Sunday, December 2, 2007
Sermon of Fr. Gabriel for the First Sunday of Advent
Today is the first Sunday of Advent and on this Sunday we begin a new liturgical year. The Church begins a new year every year with the first Sunday of Advent. I wanted to speak today about the liturgical year, the cycles that we go through in the liturgy each year and what the meaning of it is. There are two cycles in the Church year: one is called the saintoral cycle and the other is called the temporal cycle. The saintoral cycle means the cycle of the feast days of the saints, every year go through the same feast days and they have certain days assigned to them. The other cycle, the temporal cycle, means the cycle of sacred times, that is, certain times are set aside throughout the year to commemorate different events in the history of our redemption and this is what the Jews in the old testament did as well, besides keeping holy the Sabbath day, they had various feast days that were meant to recall the various things that God had done for them in his Providence. For example, when they celebrated Easter, they were remembering the deliverance from Egypt and the Passover when the angel of death passed over, the angel did not go into the homes where the blood of the pascal lamb was spread over the door and so every year the Jews celebrated that Passover to commemorate that event. Of course, that is prefiguring what we remember on Holy Week how Christ, who is the lamb of God, shed his blood for us, his blood is poured out of our souls to wash us clean of our sins so that we don’t remain in spiritual death. So they have these feast days to commemorate different events. We have special times to remember the events in the life of Our Lord.
So in Christmas, the four weeks of Advent before Christmas, are meant to remind us of the four thousand years from the time of Adam and Eve until the coming of the Messiah, the time when Christ was born. And so it is a penitential time, but a sort of hopeful penitential time. The priest wears the purple vestments, which is the color of penance and you notice in the Mass, we didn’t have a “Gloria” because the “Gloria” is a very joyful thing and normally we do have a “Gloria” on a Sunday. But at the same time, it is not as much a penitential time as Lent. You notice in the Mass, we did say the “Alleluyia” verse after the Epistle. “Alleluia” is a joyful word, but it was still in this Mass where as during Lent, no “Alleluia” is said for the whole time from Septuagesima Sunday until Lent, for almost 70 days “Alleluia” is not used in the liturgy. Nevertheless, I do believe, in times past, in the history of the Church that Advent was observed with a fast just like Lent, but that has not been a custom in the Church for quite some time. But we still remember that this is a time of penance to prepare for Christmas. Now in school, we have the custom of students writing out sacrifices that they come up with for Advent and they put them in a bowl and everyday when they come to class, they pick a sacrifice from out of the bowl and that’s their sacrifice for the day and the next day they pick another one. That is also good practice for us to make out for ourselves a prayer and penance schedule or a list of extra prayers or sacrifices that we intend to do during Advent to prepare ourselves spiritually for Christmas.
The Christmas season starts on Christmas and it lasts for the 40 days after Christmas, there are several feasts in the time period. Aside from Christmas, when we celebrate Our Lord’s birth, we have eight days after Christmas “The Feast of the Circumcision”, another holy day, January 1. That is because Our Lord was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, as was the custom required in the old law, the custom of the Jews. And then we have twelve days after Christmas, January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, this is where we get “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Epiphany means manifestation, when we celebrate on that feast day, when Our Lord’s divinity was manifested by the Three Kings coming to worship him, to offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and mirth to signify his divinity and his royal dignity and that feast actually is, I believe, older than the feast of Christmas and it was at one time celebrated with greater solemnity than Christmas itself and in many countries it is a Holy Day of Obligation still, such as in Canada. There are different customs for the feast of the Epiphany, one of them being the very good custom of picking a Saint for the year. It would be your special patron Saint for that year and during the next Epiphany you pick another Saint and we usually do that if we have an Epiphany “get together” in families or in parishes, you pick a Saint and that’s your special patron for the year. The Christmas season then ends on February 2, which is 40 days after Christmas, it is the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or also called the feast of the Presentation. That is when Our Blessed Mother, in obedience to the old law, went 40 days after birth to present the child Jesus in the temple. So that day ends the Christmas time.
The next “time” in the liturgical year that we have is called the time of Lent, which begins with the three weeks of pre-lent, which sometimes, such as this coming year, I believe, will actually start in January so it will come before the Christmas season actually ends. But we have the three weeks of pre-lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sunday and then we begin Lent with the Wednesday before Quinquagesima Sunday, Ash Wednesday. Then we have 40 days of fast, actually it’s 46 days but we don’t fast on the Sundays so we have from Ash Wednesday to Easter 40 days of fast, and that is to commemorate Our Lord’s fast of 40 days before beginning his public life.
In the Christmas season we commemorate Our Lord’s hidden life for 30 years in Nazareth and then in Lent we commemorate the 40 days of Our Lord’s fasting in preparation for his public life. In Holy Week we conclude with remembering the special events that happened leading up to Our Lord’s crucifixion, remembering on Holy Thursday Our Lord instituting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and also giving us the great precept of charity at the Last Supper. On Good Friday, Our Lord’s agony and Passion on the cross. Then we wait until the third day, until Easter Sunday, to celebrate Our Lord’s glorious resurrection. Just as Our Lord stayed on Earth for 40 days, before ascending into heaven after his resurrection, for 40 days we have what is called the paschal time, the time after Easter, until the feast of the Ascension, we celebrate Our Lord ascending into heaven. Just as the Apostles for ten days awaited for the coming of the Holy Ghost, they prayed for nine days and the Holy Ghost came on the tenth day after the ascension, so on the tenth day after ascension Thursday of every year (which is always a Sunday) we have Pentecost Sunday, we commemorate the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and Our Blessed Mother, and that is the third major feast of the liturgical year, the three major feasts being Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Those three feasts remind us of the love of the Blessed Trinity for us. At Christmas we remember the love of God the Father in giving us his only begotten Son. At Easter we remember the love of God the Son in suffering and dying on the cross for us and founding the Catholic Church, which we have the great grace of belonging to and purchasing our souls with his precious blood. At Pentecost we remember the love of God the Holy Ghost in coming down on the Apostles and giving them grace and strength to go out and preach and to spread the Church that Christ founded.
Then the time after Pentecost, from Pentecost Sunday to the Last Sunday of the liturgical year, which is the Last Sunday after Pentecost (which was last Sunday). That whole time period is meant to signify the time from when the Holy Ghost descended on the Apostles all the way to our own time until the end of the world when Christ will come to judge the living and the dead, all of those who ever lived. During that time we wear the green vestments, green is the color of hope, and during that time the flowers and trees are in full green color and that green is a color of hope as opposed to winter when everything is dead, at least in the northern climates. That reminds us that time reminds us of the hope of Christ coming again at the second coming to judge the world. Its very appropriate how in the northern hemisphere the liturgical cycle fits very well with the cycle of the seasons. St. John the Baptist said concerning Our Lord: “He must increase and I must decrease.” Well, the feast day of St. John the Baptist is in the end of June and that’s when the days begin decreasing, they get shorter, and they keep decreasing until Christmas time and then they start getting longer in the northern hemisphere and this, of course, reminds us of Christ, the light of the world, who was born on Christmas day.
Also in Easter, when everything is coming out of the state of dormancy and the flowers begin to bloom, that reminds us of Our Lord’s glorious resurrection. In the summer all of the green color reminds us of hope and at the end of the liturgical year as we go into the season of fall and the trees go dormant and lose their leaves we have the commemoration of All Souls on November 2, and we remember the poor suffering souls in purgatory, those who passed away and need our prayers. We also commemorate the day before that, we have the feast of All Saints so we are reminded by these feasts what we call the communion of Saints, that is we are united with the Saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory with Christ as our head, we celebrate also in the end of October the feast of Christ the King. We conclude the year with the Last Sunday after Pentecost, which we always read the Gospel, which tells of the events that will happen, the signs that will occur to indicate the end of the world.
I’d like to just conclude with what was said in St. John’s Epistle it says: “Now is the time to rise from sleep.” He means spiritual sleep. So as we begin a new Church year today, let us try to begin also with greater fervor to make progress in the spiritual life. If we have been sleeping spiritually to rise from sleep and to make a fresh start and if we do this, especially during the season of Advent, we’ll make a very good preparation for Christmas. When Christmas does come, it will truly be a feast of great rejoicing for us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.