Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Penance? In Advent?

I was thinking on Sunday about how I wanted to write a blog post about the penitential side of Advent in response to a comment that I received a week or so ago but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to say.

Sunday evening a friend called to tell me about the homily she heard on Saturday evening. The topic had to do with the penitential side of Advent, but in this case, the priest was more or less dismissing that aspect of Advent.

Now I knew that this was going to be a blog topic this week, but I still wasn't sure what I wanted to say. Lucky for you, God didn't want me to say anything about this topic. In my email inbox Monday morning was the perfect response! Isn't God good?

I do not know Fr. Perez or where he is from or even where/why this piece was originally published. All I know is that it says everything far better than I could have said it. Hope you find it interesting, also.
Lately I have heard of a local ongoing debate, which
I fear is probably pretty much universal, regarding the Season of
Advent. The debate focuses on whether Advent is just a time of
preparation for Christmas, could we then call it a pre-Christmas,
or a penitential season. The Church's answer, as usual,
stands in the middle - "Virtus in medio stat." While it is a
time for preparation for the great Feast of the Nativity of the
Son of God made Man - and as such what a wonderful event that is -
it is also a penitential season, that is, a time of penance
and sacrifice. When we were little, those of us who were
fortunate enough to have had good old fashioned sisters as our
teachers in grade school, were told to make many acts of
penance and self-abnegation, sacrifices, special devotions and to
have a crib for the Baby Jesus in which we would put a piece of
straw for each act we performed. The idea was that we would have
so many acts of penance that we would make a comfy bed for the
Baby Jesus. It was childlike, yes, and simple. But isn't
Christmas all about childlikeness and simplicity? The idea was
that according to age-old Church practice Advent was - and is - a
season of penance. That is very difficult in the post-Christian
and secularized world in which most of us live. Christmas carols
and decorations spring up as early as Halloween (yes) in many
places and for the most part after Thanksgiving. Those same
decorations are thrown out and the carols cease the day after
Christmas. We as Catholics should be counter cultural - as Pope
John Paul II
often reminded us. Christmas lasts for forty days
until Candlemas on February 2nd - which goes back to the Law of Moses
which Christ came to fulfill to perfection. The Vatican is a
good sign of this since by order of the Pope the ancient Roman
practice of leaving up all Nativity scenes (even in St. Peter's
Square) until Feb. 2nd has been both kept up and restored in
the last few years (as far as St. Peter's is concerned). Thus we
have Forty Days of Christmas. It is then that we should have
Christmas parties and feasts, not before Christmas Eve. In too many
quarters, too many Parishes, and Catholic organizations we have
succumbed to the ways of the world. Instead of bringing the light
of the Truth to the world we have molded ourselves about its
erroneous criteria. This must change.

On the other hand we have this time of Advent. It is a
Season of Penance for which the Church vests Herself in violet or
purple (except Gaudete Sunday in Rose which signifies a lessening
of the rigors of penance). So it is a Penitential Season,
primarily. Yes, it is a time of preparation for the Birth of
Christ, just as Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. Does
that mean we start to celebrate Christmas before Christmas and
forget the penance which our Faith and Tradition tell us we must
do? Does that mean we start to celebrate Easter on Ash Wednesday
and forget our Lenten penance? I think we all know the answer.
The Liturgy and Discipline of the Church (which follows the Liturgy)
tell us otherwise. We prepare for Christmas - or for Easter -
by repentance, by penances, sacrifices, increased quality and time
and number of prayers and devotions. We gather, as it were, many
pieces of straw to make His crib more comfortable. So yes, this
is a time to performs acts of fasting and abstinence. Of giving
witness - "No I cannot partake of that because I am preparing
for Christmas which starts, not ends, on Christmas Day." It is
a time of renewed repentance. A time to make a good Confession
of our sins. Needless to say, we repeat with John Paul II, the
desire and advice to all that they should go to Confession
regularly, at least once a month. The just man sins seven times
a day. Once or twice a year is hardly sufficient to make a
good thorough confession or to partake in the elements of
spiritual growth which this wonderful Sacrament affords us. It
is a time when we should try to attend and participate in the
Sacred Mysteries of the Mass and perhaps in at least the readings
of the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours which are so very
beautiful. A time to meditate more deeply in the Joyful
Mysteries of the Rosary
with Her who was so essentially central
to their taking place and their remembrance by the Evangelists and
the early Church. With St. John the Baptist who plays a
central role in this Season we also must yell from the rooftops:
"Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!" "Make straight the ways
of the Lord!" Fill in the valleys and bring down the mountains
of our sins so the Lord's coming will be easy and fruitful for us.
Repent! Prepare! Rejoice, because our salvation is close at hand!

Fr. Héctor R.G. Pérez y Robles, STD

"Embrace Mary, for she is the very Gate of Heaven
who brings to you the Glorious King of the New Light."
(Antiphon for the Procession on the Feast of Purification of the
Blessed Virgin Mary/Candlemas - Feb 2)

God Bless!


  1. Great Post! How else do we show love than by sacrifice? We ought to try to love one another more during this season. God is love and all he requires is love. So, be kind to others, say no to yourself (because selfishness is the antithesis of love) and praise God by spending more time with Him.
    Sacrifice shouldn't be viewed as a negative, rather as a joyful time to experience a closer union with God.

  2. Laura We had our penance today with the commute home! Love you, Dolores H