The Church Year developed over several centuries, and the Church calendar continues to change as new saints are added. In the first century the Church calendar consisted almost exclusively of Sundays and one whopping Sunday called Easter. Eventually Lent was added to prepare for Easter. It was then logical to add Advent as a preparation for Christmas, and traces of Advent occurred in France at the end of the fourth century. Originally Advent involved three days of fasting per week. Advent began on the Feast of St. Martin (November 11) and continued through Christmas and Epiphany in modified form. This two-month period of time was known as St. Martin’s Lent, for it included 40 fast days. This fast was primarily a time of baptismal preparation, for Epiphany was one of the main days for Baptism of adults.
Author Archives: Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider
Advent is often referred to as the beginning of the Church Year. The reason stems from the fact that the Advent readings are placed first in the lectionary. However, putting the Advent readings on page one was simply an arbitrary decision made centuries ago.
Advent could also be called the end of the Church Year, for its emphasis is preparation for the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. Actually every day of the Church Year celebrates the whole life of Christ, the paschal mystery. Only the focus changes from the birth of Jesus to his public life to his death and resurrection. So every day is everything. Every day is Christmas. Every day is Good Friday. Every day is Lent, and every day is Advent. And every day is the beginning and the end. And the One whom we celebrate is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
During Advent the Church celebrates three comings of Christ: the historical coming of Jesus Christ born 2000 years ago (Memory), the Second Coming (Majesty), and his coming into our lives now (Mystery). Manger scenes, Christmas trees, pageants, and Advent calendars remind us of His first coming. The Second Coming stays pretty much under our radar. Did you get up this morning thinking “Today might be the Second Coming”? What should hit us between the eyes is the Mystery of Christ. God can mysteriously sneak up on us in thousands of ways: lyrics of a song, advice of a friend, opportunity for service, collections for the needy, a hug, an idea, a gorgeous sky, a new snowfall, Scripture, prayer, and more. Memory, Majesty, Mystery. Three M’s—the sound of good things to eat. May your Advent be filled with good things because of your goodness!
Today’s readings speak of a feast of rich food and choice wines (Isaiah 25) and people eating their fill (Mt. 15). I love the images of food—the choice foods in Isaiah, but even loaves and fish can taste mighty good. The readings suggest that the material world has a spiritual potency for God. From the Big Bang, evolution has an inner pressure for spiritual transcendence. A row of cereal in the grocery store advertises the energy to get your day going and keep going strong. We are just scratching the surface in discovering God’s energy built into the corn, rice, and wheat.
“The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain. . . . All nations shall stream toward it.” (Isaiah 2) Once I had a dream about the Second Coming. Everyone was coming from all directions to climb a large grassy hill. Smiling and chuckling, people of all ages climbed. Soon after starting up the hill, the people came upon a mounded ridge that had to be crossed. I stood by the mound to be a support for every passer-by. The elderly needed to be steadied; the legs of the children were too short, and I helped the little ones over. After a while I looked to the mountain top. I saw what looked like the sun, but I knew it was the Son of God. The glowing orb had huge eyes radiating infinite delight. The mouth was open in a wide “O” of laughter. Then the eyes of the Sun/Son caught mine and winked. My decision to help others climb into the Kingdom had been approved by a Divine Wink.
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless” (Mother Teresa). Do you remember some kind words spoken to you years ago? Perhaps they changed your outlook and attitude, or even the direction of your life. Today is an opportunity to speak or write kind words. Will we use this opportunity or waste it? Be creative in your words. Instead of “Have a nice day” try “Have a blessed day.” Instead of a perfunctory thank-you to a cashier, give a sincere compliment about the service. If you’re a teacher take the time to write words of affirmation on papers. If you’re a wife or husband, put a loving note in a place where it will be found. In our age of texting when whole sentences are reduced to a few letters, give some extra thought to whatever you write today. The echoes may be endless.
Pope Francis has written in Laudato Si, “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” I never before thought of denying God God’s rights. God has created millions of species to the glory of the Divine, and we humans have thoughtlessly wiped out numerous species. God no longer hears their chirps or delights in their activities. How does God regard our wiping out creation’s design planned billions of years ago? And what messages have we not heard? What beauty have we not seen? What mysteries have we not contemplated?
While media can “shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences,” (Laudato Si), if produced with compassion, television programs give us the personal side of major events, whether disasters or triumphs. We see the smiles of children, the frustration of migrants, the exhaustion of doctors and nurses, the heartache of the grieving, despair, discouragement, effort, courage, and every other human emotion that we may never experience ourselves. Viewing with our hearts, we feel the need for sacrifice, generosity, sharing; and we become more human ourselves, having experienced our human family.
Visitors from California to Toledo, Ohio, are amazed at all the green. Back home they are paid not to have a lawn. The Californians were thrilled to learn that it would rain during their stay, for rain had not splashed on their faces in months. While we Ohioans bemoan “rain on our picnic,” the visitors from the West felt that the rain made for a great vacation. As Pope Francis wrote, “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”