Tag Archives: liturgy

Preparing for Advent: the wreath as a sign that Salvation is at hand

Prophet Isaiah GPiamonte.jpgThe new liturgical year begins tonight at First Vespers for Advent (as a point of comparison, the Church in Milan which follows its own liturgical calendar and set of customs began Advent on November 14th this year [2010]). A new liturgical year refreshes our understanding of good Catholic customs and practices, a renews the emphasis of ongoing conversion and encourages a lively following of God Incarnate — all these things are essential hallmarks of Advent.

The newness the Advent gives to us is seen as a feast for the senses (Catholics are sensual people) known through investment of our best resources and energies: the Church’s vesture changes to purple, silence is observed a little more in the Liturgy, the sacred Scriptures draws out attention to waiting and preparing the way of the Lord (think of the Prophet Isaiah pictured right), the season’s music focuses our hopes and loves on the Kingdom already present but not fully realized and our homes, the “domestic church,” reinforces our seeking God together. As Father U. Michael Lang, CO, said in a recent essay on vestments, “Divine beauty manifests itself in an altogether particular way in the sacred liturgy, also through material things of which man, made of soul and body, has need to come to spiritual realities: the buildings of worship, the furnishings, the vestments, the images, the music, the dignity of ceremonies themselves.”

As one small sign for the daily and weekly journey, our movement in this season of preparation is the Advent wreath — a tangible sign of movement to recognizing more deeply that our Salvation is at hand. The Advent wreath is, however, not a parish church custom as much as it is custom for one’s home (but you can’t persuade too many priests to move the Advent wreath out of the sanctuary these days).

A favorite historian of liturgical customs is Jesuit Father Francis X. Weiser’s 1958 Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs: The Year of the Lord in Liturgy and Folklore, but I also look to Pius Parsch, Dom Gueranger and the Directory of Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001) to recall the Advent sensibility given to us by the Church. These authors are particularly helpful in preparing the faithful and especially the children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and other CCD programs about the sacred Liturgy. About the Advent wreath Weiser writes:

The Advent wreath originated a few hundred years ago among the Lutherans of eastern Germany. It probably was suggested by one of the many light symbols which were used in folklore at the end of November and beginning of December… The Christians in medieval times kept many of these lights and fire symbols alive as popular traditions and ancient folklore. In the sixteenth century the custom started of using such lights as a religious symbol of Advent in the houses of the faithful. This practice quickly spread among the Protestants of eastern Germany and was soon accepted by Protestants and Catholics in other parts of the country. Recently it has not only found its way to America, but has been spreading so rapidly that it is already a cherished custom in many homes.

Advent wreath ex.jpg

The Advent wreath is exactly what the word implies, a wreath of evergreens (yew or fir or laurel), made in various sizes. It is either suspended from the ceiling or placed on a table, usually in front of the family shrine. Fastened to the wreath are four candles standing upright, at equal distances. These candles represent the four weeks of Advent.


Daily at a certain time (usually in the evening), the family gathers for a short religious exercise. Every Sunday of Advent one more candle is lit, until all four candles shed their cheerful light to announce the approaching birthday of the Lord. All other lights are extinguished in the room, and only the gentle glow of the live candles illuminates the darkness. After some prayers, which are recited for the grace of a good and holy preparation for Christmas, the family sings one of the traditional Advent hymns or a song in honor of Mary.


The traditional symbolism of the Advent wreath reminds the faithful of the Old Testament, when humanity was “sitting in the darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 2:79); when the prophets, illumined by God, announced the Redeemer; and when the hearts of men glowed with the desire for the Messiah. The wreath — an ancient symbol of victory and glory — symbolizes the “fulfillment of time” in the coming of Christ and the glory of His birth.


In some sections of Europe it is customary for persons with the name of John or Joan to have the first right to light the candles on the Advent wreath and Christmas tree, because John the Evangelist starts his Gospel by calling Christ the “Light of the World” and John the Baptist was the first one to see the light of divinity shining about the Lord at His baptism in the Jordan. (pp. 54-55)

The Pope & his cardinals met today

the new cardinals.jpgBilled my some as extra-ordinary, but likely seen by insiders as ordinary, Pope Benedict met with his cardinals and the new cardinals –24 of them– he intends to make tomorrow, in a forum where information is exchanged and consultation given. The meeting of Pope and cardinals was conducted in the context of prayer. Prayer and exchange, not the making of decisions was the format. It is estimated that about 150 of the worlds 203 cardinals met today. Topics ranged from the sacred Liturgy and religious freedom, but also the exercise of religion, secularism, conversion and entering into full communion with the Catholic Church to healthcare. Since this is also the 10th anniversary of Dominus Iesus, the document which recalls that salvation comes uniquely and universally through the person of Jesus Christ, the Pope and cardinals will reflect on the impact this document has made since its publication.

cardinal shelters from rain.jpg

Some cardinals expressed their frustration and exhaustion over the sexual abuse crisis, but their feelings aside, this is a central issue that needs to be corrected right now. Certainly people are worn down by the continuous attention the sex abuse crisis has garnered, but the credibility of the Church to proclaim the Gospel of Salvation is at stake if the immoral actions of priests, bishops and laity is not dealt with in forthright manner. Pope Benedict is doing the hard work now, as he has done in the past, to clean up the moral rot found in the Church.
The Vatican Radio has a report.

Serratelli updates US Bishops on the translation of the new Roman Missal

aserratelli.jpgThe out-going chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship, Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Paterson, gave the following update to the USCCB today. Bishop Serratelli is now succeeded by the Archbishop of New Orleans, the Most Reverend Gregory M. Aymond. The USCCB press release is here.

There has been some discussion recently about a report
surfaced through some segments of the Catholic Press regarding the present
state of the text of the Roman Missal, Third Edition. A number of facts will
hopefully clarify the situation and, in so doing, give us the calm needed to
welcome and implement the new text.

First, it is helpful to keep in mind the
genesis of the final text that is now being prepared for publication. The International
Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) prepared for the English-speaking
Conferences of Bishops preliminary drafts (“green books”) of the 12 sections of
the Roman Missal. After incorporating the feedback and responses of the
individual Conferences of Bishops and the Vatican Congregation for Divine
Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, ICEL then prepared the final
drafts (“gray books”). These were approved by canonical vote by each of the
member Conferences. In approving the gray books, each conference also had the
opportunity to make further suggestions to the Congregation, as was done in
particular by our Conference. We submitted many amendments to the texts. The
Congregation, working with the Vox Clara Committee, carefully listened to what
the bishops said. The Congregation incorporated many of the suggestions of the
various Conferences (including our own), combined with their own review and
changes, and put forth the final text. The Congregation followed the principles
of Liturgiam Authenticam faithfully but not slavishly.

This is the final text
now being readied for publication. This process includes a final review and
copy edit which, given the size of the text, uncovers some minor questions of
consistency, typographical errors, and layout. Those questions are being
addressed by the Congregation for Divine Worship. This review has not dealt
with the translation itself. The critique that has circulated has necessarily
failed to take into account the final version of the text, which incorporates
some corrections issued by the Congregation since the transmittal of the full
text to the English-speaking Conferences of Bishops in August 2010.

To sum up,
there is a final text. It has received a recognitio. As the work of editing and
assembling nears completion, there is assurance that the published text will be
available in more than ample time for implementation in Advent 2011. It is good
to note also that the catechetical preparation for implementation is already
underway and has proceeded with much enthusiasm and wide acceptance by both
clergy and laity. It is clear at this point in time that there is an attitude
of openness and readiness to receive the new text. Let us pray in this time of
transition and change that the Roman Missal, Third Edition, will enable all to
understand more deeply the mysteries we celebrate.

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Divine Worship
November 18, 2010

Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran

Lateran Basilica.JPGJerusalem, city of God, you will shine with the light of God’s splendor; all people on earth will pay you homage. Nations will come from afar, bearing gifts for the King of Heaven; in you they will worship the Lord. (the lamp-lighting antiphon from the Dedication of a Church)

At first blush some people will ask, why is the Church celebrating the dedication of a church building. The answer is, she’s not. Some history is crucial in understanding today’s liturgical observance.

The cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is Saint John Lateran, not Saint Peter’s Basilica. And by extension, the Lateran basilica is the head of all churches in the world. The confusion between the Lateran and Vatican basilicas is a common and understandable mistake since Saint Peter’s is the place where the bones of Saint Peter are buried and it’s the place where the Pope most often celebrates ecclesial events. The Lateran was a church built by the Emperor Constantine and consecrated in AD 324 by Pope Sylvester. Notice that the church was consecrated 12 short years following the Edict of Milan.
The feast honoring the role of the basilica church in Christendom, indeed, the entire world at one time, is understood in the aphorism: omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput (the mother and head of all churches of Rome and the world). The Lateran is the place that symbolizes the ministry of bishop as teacher, servant and sanctifier; it’s the place where charity is most identifiable.
Visitatio jpgPope Benedict said it well in his 2008 Angelus Address for this feast: “Dear Friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-4). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the ‘house of God,’ living temple of love.”

Catholics don’t celebrate Jewish holy days, why?

Not long ago a friend asked me why Catholics don’t celebrate
the Jewish holy days. Good question.

A response to the question as to why we
don’t celebrate the Jewish holy days would be along these lines: the Paschal
Triduum is the Christian Passover, the true Pasch. Even the Greek and Latin
name for Easter tells us that (as also the derivation of the name for Easter in
Spanish, French, Italian from the same root).

In one sense, Jesus’ teaching was
in continuity with Judaism (Mt 5.17: “Think not that I have come to abolish
the Law”); but he also in Matthew 5 puts himself forward as a higher Lawgiver
than Moses (“you have heard it said, but I tell you…”). I suggest
reading Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, which makes this
point very clear. The Pope himself said in Jesus of Nazareth that Neusner’s book is
an excellent example of honest and reasoned argument between a believing Jew
and the Jesus of the gospels.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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