1. The first festal cycle is the Christmas season. It begins with the first Sunday of Advent, and closes with the Saturday preceding Septuagesima Sunday; its central point is the feast of Christmas. Advent forms its remote preparation, its proximate preparation is Christmas Eve. The immediate subsequent commemoration extends from the feast of St. Stephen, until Epiphany, the remote subsequent commemoration from Epiphany to Septuagesima.
2. The main thought of this festal cycle is the birth of Christ. Advent shows the longing and preparation in the Old Law for the coming Messiah, which finally attains its object in the birth of Christ. Christmas shows us the Messiah as He reveals Himself to mankind, and proclaims His kingdom. The Christian should prove himself in Advent, and endeavor to gain greater purity of heart. At Christmas he should renew his resolution to live only for Jesus, and to become more like unto Him, and in the time following he should endeavor to enliven and confirm his faith.
1. The word Advent comes from the Latin and means "The coming." The four weeks preceding Christmas are so called because they are set apart by the Church to prepare for the coming of Christ.
2. With great longing, the world, for four thousand years, waited for the coming of the Redeemer. God, Himself, nourished this longing by repeated prophetic promises, which became more distinctly clear as the time of fulfillment approached. The universal misery in which mankind then languished increased this- longing for the Redeemer. These four thousand years are typified by the four weeks before Christmas. The longing for the Messiah,
announced by the prophets, is partly expressed in the Rorate Masses, but more especially so in the Divine Office, which becomes more and more beseeching as the feast of Christmas approaches. The penance which we are exhorted to practice during this time is symbolical of the misery of sin.
3. The Church wishes to awaken this longing and penitential spirit in the hearts of the faithful, in order to prepare them for the advent of the Redeemer.
(1) Solemnization of marriage is forbidden during this time, so that the solemnity of the season may not be disturbed by noisy pleasures.
(2) The violet color used at Mass is to remind us that heaven closed against sinners, can be opened again by penance.
(3) The Gloria is omitted on those days on which no feast falls.
(4) The preaching of St. John the Baptist in the Gospels, and the exhortations of St. Paul in the Epistles of the Sundays of Advent, as well as the fast days of this time, point distinctly to penance. These fast days are all the Fridays of Advent, the Ember days, and the Vigil of Christmas.
4. The severity of penance is, however, moderated by a glance at Mary, who appears as the Rosy Dawn to gradually dispel the darkness of sin. Therefore the joyous feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated in the midst of this penitential season. Throughout the Breviary and the prayers of the Mass, Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer, is often referred to as the Rosy Aurora of our Redemption, especially so in the Rorate Masses sung at early
dawn. The feast of the Expectation on the 8th of December should arouse increased devotion and longing, for the coming Messiah.
The Rorate Masses take their name from the Introit of the Mass, frequently used during Advent, which begins with Rorate Coeli (drop down dew ye heavens). They are also called Masses of the Angel, because the Gospel of these Masses relates to the Annunciation of the Mystery of the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin.
5. In order to keep Advent in a befitting manner the Christian should:
1st. Awaken a penitential spirit and practice works of penance,—he should endeavor to conquer at least one prominent fault and to cultivate or practice some particular virtue.
2nd. He should devote himself to prayer, and have a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and
3rd. Have a great longing for the birth of the Christ Child in his heart.
6. Even in the first centuries the faithful prepared themselves for the coming of Christmas by a long season of prayer and fasting, but Advent was not definitely fixed until the fifth and sixth centuries.
7. The following important feasts fall in Advent:
(1) The Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, which was celebrated in the earliest times. This Apostle stands conspicuous at the entrance of the Ecclesiastical Year, for Advent begins with the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew. Not only is Andrew the first born of the Apostles, but he led the other Apostles to Christ, and as a special lover of the Cross, he tells us that the Cross is the key of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the foundation of the Ecclesiastical Year. This feast admonishes us, as it were, to begin the year with a love for the Cross, and to make the resolution of practicing self-denial.
(2.) The feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast was celebrated by the churches of the East, even in the fifth century, and by the churches of the West since the seventh century. Pope Pius IX. in the year 1854 proclaimed,
to the joy of the whole Catholic world, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin to be a dogma of the Church. Since then this feast has been more zealously kept. With the conception of Mary, the Morning Star of the Redemption arose. On this beautiful feast the Christian should pray God to enlighten him, that he may know the faults of the past year, and learn from Mary, by purity of heart, to prepare for the coming of Christ.
(3.) Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle, Dec. 21.