NEWS BULLETIN – DECEMBER 2017
PAPAL INTENTION FOR DECEMBER 2017
That the elderly, sustained by families and Christian communities, may apply their wisdom and experience to spreading the faith and forming the new generations.
CELEBRATION OF ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS
Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters!
As we enter into the season of Advent on 3rd December and as a culmination we will celebrate the great feast of Christmas, let us reflect on these two themes for our reflection in this news bulletin.
The History of Advent
The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Mt.2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Jn.1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (Jn.2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.
By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.
Today, the season of Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. It serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas.
With the first Sunday of the Advent the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.)
Advent symbolizes the present situation of the Church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Heb.1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The Church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the Church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the Church’s cry during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the Church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.
Advent Liturgy and Practice
To balance the two elements of remembrance and anticipation, the first two Sundays in Advent (through December 16th) look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays (December 17th-24th) look backward to remember Christ’s first coming. Over the course of the four weeks, Scripture readings move from passages about Christ’s return in judgment, to Old Testament passages about the expectation of the coming Messiah, to New Testament passages about the announcements of Christ’s arrival by John the Baptist and the Angels.
Advent and the Christian Life
While Advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ’s birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of Advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated; and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming that Karl Barth wrote these words: “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promises are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promises and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.” The promise for Israel and the promise for the Church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.
It seems fitting that Advent is the beginning of the liturgical calendar, for it is a season of spiritual preparation marked by an eager longing for the birth of Our Savior Jesus Christ. There are age-old Advent practices, some of which I mention in this news bulletin, which will help our children and families live closer to Christ. The practices are time-tested and proven. They teach the doctrine of redemption and develop a sense of generosity toward God (Catechism, nos. 2222-26).
The following activities are provided so that we and our families in the parishes can live Advent and Christmas to the fullest.
1. Advent Wreath: The Advent wreath, which has German origins, is probably the most recognized Advent custom. It is a wreath made of evergreens that is bound to a circle of wire. It symbolizes the many years from Adam to Christ in which the world awaited its Redeemer; it also represents the years that we await His second and final coming. The wreath holds four equally spaced candles, the three purple ones lit on the penitential Sundays and a pink one for Gaudete, the joyful third Sunday in Advent. There are many available prayers and hymns found in the reading list that can accompany our personal Advent wreath ceremony.
2. The Empty Manger: There could be one empty manger in the church. Each child may have his own manger at home, or there may be one manger for the whole family. The idea is that when acts of service, sacrifice, or kindness are done in honor of Baby Jesus as a birthday present, the child receives a piece of straw to put into the manger. Then, on Christmas morning, Baby Jesus is placed in the manger. Encourage our children to make Jesus bed as comfortable as possible through their good deeds. In the process, explain Christ’s incomparable self-gift at Christmas and Easter that enables us to be part of Gods family.
3. The Jesse Tree: The Jesse tree reminds us of Jesus’ Davidic ancestry (Mt.1:1). It gives the greater understanding of the relationship between the house of David, Jesus, and the Catholic Church’s divine origin. The Jesse tree tells about Christ’s ancestry through symbols and relates Scripture to salvation history, progressing from creation to the birth of Christ. The tree can be made on a poster board with the symbols glued on, or on an actual tree.
4. St. Nicholas Day: The feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated on Dec.6th. It is a highlight of the Advent season. Each child puts out a shoe the night before St. Nicholas Day in the hope that the kind bishop with his miter, staff, and bag of gifts will pay a visit. The current Santa Claus is modeled after St. Nicholas, but commercialism has tarnished the true story. Many families give gifts on both Dec. 6 and Christmas. Read about St. Nicholas in saints’ book.
5. The Mary’s Candle: Some have the custom of decorating the white candle with a blue veil on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On this great feast, others place a candle with a blue ribbon before a statue or picture of the Blessed Virgin, whose ‘yes’ to God enabled our Lord’s coming at Christmas. Some use blue candle too. The candle is lit during the family prayer time or during meal times to serve as a delightful reminder of Mary’s eager expectation of the Light of the World. It can also serve as a reminder to each family member to keep their own light of grace burning as a preparation for Christ’s coming.
6. The Christ’s Candle: Any large white candle can be used for the Christ candle. The idea is to decorate it with symbols for Christ. Use old Christmas cards, glitters, beads, stars etc. The candle can be lit on Christmas Eve to show that the Light of the World has arrived. Then continue to light the Christ candle throughout the year at important celebrations to remind the family of our waiting for Christ, as well as celebrating His birth and Resurrection.
7. St. Lucy’s Cakes: The feast of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr, is on December 13th. This marks the opening of the Christmas season in Sweden. Her life story can be found in most saints books. The symbolism is rich and her life story worthwhile reading.
8. The Nativity Scene: This is the event in which the entire family shares setting up the Christmas manger. Mary and Joseph should be far off traveling and their approach to Bethlehem can be adjusted daily. Older children can make life-size Nativity models, carve them, cut them out from cardboard, or set up pre-made figurines. The creative ideas are without limit. Make sure to place the Nativity scene where many can admire the children’s efforts to give God glory.
9. Blessing of the Christmas tree: More and more frequently families are blessing their Christmas trees. It is good to remind children that the tree relates to many aspects of our faith. For example, we are reminded that our first parents were not allowed to eat from one tree, and that Christ paid the great price for our redemption by hanging on a tree (Acts 5:29-32) and gave us the Gift of Life. There are many different stories which attempt to explain why we use a tree at Christmas. For instance, St. Boniface in the eighth century said, “the tree is the wood of peace, the sign of an endless life with its evergreen branches. It points to heaven. It will never shelter deeds of blood, but rather be filled with loving gifts and rites of kindness”. In remembrance of Jesus Christ, the Gift of Life, gifts hanged in the tree for the entire family on Christmas day.
10. Christmas Carols: The angel Gabriel announced to Mary about the birth of Jesus. A choir of angels announced the good news of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem to the shepherds. A shining star announced the birth of Jesus to the entire world especially to three magi. Imitating these announcements, the singing of Christmas carols came into existence. It is a joyful announcement of birth of Life and Hope to the dying world.
11. Fasting during the Advent: While it is difficult to keep in mind in the midst of holiday celebrations, shopping, lights and decorations, and joyful carols, Advent is intended to be a season of fasting, much like Lent. Fasting and other forms of penance, such as prayer and almsgiving, help to purify our hearts and prepare us for the celebration of Christmas (Catechism, no. 1434). Reflection on the violence and evil in the world cause us to cry out to God with fasting and prayer to make things right, to put death’s dark shadows to flight, to move forward from our present exile to our future Exodus and to conform us into the image of Christ by removing own sinfulness and by showering His grace for our renewal in and through the Holy Spirit.
12. Other Fruitful Practices: The Church especially encourages Participation at weekday Masses during Advent, because in the Eucharist we find the source and goal of our Advent preparation: Christ Himself, whose sacrifice reconciles us with God (Catechism, no. 1436; Sacred Congregation of Rites, Eucharisticum Mysterium, no. 29).A family can also participate in Advent through the Liturgy of the Hours, or at least by following the weekday Mass readings at home, as the Church anticipates her Saviors coming, and then His early life following Christmas. A family that participates together in Mass and other activities during the Advent and Christmas seasons will grow closer in Christ the Reason for the Season and give a great witness to friends and relatives.
Let us try to incorporate some of these activities into our parishes and in our homes during Advent to enable us to truly celebrate Christmas in a meaningful and fruitful way.
Celebration of Christmas
Pope Francis in his Christmas message in the year 2015 said that Christmas is a Christ- event of His birth two thousand years ago which is renewed every year in every family, parish and community which receives the love of God made incarnate in Jesus Christ. It is a day of mercy, in which God our Father has revealed His great tenderness to the entire world. It is a day of light, which dispels the darkness of fear and anxiety. It is a day of peace, which makes for encounter, dialogue and above all reconciliation. It is a day of hope in distress. It is a day of human dignity in various miseries. It is a day of joy for the poor, the lowly and for all the people (Lk.2:10).
Through the visible sign of the crib, the Church shows to everyone the Son of the Most High (Mt.1:20) and the Savior who took upon himself the sin of the world (Jn.1:29). With the Shepherds, let us bow down before the Lamb, let us worship God’ goodness made flesh, and let us allow tears of repentance to fill our eyes and cleanse our hearts. This is something we all need.
The Church primarily celebrates Christmas from Christmas Day until the Solemnity of the Epiphany, which commemorates the manifestation of Christ as the Savior of the whole world (Mt.2:1-12). The Church has also traditionally celebrated Christmas for 40 days, culminating on the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord (Feb. 2). During this time, the birth of Christ is celebrated as one continuous festival. It is just as important to celebrate during the Christmas season as it is to prepare for Christ during Advent.
Christ is born for us; let us rejoice in the day of our salvation!
Let us pray
Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan and let Him take flesh once again in various forms through our humble service according to your plan. Amen!
Wish You All A Meaningful and Fruitful Christmas and
A Grace-filled New Year 2018!
With my most cordial blessings,
Bishop of Ootacamund