The time of preparation for the sweet mysteries of the birth of Our Lord is called Advent, that is to say, the coming. Its four weeks recall to Christians the four thousand years of prayers and sighs which preceded the coming of the Messias.
The Anthems of Advent
Seven days before Christmas is sung at Vespers an anthem called " The O Anthems of Advent," because it begins with this exclamation; it is a cry sent out to the Messias. It is sung at Vespers; for was it not in the evening of the world that the Messias came ? It is sung at the Magnificat to show that the Saviour for Whom we wait will come to us through Mary. (Gueranger, The Liturgical Year.) Again, the repetition of the anthem expresses well the ardent sighs, constantly renewed, of the patriarchs; the Introit has already offered us the same figure.
Practices of Advent
There remain among us to-day few traces of Advent as it was observed by our fathers. They sanctified it by prayer, fasting, and abstinence.. The old-time penitence is always practised in monasteries, but among the faithful the Church has pre- served, but its symbols. During Advent she clothes herself in purple, and this sign of mourning shows us how the Church unites herself to the desire of Israel, who waited in sackcloth and ashes the coming of the Messias. As a sign of widowhood it expresses the sorrow of the Church, who awaits that Spouse Whose absence costs her heart so dear.
Marriages are not celebrated in Advent, their worldly joy being little in agreement with the holy tears and chaste pangs of penitence. Moreover it is toward other nuptial feasts that the Church turns the eyes of her children : these are those of the eternal marriage, begun here below in the Eucharistic banquet. The Alleluia, which continues its tender harmony in these days of penitence, should make us sigh for the joys of the festival of the Lamb.
Except on feast-days, the two angelical hymns, the Gloria in excelsis and the Te Deum, are not sung till the great day when they are chanted at the crib of the infant God. The Ite, Missa est, is replaced by the call to prayer: '' Benedicamus Domino"—"Let us bless the Lord;" for we cannot pray too much in these holy days of waiting.
Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th.
The deluge of iniquities which has inundated the world for four thousand years is about to end ; Mary, the heavenly dove, brings the good tidings to the world. The dark night which has weighed upon humanity will soon see its shadows scattered; she whom the Holy Spirit compared to the dawn will appear in this holy season, like a forerunner of the Sun of justice. The star which precedes the morning shines upon the horizon. A thousand times blessed be the day which brings us so much joy! May all Christians hail with gratitude the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary!
Faith teaches us that at the moment when God united the soul of Mary, which He had just created, to the body which it was to animate, not only had that soul not contracted in the least the stain which till then had disfigured every human soul, but it was filled with grace tremendous in extent and ineffable in beauty. A feast in honor of this glorious mystery existed in the East in the sixth century. The Church of Lyons introduced this solemnity into France. The definition of the Immaculate Conception as a dogma was made under the
pontificate of Pope Pius IX., December 8, 1854.
The Blue Scapular of the Immaculate Conception.--
The venerable Ursula Benincasa, on the day of the purification, saw Mary, who appeared to her clad in a white robe and a blue mantle. She held the infant Jesus pressed against her heart, and a multitude of virgins, clothed like their glorious queen, formed her train. Our Lord showed her the wish that He had of seeing a congregation of virgins arise, who, placing themselves under the invocation of Mary Immaculate, should take the habit in which His Mother was then clad. He promised the greatest graces to those who should be faithful in following the rules of this new Congregation. Ursula begged Our Lord to shower His favors upon those who, living in the world and devoted to the Blessed Virgin, should live chastely according to their state and wear a blue scapular. To prove to her that her prayer was heard, God showed her, while this blissful vision lasted, angels clothing a great number of Christians with this holy habit. The indulgences attached to the blue scapular of the Immaculate Conception are innumerable. "As for me," says St. Alphonsus Liguori, "I would take all scapulars." But above all you must know that the scapular of the Immaculate Conception, which is blessed by the Theatine Fathers, besides all its partial indulgences, has all the indulgences granted to whatever religious order, whatever devotion, whatever person there can be. And particularly that by reciting six times Pater, Ave, and Gloria, in honor of the Most Holy Trinity and Mary Immaculate, can be gained each time all the indulgences of Rome, of Portiuncula, of Jerusalem, and of Galicia, which amounts to 533 plenary indulgences, without speaking of partial indulgences, which are innumerable." (Glories of Mary, These indulgences have been confirmed by Gregory XVI. in a decree dated July 12, 1845.)
Translation of the Holy House of Loretto, December 10th,
This feast up to this time is not of obligation in the universal Church, but it is celebrated in many countries, and has for its object thanksgiving to God for the blessing with which He has enriched the West, when, in order to compensate it for the loss of the holy sepulchre. He miraculously transported to Catholic ground the house in which the Blessed Virgin received the message of the angel, and where the Word was made flesh.Many of our readers may be ignorant of this marvellous event, which we will repeat here. It was under the pontificate of Celestine V., and when the Christians had entirely lost the holy places in Palestine, that the little house wherein was wrought the mystery of the Incarnation in the womb of Mary was transported by angels from Nazareth into Dalmatia, or Sclavonia, to a little mountain called Tersato.
The miracles which were wrought every day in this holy house, the legal investigation which the deputies of the country went to Nazareth to make, to prove the translation into Dalmatia, as well as the universal conviction of the people who came to venerate it from all parts of the world, seemed to be incontestable proofs of the truth of the miracle. Nevertheless, God wished to give another, which should have, in a sense, Dalmatia and Italy for witnesses. After three years and seven months the holy house was transported across the Adriatic Sea to the territory of Recanati, into a forest belonging to a lady called Loretta; and this event threw the people of Dalmatia into such desolation that it seemed that they would not survive it, and to console themselves they built upon the same spot a church consecrated to the Mother of God, over the door of which they put this inscription: "Hie est locus in quo fait sacra Domus Nazarena quae nunc Recineti partibus colitur,'''' At the same time there were many inhabitants of Dalmatia who came to Italy to fix their residence near to the holy house.
This new translation made such stirring of Christian hearts that a multitude of pilgrims came from nearly every part of Europe to Recanati, in order to honor the house now called ''of Loretto." To prove more and more fully the truth of this event, the inhabitants of the province sent first to Dalmatia, and then to Nazareth, sixteen persons who were the best qualified for the service, who made in these places new investigations; but God deigned to demonstrate the certainty Himself by renewing twice in succession the miracle of the translation even in the territory of Recanati. For at the end of eight months, the forest of Loretto being infested with highwaymen who stopped the pilgrims, the house was transported to a point a mile further, and placed on a little height which belonged to two brothers of the family of Antici ; and when these brothers had taken arms against one another in dispute over the division of the offerings of the pilgrims, the house was transferred to an enclosure a little further removed, and in the midst of the public way, where it has remained and where has since grown up the village called Loretto.
Source: "Catholic Ceremonies" ~ Imprimatur 1896