heart a worthy crib for Christ on Christmas Day.
The stable — Frequently during the day, offer your heart to the little Infant Jesus. Ask Him to make it His home. Sweet Jesus, take my heart and make it meek and pure.
The roof — See that the roof of the stable is in good condition so that the Infant Jesus is protected from rain and snow. This you will do by carefully avoiding every uncharitable remark. Jesus, teach me to love my neighbor as myself.
Crevices — Carefully stop every crevice in the walls of the stable so that the wind and cold may not enter there. Guard your senses against temptations. Guard especially your ears against sinful conversations. Jesus, help me to keep temptations out of my heart.
Cobwebs — Clean the cobwebs from your spiritual crib. Diligently remove from your heart every inordinate desire of being praised. Renew this intention at least three times today. My Jesus, I want to please Thee in all I do today.
Fence — Build a fence about the crib of your heart by keeping a strict watch over your eyes especially at prayer. Sweet Jesus, I long to see Thee.
Manger — Fix the best and warmest corner of your heart for the manger of Jesus. You will do so by abstaining from what you like most in the line of food, comfort and amusement. Dear Mary, use these sacrifices to prepare my heart for Jesus in Holy Communion.
Hay — Supply the manger of your heart with hay by overcoming all feelings of pride, anger or envy. Jesus, teach me to know and correct my greatest sins.
Soft straw — Also provide your manger with soft straw for performing little acts of mortification. For instance, bear the cold without complaint or sit and stand erect. Dear Jesus, who suffered so much for me, let me suffer for love of Thee.
Swaddling clothes — Prepare these for the Divine Infant by folding your hands when you pray and by praying slowly and thoughtfully. Jesus, let me love Thee more and more.
Blankets — Provide the manger of your heart with soft, warm blankets. Avoid harsh and angry words; be kind and gentle to all. Jesus, help me to be meek and humble like Thee.
Fuel — Bring fuel to the crib of Jesus. Give up your own will; obey your superiors cheerfully and promptly. Jesus, let me do Thy will in all things.
Water — Bring fresh, clean water to the crib. Avoid every untruthful word and every deceitful act. Dearest Mary, obtain for me true contrition for my sins.
Provisions — Bring a supply of food to the crib. Deprive yourself of some food at mealtime or a cigarette or candy, especially when you feel like smoking or eating. Jesus, be my strength and nourishment.
Light — See that the crib has sufficient light. Be neat and orderly about your person; keep everything in its place in your room (or your home). Jesus, be the life and light of my soul.
Fire — Take care to have the crib of your heart warmed by a cozy fire. Be grateful to God for the love He has shown us in becoming man. Behave with grateful respect towards your parents, relatives and lawful superiors. Jesus, how can I return Thy love, how can I show my gratitude to Thee?
The Ox — Lend the ox to the crib. Obey cheerfully without making excuses and without asking why. I will obey for love of Thee, my Jesus.
The donkey — Bring the donkey to the crib. Offer to the Divine Infant your bodily strength; use it in the service of others. Jesus, accept my service of love; I offer it for those who do not love Thee.
Gifts — Gather some presents for the Divine Infant and His Blessed Mother. Give alms for the poor and say an extra decade of the Rosary. Come, Jesus, to accept my gifts and to take possession of all my heart.
Lambs — Strive to bring some little lambs to the manger, meek and patient. Do not murmur or complain. Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.
Shepherds — Invite the shepherds to pay homage to our newborn King. In imitation of their watchfulness, stress in your speech and thoughts the idea that Christmas is important because Jesus will be born again in you. My Jesus, teach me to love Thee above all things.
The Key — Provide the stable with a key to keep out thieves. Exclude from your heart every sinful thought, every rash judgment. Dear Jesus, close my heart to all that hurts Thee.
Angels — Invite the angels to adore God with you. Cheerfully obey the inspirations of your Guardian Angel and of your conscience. Holy Guardian Angel, never let me forget that you are with me always.
St. Joseph — Accompany St. Joseph from door to door. Learn from him how to silently and patiently bear refusals and disappointments. Open wide your heart and beg him to enter with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Joseph, help me to prepare for a worthy Christmas Communion.
The Blessed Virgin — Go meet your Blessed Mother. Lead her to the manger of your heart and beg her to lay the Divine Infant in it. Shorten your chats and telephone conversations and spend more time today thinking of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Come dear Jesus, come; my heart longs for Thee.
(This devotion was found as a reprint available from Maryfaithful, a publication printed in the 1970s-1980s in Powers Lake, ND.)