Our secular culture marks the calendar year from January 1st to December 31st. In the Catholic Church, time is marked by the liturgical year.  The liturgical year has special days and seasons, just like the calendar year.  While the church lives within one great Sunday, these special days and seasons – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time – assist the faithful in celebrating the “whole mystery of Christ, from his incarnation and birth to his ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the Lord’s return (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 102). What follows are articles about the various seasons of the liturgical year and some devotional and liturgical practices that can help to mark these special times.

The Advent Season

The historical development of Advent is quite complicated; however, the first traces of a particular Advent liturgy are found in 5th century Ravenna (Italy).  In this liturgy, the expectation of Christ’s birth was the central theme.  In Rome, the first Advent liturgy can be seen in the 6th century and the development of the four Sundays of Advent in the sacramentary of Gregory the Great.  As in Ravenna, in Rome the “original focus of Advent was not so much on expectation of the final coming (the parousia) as on the incarnation of Christ and on preparation for its liturgical celebration.”[i]

While in Ravenna and Rome, Advent was focused on the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus, in Gaul (modern day France) the emphasis was placed on the coming of the Lord for judgment.  Thus, in Gaul, Advent took on a penitential feel like Lent:  “in the Gallic liturgies and others the Gloria and alleluia were dropped from the Mass and the Te Deum from the Office, and purple vestments were used.”[ii]

In the 12th century, Roman liturgical practice during Advent was influenced by the liturgical practices in Gaul.  Thus, the Roman liturgy came to take on a penitential feel, as can be seen in the omission of the Gloria and the wearing of purple vestments.  However, for Rome “Advent was not regarded as properly a penitential season, as can be seen from the fact that the joyous alleluia was retained.”[iii]  Furthermore, the commentary on the General Norms for the Liturgical Year states that the Gloria “is not omitted for the same reason as it is omitted in Lent, but in order that on the night of Christmas the angels’ song may ring out once again in all its newness.”[iv]   Yet there still seems to be a penitential character to Advent.

The Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar give credence to the two-fold understanding of Advent:  “Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.  For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.”[v]  Thus, Advent is a festive time where we first celebrate the incarnation and the Second Coming of Christ, and only secondarily prepare for the Judgment at the return of the Lord.

The First Sunday of Advent – Violet

The readings of the First Sunday of Advent (Cycle A:  Mt 24:37-44; B:  Mk 13:33-37; C:  Lk 21:25-28, 34-36) speak about the Lord’s return and the need for us to be watchful.  The Opening Collect for the First Sunday of Advent attests to the Lord’s return and our watchfulness:

“Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom…”[vi]

It is easy to see the centrality of the return of Christ, and our watchfulness in the beautiful phrase which requests that we “run forth to meet your Christ.”  Thus, the First Sunday of Advent attests to the Second Coming of Christ and our watchfulness, while expressing a penitential quality as well.

The Second Sunday of Advent – Violet

The reading of the Second Sunday of Advent (Cycle A:  Mt. 3:1-12; B:  Mk. 1:1-8; C:  Lk. 3:1-6) are about John the Baptist’s call to Israel for repentance.  Thus, these readings call us to prepare ourselves for the Lord with a penitential heart.  The Opening Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent attests to this penitential feel:

“Almighty and merciful God,
may no earthly undertaking hinder those
who set out in haste to meet your Son,
but may our learning of heavenly wisdom
gain us admittance to his company….”[vii]

This collect, while speaking to the coming of Christ, asks that we might be freed from those things which might hinder us from meeting Christ at his coming.  Thus, in the Second Sunday of Advent we see the penitential understanding of the season shining through.

The Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday – Rose (or Violet)

The Third Sunday of Advent is named Gaudete Sunday after the first word of Entrance Antiphon, which in Latin is Gaudete.  Gaudete means ‘rejoice.’  The Entrance Antiphon is “Rejoice in the Lord, always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”[viii]  With the usage of rose colored vestments we can see the overall joyful emphasis of this Sunday.  This Sunday replaces the sober penitential tone of the First and Second Sundays of Advent with a joyous and anticipatory mood.  In many ways, it parallels the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, which also interrupts the penitential tone of Lent with a more joyous one.  The readings for this Sunday (Cycle A:  Mt. 11:2-11; B:  Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28; C:  Lk. 3:10-18) all deal with John as the one who is preparing the way for the Lord.  The Opening Collect for Gaudete Sunday attests to its joyous feel:

“O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing…”[ix]

This collect sums up well the tone of Gaudete Sunday.  Thus the Third Sunday of Advent strongly focuses us on the coming celebration of Christmas, the Incarnation of Christ.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent – Violet

The readings of the Fourth Sunday of Advent (A:  Mt 1:18-24; B:  Lk 1:26-38; C:  Lk 1:39-47) begin the preparation of the feast of our Lord’s birth.  All the readings for this Sunday deal with the events which precede Christ’s birth.  The Entrance Antiphon best attests to the preparatory feel of this Sunday:  “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior.”  We can also see the preparatory feel of this Sunday in the Opening Collect:

“Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection…”[x]

Thus, in the Fourth Sunday of Advent we prepare ourselves for the coming Incarnation of our Lord.

The Weekdays of Advent from December 17th to the Morning of December 24th – Violet

These weekday liturgies that lead up to Christmas are particularly special ones.  Their alleluia verses use the famous O-Antiphons from the Liturgy of the Hours.  They cause us to reflect on the coming Incarnation of Christ and the biblical motifs surround the Savior.

  1. Come, Wisdom of our God Most High (O Sapientia).
  2. Come, Leader of ancient Israel (O Adonai).
  3. Come, Flower of Jesse’s stem (O radix Jesse).
  4. Come, Key of David (O clavis David).
  5. Come, Radiant Dawn (O Oriens).
  6. Come, King of all nations (O Rex gentium).
  7. Come, Emmanuel (O Emmanuel)

These verses provide a powerful tool for meditation on the coming Incarnation of Christ on Christmas day.

As can be seen, the Advent season eagerly celebrates the Incarnation of our Lord, and His coming again.  While Advent is primarily a joyous occasion and celebration, it also has a penitential quality to it.  This is because Christ’s Second Coming brings with it His judgment.

Celebrate every Advent season with joyful anticipation for the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation, and His Second Coming in Glory.  Use Advent as a time to celebrate Christ and to reflect on your relationship with Him.  The Christian hope is that when Christ comes again we might all run forth to meet Him.  The Opening Collect for the morning Mass of December 24th, the last liturgy of the Advent season, sums up well the character of the Christian attitude during Advent:

“Come quickly, we pray, Lord Jesus,
and do not delay,
that those who trust in your compassion
may find solace and relief in your coming.
Who live and reign with God the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.”[xi]

 

Sources

Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy. New York: Pueblo Pub. Co, 1981.

Catholic Church. The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of The Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011.

 


[i] Adam, 131.

[ii] Ibid., 131.

[iii] Ibid., 131.

[iv] Ibid., 132.

[v] Roman Missal, Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, §39.

[vi] Ibid., First Sunday of Advent.

[vii] Ibid., Second Sunday of Advent.

[viii] Ibid., Third Sunday of Advent.

[ix] Ibid., Third Sunday of Advent.

[x] Ibid., Fourth Sunday of Advent.

[xi] Ibid., December 24:  The Morning Mass.

 

This article was written by Nathan Chase, MA in Liturgical Studies and Systematics candidate at St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, for field education requirements in the Office of Worship, Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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The Advent Wreath

For many households, the Advent Wreath has become an important part of the Advent season and has helped mark the Sundays in Advent leading up to Christmas.  This beautiful devotion has found its way into many churches. Because the Advent wreath is, at its core, a private devotion there is great flexibility in how one incorporates it into their homes and how parishes incorporate it into the environment in their churches.

The Book of Blessings provides some guidance on the use of an Advent wreath in a parish setting.  The following instruction concerns the blessing of the Advent wreath on the First Sunday of Advent:

“The use of the Advent Wreath is a traditional practice which has found its place in the Church as well as in the home.  The blessing of an Advent Wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent.  The blessing may be celebrated during Mass, a celebration of the Word of God, or Evening Prayer.”[i]

The Book of Blessings also gives a description of a customary Advent wreath.[ii]  Often times an Advent wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches with four candles in them.  While three violet and one rose color are often used, the candles used for the Advent wreath can be any color.  The usage of three violet candles and one rose color candle corresponds to the four Sundays in Advent.  The three violet candles correspond to the First, Second, and Fourth Sundays of Advent and the rose color candle corresponds to the Third Sunday of Advent, often known as Gaudete (or Rejoice) Sunday.  In some places there is also a fifth white candle which is placed in the center of the wreath and is lit during Christmastime.

The Book of Blessings suggests that the Advent wreath be either hung from the ceiling, or placed on a stand.  In either case, however, it is important that “[i]f the Advent Wreath is to be used in church, it should be of sufficient size to be visible to the congregation.”[iii]  This is further accentuated in Built of Living Stones from the USCCB concerning art, architecture, and worship.[iv]

The Book of Blessings also gives instructions for the lighting of the Advent wreath.  As alluded to above, the lighting of the Advent wreath begins after a blessing of the wreath either at the vigil to the First Sunday in Advent, or at Mass or a celebration of the Word on the First Sunday of Advent.  Often the practice is to bless and light the Advent wreath during Mass on the First Sunday of Advent.  In such a case, the Book of Blessings recommends that the blessing and lighting of the Advent wreath be done after the General Intercessions.  However, the blessing and lighting of the Advent wreath could also be incorporated into the Introductory Rites, or the Liturgy of the Word.  After the First Sunday of Advent the Book of Blessings suggests that the candles be lit before Mass, or after the opening prayer.  However, they are to be done with no additional rites or prayers,[v] though a simple verse and response of “Jesus Christ is the light of the world:  a light no darkness can overpower” seems more than appropriate.

The Advent wreath began among central Europeans and was a circle of evergreens hung horizontally from the ceiling.  The open center of the Advent wreath acted as a portal into heaven.  It since has evolved and often takes on many forms.  Parishes should feel free to be creative with their Advent wreaths, within the norms of liturgical practice, and in a way which “enhance[s] the prayer and understanding of the parish community.”[vi]  In this way, the Advent wreath should never detract from the celebration of the Eucharist but serve to heighten its importance and the importance of the Advent season.

One creative idea which has worked in some parishes is the placement of a bowl of burning incense beneath the suspended wreath to represent our prayers rising as incense to heaven.  For other creative ideas see Peter Mazar’s book To Crown the Year.

Above all, when using an Advent wreath in a church, it is important to be safe.  Evergreens are highly flammable and there is always a risk that they could catch on fire with lit candles so nearby.  Please be cautious in your usage of Advent wreaths and make sure that a lit Advent wreath is never left unattended.

Sources:

Catholic Church. Book of Blessings: Approved for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and Confirmed by the Apostolic See. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989.

Catholic Church. Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship. Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.

Mazar, Peter. To Crown the Year: Decorating the Church Through the Seasons. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1995.


[i] Book of Blessings, §1509.

[ii] Ibid., §1510.

[iii] Ibid., §1512

[iv] Built of Living Stones, §128.

[v] Book of Blessings, §1513.

[vi] Built of Living Stones, §128.

This article was written by Nathan Chase, MA in Liturgical Studies and Systematics candidate at St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, for field education requirements in the Office of Worship, Diocese of Saint Cloud.

 

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The Christmas Season

The Nativity of the Lord, also known as Christmas, is a special time each year when the Christian faithful celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a time to celebrate the Word of God becoming flesh in order to redeem humanity and our fallen world.  On Christmas day, we celebrate the Son of God who walked among us and look forward to the salvation He won for us on the cross.  In other words,

Christmas too is celebrated as a feast of our redemption, even though the focus of attention is on the incarnation and the ‘marvelous exchange,’ and not on the passion and resurrection.  But the paschal mystery itself also finds expression in the Christmas liturgy as the citation for the second reading of the Mass during the Day shows and as the second reading of the Midnight Mass makes even clearer:  ‘Jesus Christ…gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds’ (Tit 2:14).[1]

While we joyfully celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas, we do so ultimately because through His incarnation he redeems the world.  The Nativity of the Lord attests to the love of God for His people.  This love is so strong that the Father sent His Son into the world to sanctify and redeem it.  In this way, Christmas ultimately points to the celebration of Easter, when on the cross and in the resurrection, the power of God’s redeeming love is fully manifested.  Christmas begins the story of God with us in the flesh.  This story culminates in the events of Easter when that same flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, becomes wounded for our sake and dies in order that we might have life.  Yet, even that is not the end of the story, for Christ rose from the dead so that we might live and with His glorified and resurrected body He ascended so that we too on the last day might be glorified as well.  Christmas is an important time, for in it we are reminded of God’s wonderful love for us attested to in the sending of His Son to redeem the world.

It is known that the birthday, or Nativity, of Christ was celebrated on December 25th as early as 336 A.D. in the city of Rome.[2]  The reasons for its introduction are debated.  There are, however, two main reasons advanced by scholars:  1) The introduction of the Solemnity of the Nativity of Christ so as to revival the pagan feast of the “Unconquered Sun-God” which was being practiced in Rome.  2) The attempt early by Christians to calculate Christ’s birth:

The Christ-as-sun symbolism…caused them to pay special attention to the equinoxes and solstices.  One opinion was that John the Baptist was conceived at the autumn equinox and born at the summer solstice.  But since according to Luke 1:26 Christ was conceived six months after John, he was conceived at the spring equinox (March 25) and was therefore born on December 25.[3]

Whatever the exact reason for the establishment of Christmas on December 25th, we know that by 336 A.D. this practice had been firmly established.

The Nativity of the Lord, like the Triduum, is a rather complex celebration.  Liturgically, Christmas begins at the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve.  The vigil Mass is followed by a “Mass during the Night.”  This “Mass during the Night” has traditionally been referred to as “Midnight Mass;” however, due to the celebration of this Mass before midnight throughout the parishes and cathedrals of the world, including the Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, the name was changed to “Mass during the Night.”  This is further followed by a “Mass at Dawn” and a “Mass during the Day.  Both of these are on Christmas Day.  Thus, on Christmas Day there are three Masses celebrated.

The historical development of these three Christmas Day Masses (“Mass during the Night,” “Mass at Dawn,” and “Mass during the Day”) is rather interesting.  This practice of celebrating three Masses on Christmas is unique to the Roman Catholic Church, and can be traced back to the 6th century.  Beginning in the 4th century, the only mass on Christmas was the festal Mass celebrated by the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning.  In the 5th century, the Midnight Mass was added.  This Mass stemmed from the papal practice of celebrating a Mass at midnight in the chapel of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.  The chapel was a replica of the cave in which Christ was born and since the 7th century claims to contain the relics of the manger.  The third Mass was introduced in the 6th century when the pope celebrated Mass at the church of St. Anastasia near the Palatine on December 25th, the feast of St. Anastasia in the East.  This church was significant at this time because it was made the imperial church after the Byzantine Greeks conquered Rome.  The pope more than likely celebrated this mass out of respect for the Byzantine governor.  It is through these three papal celebrations that the three Christmas Day masses entered into Roman practice.

The Vigil Mass

The readings for the Vigil Mass show the Lord’s delight for His people.

  •  First Reading:  Isaiah 62:1-5 – The Lord delights in you.
  • Second Reading:  Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 – Paul bears witness to Christ, the son of David.
  • Gospel:  Matthew 1:1-25 – The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David.

In these reading we see the Christ child has come.  In them we begin our celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God.  The Opening Collect attests to the redemption we look forward to:

O God, who gladdens us year by year
as we wait in hope for our redemption,
grant that, just as we joyfully welcome
our Only Begotten Son as our Redeemer,
we may also merit to face him confidently
when he comes again as our Judge…[4]

This collect speaks of our hope for redemption in Christ so that when we are judged at the last day, we may stand with Christ in the company of all the heavenly hosts.  Of interest in the Vigil Mass is that in the Creed, all are to kneel at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate” so as to attest to the importance of the incarnation for our redemption.

“Mass during the Night”

The readings for the “Mass during the Night” speak of the Son who is given to us.

  • First Reading:  Isaiah 9:1-6 – A son is given to us.
  • Second Reading:  Titus 2:11-14 – The grace of God has appeared to all.
  • Gospel:  Luke 2:1-14 – Today a Savior has been born for you.

In these readings we celebrate even more clearly Christ’s presence with us.  The first reading speaks of the fulfillment of the hope for a messiah promised to Israel.  The second reading attests to live a life of grace.  The gospel reading begins the Lukan account of the birth of Jesus.  It ends with all the heavenly hosts saying “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  The Opening Collect utilizes symbolism of light:

O God, who have made this most sacred night
radiant with the splendor of the true light,
grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth,
may also delight in his gladness in heaven…[5]

The theme of light runs throughout the Advent season.  Here it reaches its fulfillment in the Son of God incarnate, who is the light of the world.  The symbol of light which overcomes all darkness will be a theme throughout the Christmas season.

“Mass during the Dawn”

The readings for the “Mass during the Dawn” speak of the mercy of the Son who has come to save us.

  • First Reading:  Isaiah 62:11-12 – Behold, your Savior comes!
  • Second Reading:  Titus 3:4-7 – Because of his mercy, he saved us.
  • Gospel:  Luke 2:15-20 – The shepherds found Mary and Joseph and the infant.

In these readings, we continue to see the symbolism of light and the joy of the Word among us.  We see the mercy of God who out of His love for the world sent His Son to be our Savior.  The gospel reading continues the Lukan account of the birth of Jesus.  In this passage we see the shepherds meeting with the child and their utter amazement.  The reading ends with:  “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.  This reading calls us to glorify and praise God who we too have seen and met in the Eucharist this day.  The Opening Collect calls us to be illuminated and live a life to the glory of God’s name:

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, as we are bathed in the new radiance of your incarnate Word,
the light of faith, which illumines our minds,
may also shine through in our deeds…[6]

We see in the Opening Collect the radical life of discipleship and service we are called to live in our love for Christ.  Not only do we celebrate Christ’s incarnation and redemption of humanity, but we celebrate our own call to participate with Christ in the redemption of ourselves and the world.

“Mass during the Day”

The readings for the “Mass during the Day” speak to the Word’s dwelling among us and the call for all the ends of the earth to see and proclaim the power of God.

  • First Reading:  Isaiah 52:7-10 – All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.
  • Second Reading:  Hebrews 1:1-6 – God has spoken to us through the Son.
  • Gospel:  John 1:1-18 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

The usage of the Prologue from the Fourth Gospel (John 1:1-18) is a powerful testament to the mystery of the incarnation.  Furthermore, it continues the light symbolism.  Christ is the light of the world who has come to save it.  The reading from John best brings out the prophet Isaiah’s words in the first reading that Christ is He “who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation.”  As these readings show us, we are celebrating our own redemption in Christ’s incarnation.  The Opening Collect further affirms this:

O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature
and still more wonderfully restored it,
grant, we pray,
that we may share in the divinity of Christ,
who humbled himself to share in our humanity…[7]

It is because the Son of God entered the world that we are able to take part in the love of the Trinity.  By coming in the world, the Son of God took on humanity so that we could share in His divinity.  Blessed be God for His kindness and love!

God humbled Himself so that we might be exalted.   The Nativity of Our Lord is about our redemption and divinization; it is about our participation in the life of God.  We are invited to look beyond the secular symbols to the true heart of Christmas:  the invitation by God to enter into relationship with Him.  May God give us the strength to accept this invitation that we receive every moment of every day, but which we remember especially in the Christmas season.  May our lives reflect the invitation received and may we, when Christ comes in glory again from the Father, “run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.”  Amen.[8]

Sources

Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy. New York: Pueblo Pub. Co, 1981.

Catholic Church. The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of The Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011.


[1] Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy. (New York: Pueblo Pub. Co, 1981) 128.

[2] Adam, 122.

[3] Ibid., 123.

[4] Catholic Church. The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of The Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011) 171.

[5] The Roman Missal, 172.

[6] The Roman Missal, 174.

[7] Ibid., 175.

[8] The Roman Missal, 139.

This article was written by Nathan Chase, MA in Liturgical Studies and Systematics candidate at St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, for field education requirements in the Office of Worship, Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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The Lenten Season: Ash Wednesday through the Second Week of Lent

General Introduction

The origins of Lent are found in the desire of early Christians to mirror the forty-day fasts which are so prevalent throughout the Bible.  Some of these include the fasting of Jesus after his baptism (Mt 4:2 and Lk 4:1-2), of Moses on Sinai (Ex. 34:28) and Elijah on his journey to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).  The number forty is given further importance in that it mirrors the Israelite’s forty years wandering in the desert.[1]

The exact number of days for Lent varied in the early church.  However by the fifth century the season seems to have become set:  “Because there was no fasting on Sundays, an effort was made in the fifth century to increase the number of actual fastdays to forty.”[2]  This was done by placing Good Friday and Holy Saturday in the Lenten season, and moving up the beginning of Lent to what would become Ash Wednesday.  This created a full forty day fasting season (Sundays are excluded from the count).

The beginning of the Lenten season is also tied up with the restoration of penitents in the early church.  The practice of restoring the penitents during Lent is a major contributor to the penitential feel of the season. However, this penitential feel of Lent was also complimented by the preparation of the candidates for the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil.[3]  The faithful joined the penitents and candidates in spiritual solidarity.

These two practices of restoring penitents and initiating new Christians, ultimately lead to the two-fold understanding of Lent as baptismal and penitential.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council affirms this two-fold Lenten focus:  “Lent is marked by two themes, the baptismal and the penitential.  By recalling or preparing for baptism and by repentance, this season disposes the faithful…to celebrate the paschal mystery.  The baptismal and penitential aspects of Lent are to be given greater prominence in both the liturgy and liturgical catechesis.  Hence, more use is to be made of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy.”[4]

Both themes can be felt throughout Lent.  The penitential nature of Lent is evident in the purple vestments, and the omission of the singing of the Gloria and alleluia.  The Gloria it appears was never permitted in the Masses of Lent.  The alleluia’s omission in the West finds its roots in the 5th/6th century onwards.  In the West, the alleluia before the Gospel was replaced by a tract. Interestingly, the alleluia was retained by the Greeks.[5]

One last general thing to note is that every Sunday and weekday of Lent has its own entrance antiphon, collect, prayer over the offerings, communion antiphon, prayer after Communion, and prayer over the people.  Furthermore, even Sunday of Lent has its own Preface corresponding to the Gospel reading.  The exception to this is the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent when Year B and C of the lectionary series are used instead of Year A.

Ash Wednesday – Violet

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent.  In the early Church, on Ash Wednesday the penitents would don a penitential garment and have ashes sprinkled on them.  This practice of wearing penitential garments and ashes has its roots in Old Testament penitential practices.  Despite the disappearance of public ecclesiastical penance around the end of the first millennium, the rite of the sprinkling of ashes was retained and now is performed on all the faithful.  Furthermore, the practice of using the ashes from the burning of the palm branches from Palm Sunday of the previous year appears to have its roots in the 12th century.  The sprinkling of ashes is seen as a symbol of sorrow and penance, but also in hopeful anticipation of the resurrection.[6]

The readings for Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-18, 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 and Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18) all speak about penance and reconciliation.  The entrance antiphon (Wis 11:24, 25, 27) also speaks to the need for repentance and God’s merciful judgment.  The Opening Collect for Ash Wednesday attests the desire for our fasting to be a weapon against evil:

“Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…”[7]

This prayer reminds us that Christian living is not easy, and that we will be tempted to stray from the way of God.  However, Christ through the Church gives us tools, such as fasting, by which we can defend ourselves against evil.

The prayer over the blessing of the ashes asks that God pour out His graces upon us this Lenten season and help us to be strong in our Lenten observance.  The distribution of the ashes is then done with either the phrase:  “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”[8]  Both serve as a reminder of our need to turn back towards God.

The First Sunday of Lent – Violet

The reading for the First Sunday of Lent (A:  Mt 4:1-11; B:  Mk 1:12-15; C:  Lk 4:1-13) is about the temptation of Jesus in the desert.  Thus, these readings call us to follow the example of Christ who was victorious over the temptations of the devil.  The Opening Collect for the First Sunday of Lent attests to this desire to follow the example of Christ:

“Grant, almighty God,
through the yearly observances of holy Lent,
that we may grow in understanding
of the riches hidden in Christ
and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…”[9]

This collect, speaks to Christ’s own struggle against sin and temptation, but also His ultimate victory over it.  The Gospel reading is complimented by a Preface specific to the First Sunday of Lent:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
By abstaining forty long days from earthly food,
he consecrated through his fast
the pattern of our Lenten observance
and, by overturning all the snares of the ancient serpent,
taught us to cast out the leaven of malice,
so that, celebrating worthily the Paschal Mystery,
we might pass over at last to the eternal paschal feast.
And so, with the company of Angels and Saints…”[10]

Here we are also reminded of the importance of fasting during Lent, and of our anticipation of the celebration of Easter.

The Second Sunday of Lent – Violet

The reading for the Second Sunday of Lent (A:  Mt 17:1-9; B:  Mk 9:2-10; C:  Lk 9:28b-36) is an introduction to the paschal mystery.  These readings are about the transfiguration of Jesus.  The transfiguration shows that the cross and death are not the end of the story.  Rather, they point to Christ’s passage into glory, which will be celebrated at Easter.  Thus, these readings call us to see suffering as a passage into greater joy.  The Opening Collect for the Second Sunday of Lent attests to this desire to follow the example of Christ:

“O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased, we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…”[11]

The Gospel reading is complimented by a Preface specific to the First Sunday of Lent:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
For after he had told the disciples of his coming Death,
on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory,
to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets,
that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.
And so, with the Powers of heaven…”[12]

In both the Gospel Reading and the Preface we are reminded that we are preparing for the Easter celebration.  The suffering that we remember in Lent, both our own and that of Christ, will give way to the joyful celebration of the mystery of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.

(More to come…)

Sources

Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy. New York: Pueblo Pub. Co, 1981.

Catholic Church. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. 1963. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html.

Catholic Church. Lectionary for Mass: The Roman Missal Restored by Decree of the

Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican and Promulgated by Authority of

Pope Paul VI; for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1998.

—. The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of The Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011.


[1] Adam, 91.

[2] Ibid., 92.

[3] Ibid., 93.

[4] Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, §109.

[5] Adam, 96-97.

[6] Ibid., 98.

[7] The Roman Missal, “Ash Wednesday.”

[8] Ibid., “Ash Wednesday.”

[9] Ibid., “First Sunday of Lent.”

[10] Ibid., “First Sunday of Lent.”

[11] Ibid., “Second Sunday of Lent.”

[12] Ibid., “Second Sunday of Lent.”

This article was written by Nathan Chase, MDiv. and MA candidate at St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, for field education requirements in the Office of Worship, Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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The Lenten Season: Third Sunday through Fifth Sunday

The Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent are unique Sundays in the Lenten season.  These three Sundays of Lent correspond to the Sundays in Lent when the scrutinies are performed in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.  For this reason there is a possible diversion from the lectionary cycle (A, B, and C Years) during these three Sundays.  The Year A cycle of reading may be substituted for Years B and C on the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent for pastoral reasons.   However, Year A must be used when the scrutinies are performed.

The Third Sunday of Lent – Violet

The readings for the Third Sunday of Lent (A:  Jn 4:5-42; B:  Jn 2:13-25; C:  Lk 13:1-9) are drawn from different stories in the Gospels.  The Gospel reading for Year A is about the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in which Jesus tells her that the water he gives is a spring of eternal life.  This water motif ties beautifully into the preparation for the rites of Christian initiation, specifically baptism.  For this reason, the readings from Year A must be used when the scrutinies are performed during Lent for those who are being initiated.  Year B is about the cleansing of the temple, and Year C is about the need for repentance.  The Opening Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent asks for the strength to follow in the footsteps of Christ who showed us how to live:

“O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness,
who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…”[1]

This collect speaks to Christ’s victory over sin and our need to follow penitentially in his footsteps.  If the readings for Year A are used, the Gospel reading is complimented by a Preface specific to the Third Sunday of Lent:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
For when he asked the Samaritan woman for water to drink,
he had already created the gift of faith within her
and so ardently did he thirst for her faith,
that he kindled in her the fire of divine love.
And so we, too, give you thanks and with the Angels…”[2]

Here we are told about the gift of faith given by Christ to the Samaritan woman.  This gift of faith, we pray through Lent, will also be bestowed on those who are preparing for initiation into the Church.  If the readings of Year B and C are used then the preface for Mass is taken from Preface I or II of Lent.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – Laetare Sunday – Violet or Rose

This Sunday is marked by a note of joy, hence the rose colored vestments.  On this Sunday, the altar may be decorated with flowers.  The joyfulness of this Sunday is more than likely derived from images of light in the readings, and the “catechumenal rite known as the ‘opening of the ears,’ which would have taken place on the following Wednesday.[3] The use of flowers on this Sunday more than likely stems from the papal blessing of the “Golden Rose” on this day, which is based on a celebration of the victory of spring over winter.[4]  The name Laetare Sunday is derived from the entrance antiphon which begins:  “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.”  Rejoice in Latin can be translated as rejoice.  The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (A:  Jn 9:1-41; B:  Jn 3:14-21; C:  Lk 15:1-3, 11-32) like the Third Sunday of Lent are drawn from different stories within the Gospels.  The Gospel reading for Year A is about the Man Born Blind.  In this story, Jesus heals the man born blind.  This story too is connected with baptism and Christian institution.  Baptism is seen as an enlightenment, or an opening of the spiritual eyes.  The opening of the spiritual eyes is beautifully paralleled by the opening of the physical eyes of the man born blind in the Gospel.  At the end of the story the man professes having seen, both physically and spiritually, that Jesus is Lord.  The Gospel reading for Year B is drawn from a conversion with Nicodemus which speaks to the symbolism of light.  The Gospel reading for Year C is the parable of the lost son.  The Opening Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent attests to the Lordship of Christ:

“O God, who through your Word
reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray,
that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten
toward the solemn celebrations to come.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ…”[5]

If the readings for Year A are used, the Gospel reading is complimented by a Preface specific to the Fourth Sunday of Lent:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
By the mystery of the Incarnation,
he has led the human race that walked in darkness
into the radiance of the faith
and has brought those born in slavery to ancient sin
through the waters of regeneration
to make them your adopted children.
Therefore, all creatures of heaven and earth
sing a new song in adoration,
and we, with all the host of Angels…”[6]

In the preface we are reminded of the regenerative quality of the waters of baptism.  Through baptism we experience new life, a life free from the bonds of sin.  This parallels beautifully the Gospel reading of Year A which the spiritual and physical eyes of the man born blind are opened after he washes in the pool of Siloam. If the readings of Year B and C are used then the preface is taken from Preface I or II of Lent.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent – Violet

The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (A:  Jn 11:1-45; B:  Jn 12:20-33; C:  Jn 8:1-11) are drawn from different stories in the Gospels.  The Gospel reading for Year A is about the Jesus’ raising of Lazarus.  In this story, Jesus shows Himself to be the resurrection and the life. This story ties wonderfully into the rites of Christian initiation.  Through baptism, we die and rise with Christ.  We are able to be apart of not only His death but also His resurrection.  In baptism we are assured of our resurrection from the dead by the power of Christ. For this reason, the readings from Year A must be used when the scrutinies are performed during Lent for those who are being initiated.  Year B is about a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, so that it can produce much fruit, and Year C is about the adulteress who Jesus saves from being stoned and forgives her sins.  The Opening Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Lent asks we may participate in the death of Christ:

“By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God,
may we walk eagerly in that same charity
with which, out of love for the world,
your Son handed himself over to death.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son…”[7]

This collect, speaks to Christ’s journey to the cross out of love for the whole world.  If the readings for Year A are used, the Gospel reading is complimented by a Preface specific to the Fifth Sunday of Lent:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
For as true man he wept for Lazarus his friend,
and as eternal God raised him from the tomb,
just as, taking pity on the human race,
he leads us by sacred mysteries to new life.
Through him the host of Angels adores your majesty…”[8]

Here Christ’s divine and human natures are accentuated and we are promised new life like Lazarus if we follow Christ.  Throughout Lent we pray that we may be made faithful disciples of Christ.  If the readings of Year B and C are used then the preface is taken from Preface I or II of Lent.

Also of note, during the Fifth Sunday of Lent crosses and images throughout the church may be veiled.   If veiled, crosses remain veiled until the end of the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday.  Images, however, remain veiled until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.[9]  For me information see my article on “The Veiling of Crosses and Images During Lent.”

Sources

Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History & Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy. New York: Pueblo Pub. Co, 1981.

Catholic Church.  The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of The Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2011.


[1] Catholic Church, “Third Sunday of Lent.”

[2] Ibid., “Third Sunday of Lent.”

[3] Adam, 103.

[4] Catholic Church, 103.

[5] Ibid., “Fourth Sunday of Lent.”

[6] Ibid., “Fourth Sunday of Lent.”

[7] Ibid., “Fifth Sunday of Lent.”

[8] Ibid., “Fifth Sunday of Lent.”

[9] Ibid., “Fifth Sunday of Lent.”

This article was written by Nathan Chase, MDiv. and MA candidate at St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN, for field education requirements in the Office of Worship, Diocese of Saint Cloud.

 

Transfer of the Ascension

On November 16, 1998, the U.S. bishops voted to allow the bishops of each ecclesiastical province to move the solemnity of the Ascension to the 7th Sunday of Easter. After this decision was confirmed by the Vatican, the bishops of our ecclesiastical province (Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota) voted for this change. Thus this year, in our diocese, the Ascension of the Lord will be celebrated on Sunday, May 17th.

What led to this change? Not a desire to promote a liturgical novelty or to lighten the Mass schedule for clergy. Rather, the purpose is the one that led the U.S. bishops to move the solemnity of the Epiphany from a weekday to a Sunday and the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ from a Thursday to a Sunday. When work schedules vary so much, when so many weekday events and activities compete for our attention, more Roman Catholics will be able to participate in the celebration of the Ascension on Sunday. Also, presiders, liturgical musicians and other ministers will be able to devote more time and care to this important celebration in the Easter season.

But isn’t this celebration historically tied to Jesus’ ascension into heaven 40 days after his resurrection, and thus should be celebrated on a Thursday? The celebration of the glorification of Jesus and his return to the Father, which is at the heart of the Ascension, is not tied to a 40-day chronology. Saint Luke gives us two different accounts of the ascension of Jesus. In Luke 24: 50-53, Luke recounts the ascension of Jesus on Easter Sunday night, thus connecting it to his resurrection. But in Acts 1:1-11 (the first reading for the solemnity), Luke speaks of a 40-day period between Jesus’ resurrection and the ascension.

For Luke and his fellow believers, the number “40” was a highly symbolic number: it recalled the 40 days and nights of the great flood, the 40-year sojourn of Moses and the Israelites through the desert, the 40 years that David reigned as king, the 40-day journey of the prophet Elijah to Mount Horeb, the 40 days and 40 nights that Jesus fasted in the wilderness. “40” symbolized the “fullness of time,” God’s time. How wonderfully Luke described the time after the resurrection, in which we see Jesus appearing to his disciples “during forth days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3) that had dawned upon the world in his dying and rising. In the “fullness of time,” Jesus received the fullness of God’s glory when he was taken up into heaven, the glory he had with God before the world began (see Jn. 17:5). Thus the number “40” is a sacred but not absolutely sacrosanct number for determining the celebration of the Ascension.

In the early Church, the ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit were celebrated as a single event at Pentecost. Such was the practice in 4th century Jerusalem. But by the last quarter of that century, in various places in the Christian East, this unitive celebration was evolving into two separate liturgical feasts, Ascension and Pentecost. This reflects our human tendency to take complex things apart so that we can examine their individual parts more closely and understand the whole more completely. But the “paschal mystery” of Jesus Christ is really a unity: his death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit are God’s Easter plan for him and for us.

In one of his sermons, Pope Leo the Great reminded his hearers that Christ’s ascension and glorification is the pledge of what we too shall be someday and a vision of what we already are: welcomed into heaven’s glory in company with Christ. At his ascension, Jesus left our human space and time but not our human experience, for while he now reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven, he also lives and works with us here on earth. In the pre-Vatican II liturgy, the Easter candle was extinguished after the reading of the Gospel on Ascension Thursday. Now the Easter candle remains lit until Pentecost, to show that the risen Christ is with us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Ascension is not simply the celebration of a past historical event; it is also a celebration of our risen life with Christ, now and in the future. This is something to celebrate on Ascension Sunday, just as we celebrated it on Ascension Thursday.

Text by Michael Kwatera, OSB, for the Office of Worship