Saturday, December 1, 2012


Kay Eneim, 2007
The word Advent comes from the Latin word meaning coming. During Advent we recall the history of God's people and reflect on how the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled. We reflect that every year at this time we celebrate the Christ Child's coming. It is a time of expectancy and joyful anticipation. 

J. Bourgault- Canadian
But  "Advent does not mean “expectation” as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia, which means “presence” or, more accurately, “arrival”, that is, the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler, and also of the god being worshiped, who bestows his parousia upon his devotees for a time. “Advent,” then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God. ( “Dogma and Preaching,” by Pope Benedict XVI)

With Advent the ecclesiastical year begins in the Western churches. During this time the faithful are admonished to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world.

In European Catholic countries Advent is a time much more celebrated than in our own country. While we do have a very rich Liturgy celebrated daily in the monastery, for the most part it is a time that just by-passes many, who eagerly await Christmas, as they dash from one store to another, checking their lists of who gets what!  When I lived in Germany many years ago it was a wondrous time with so many customs new to me. Special breads and foods were made, served only at this time- a favorite was Birnenbrot (pear bread- really a cake) made from dried pears. It was a sort of semi-fasting time (perhaps knowing of all the rich and varied treats to come for the long Christmas season).

Brigid Marlin
It is not known when the celebration of Advent was first introduced into the Church but there are references of it being celebrated by the end of the 4th century. The collection of homilies of St. Gregory the Great (590-604) begins with a sermon for the second Sunday of Advent. In 650 Advent was celebrated in Spain with five Sundays. Several synods had made laws about fasting to be observed during this time, some beginning with the eleventh of November, others the fifteenth, and others as early as the autumnal equinox.In the eighth century we find it observed not as a liturgical celebration, but as a time of fast and abstinence, from 15 November to the Nativity, which, according to Goar, was later reduced to seven days. But a council of the Ruthenians (1720) ordered the fast according to the old rule from the fifteenth of November.

When I was growing up we had to abstain from meat on Christmas eve, which was the time when my Mother's large family gathered at our house for the big meal and opening of gifts. My Mother, not a Catholic, took care of my Father and my 2 brothers and me with Crab Louie (hardly what I would call fasting), but it became a tradition, and even when the laws of fasting and abstinence were relaxed, we still had Crab Louie for Christmas eve dinner.

It is my favorite season of  the year, beginning with the lighting of the Advent wreath in chapel. Special Antiphons are sung each Sunday, culminating in the "Great O"s.

And of course during this waiting period the Church peppers us with the amazing feasts such as St. Nicholas on Dec. 6 and St. Lucy Dec. 11. M M Grace celebrates her birthday on the great feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec.8, and I have mine  Dec. 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Master of the Madonna, 14th C.
Besides our wonderous daily Liturgy, it is a time of preparation for the feasts to come, with the plum puddings made either before or after Thanksgiving. Our traditional dessert, which I brought back from the Black Forest 40 years ago is Linzer Torte, which has been our dessert every Christmas since.  It is also made early and steeps in the Kirschwasser (cherry schnapps). All we have to do is cut it and serve with our own monastery whipped cream.  Christmas cookies are made to have with eggnog, always an easy dessert.  Mother Prioress makes her famous cheesecake to eat on one of the Holy Days, usually the feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26. 

Because for us Advent is mostly a spiritual preparation, we then celebrate the Christmas Season for weeks after the great event. While the world is taking down the tree and putting away the tinsel till next year we are just getting started.   

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
                           12th century Latin hymn
"Mary Pregnant"

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