I. The History of Advent
Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB
Source: Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, Advent, ca. 1841, Volume 1, The Liturgical Year, translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., ca. 1867. London: Stanbrook Abbey, 1918.
The name Advent 1 is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation (which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the west, since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the feast of Christmas, until that feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December; which was done in the east only towards the close of the fourth century; whereas it is certain that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.
We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Saviour, by works of penance; and secondly, as a series of ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the feast of Christmas. We have two sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others which were formerly attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, but which were probably written by St. Cesarius of Arles. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and what the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, St. Bernard, and several other doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the bishops admonish that prince not to call them away from their Churches during Lent or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfill, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.
The oldest document in which we find the length and exercises of Advent mentioned with anything like clearness, is a passage in the second book of the History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours, where he says that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that see about the year 480, had decreed a fast three times a week, from the feast of St. Martin until Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether St. Perpetuus, by his regulations, established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of forty-three days, so expressly mentioned, and consecrated to penance, as though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that which precedes Easter.
Later on, we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Macon, held in 582, ordaining that during the same interval between St. Martin's day and Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, should be fasting days, and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to the lenten rite. Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for the laity: and it was commonly called St. Martin's Lent. The capitularia of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter; and Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of clerics, bears testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on St. Martin's Feast, just as we see them practised now at the approach of Lent and Easter.
The obligation of observing this Lent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, and the forty days from St. Martin's day to Christmas were reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed first in France; but thence it spread into England, as we find from Venerable Bede's history; into Italy, as appears from a diploma of Astolphus, king of the Lombards, dated 753; into Germany, Spain, &c., of which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dom Martène, On the ancient rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advent's being reduced to four weeks is to be found in the ninth century, in a letter of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona, and of Abbo of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove that, even then, the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true that St. Peter Damian, in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for forty days; and that St. Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that length of time; but as far as this holy king is concerned, it is, probable that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.
The discipline of the Churches of the west, after having reduced the time of the Advent fast, so far relented, in a few years, as to change the fast into a simple abstinence; and we even find Councils of the twelfth century, for instance Selingstadt in 1122, and Avranches in 1172, which seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, would seem to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no doubt, to there never having been any uniformity of discipline regarding it in the western Church), we find Pope Innocent III, in his letter to the bishop of Braga, mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome; and Durandus, in the same thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that holy time.
This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse, that when, in 1362, Pope Urban V endeavoured to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. St. Charles Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan to the spirit, if not to the letter, of ancient; times. In his fourth Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to Communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent and Advent; and afterwards addressed to the faithful themselves a pastoral letter, in which, after having reminded them of the dispositions wherewith they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least, of each Advent. Finally, Pope Benedict XIV, when archbishop of Bologna, following these illustrious examples, wrote his eleventh Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the minds of his diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times had of the holy season of Advent, and of removing an erroneous opinion which prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent concerned religious only and not the laity. He shows them that such an opinion, unless it be limited to the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is, strictly speaking, rash and scandalous, since it cannot be denied that, in the laws and usages of the universal Church, there exist special practices, having for their end to prepare the faithful for the great feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though with much less rigour than that of Lent. It consists of forty days, beginning with November 14, the day on which this Church keeps the feast of the apostle St. Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain from flesh-meat, butter, milk, and eggs; but they are allowed, which they are not during Lent, fish, oil, and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is binding only on seven out of the forty days; and the whole period goes under the name of St. Philip's Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations by this distinction: that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of Apostolic institution.
But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the season of Advent, have been, in the western Church, so gradually relaxed as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries, 2 the general character of the liturgy of this holy time has not changed; and it is by zeal in following its spirit, that the faithful will prove their earnestness in preparing for Christmas.
The liturgical form of Advent as it now exists in the Roman Church, has gone through certain modifications. St. Gregory seems to have been the first to draw up the Office for this season, which originally included five Sundays, as is evident from the most ancient sacramentaries of this great Pope. It even appears probable, and the opinion has been adopted by Amalarius of Metz, Berno of Reichnau, Dom Martène, and Benedict XIV, that St. Gregory originated the ecclesiastical precept of Advent, although the custom of devoting a longer or shorter period to a preparation for Christmas has been observed from time immemorial, and the abstinence and fast of this holy season first began in France. St. Gregory therefore fixed, for the Churches of the Latin rite, the form of the Office for this Lent-like season, and sanctioned the fast which had been established, granting a certain latitude to the several Churches as to the manner of its observance.
The sacramentary of St. Gelasius has neither Mass nor Office of preparation for Christmas; the first we meet with are in the Gregorian sacramentary, and, as we just observed, these Masses are five in number. It is remarkable that these Sundays were then counted inversely, that is, the nearest to Christmas was called the first Sunday, and so on with the rest. So far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, these Sundays were reduced to four, as we learn from Amalarius St. Nicholas I, Berno of Reichnau, Ratherius of Verona, &c., and such also is their number in the Gregorian sacramentary of Pamelius, which appears to have been transcribed about this same period. From that time, the Roman Church has always observed this arrangement of Advent, which gives it four weeks, the fourth being that in which Christmas Day falls, unless December 25 be a Sunday. We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of Advent as having lasted a thousand years, at least as far as the Church of Rome is concerned; for some of the Churches in France kept up the number of five Sundays as late as the thirteenth century.
The Ambrosian liturgy, even to this day, has six weeks of Advent; so has the Gothic or Mozarabic missal. As regards the Gallican liturgy, the fragments collected by Dom Mabillon give us no information; but it is natural to suppose with this learned man, whose opinion has been confirmed by Dom Martène, that the Church of Gaul adopted, in this as in so many other points, the usages of the Gothic Church, that is to say, that its Advent consisted of six Sundays and six weeks.
With regard to the Greeks, their rubrics for Advent are given in the Menæa, immediately after the Office for November 14. They have no proper Office for Advent, neither do they celebrate during this time the Mass of the Presanctified, as they do in Lent. There are only in the Offices for the Saints, whose feasts occur between November 14 and the Sunday nearest Christmas, frequent allusions to the birth of the Saviour, to the maternity of Mary, to the cave of Bethlehem, &c. On the Sunday preceding Christmas, in order to celebrate the expected coming of the Messias, they keep what they call the feast of the holy fathers, that is the commemoration of the Saints of the old Law. They give the name of Ante-Feast of the Nativity to December 20, 21, 22, and 23; and although they say the Office of several Saints on these four days, yet the mystery of the birth of Jesus pervades the whole liturgy.
II. The Mystery of Advent
If, having described the characteristic features of Advent which distinguish it from the rest of the year, we would penetrate into the profound Mystery which occupies the mind of the Church during this season, we find that the Mystery of this Coming, or Advent, of Jesus is at once simple and threefold. It is simple for it is the one same Son of God that is coming; it is threefold because He comes at three different times and in three different ways.
'In the first coming,' says St. Bernard, 'He comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in spirit and power; in the third, He comes in glory and majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.' 3
This, then, is the mystery of Advent. Let us now listen to an explanation of this threefold visit of Christ, given to us by Peter of Blois, in his third sermon de Adventu: 'There are three comings of Our Lord; the first in the flesh; the second in the soul; the third at judgment. The first was at midnight according to the words of the Gospel: At Midnight there was a cry made, Lo, the Bridegroom cometh! But this first coming is long since past for Christ has been seen on the earth and has conversed among men. We are now in the second coming, provided only we are such as that He may thus come to us; for He has said that if we love Him, He will come to us and take up His abode with us. So that this second coming is full of uncertainty for us; for who, save the spirit of God, knows them that are of God? They that are raised out of themselves by the desire of heavenly things, know indeed when He comes, but whence He cometh or whither He goeth they know not. As for the third coming, it is most certain that it will be, most uncertain when it will be; for nothing is more sure than death, and nothing less sure than the hour of death. When they shall say, peace and security, says the apostle, then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape. So that the first coming was humble and hidden, the second is mysterious and full of love, the third will be majestic and terrible. In His first coming, Christ was judged by men unjustly; in His second, He renders us just by His grace; in His third, He will judge all things with justice. In His first, a lamb; in His last, a lion; in the one between the two, the tenderest of friends.' 4
The holy Church, therefore, during Advent, awaits in tears and with ardour the arrival of her Jesus in His first coming. For this, she borrows the fervid expressions of the prophets, to which she joins her own supplications. These longings for the Messias expressed by the Church, are not a mere commemoration of the desires of the ancient Jewish people; they have a reality and efficacy of their own, an influence in the great act of God's munificence, whereby He gave us His own Son. From all eternity, the prayers of the ancient Jewish people and the prayers of the Christian Church ascended together to the prescient hearing of God; and it was after the receiving and granting them, that He sent, in the appointed time, that blessed Dew upon the earth, which made it bud forth the Savior.
The Church aspires also to the second coming, the consequence of the first, which consists, as we have just seen, in the visit of the Bridegroom to the bride. This coming takes place, each year, at the feast of Christmas, when the new birth of the Son of God delivers the faithful from that yoke of bondage, under which the enemy would oppress them. 5 The Church, therefore, during Advent, prays that she may be visited by Him who is her Head and her Spouse; visited in her hierarchy; visited in her members, of whom some are living, and some are dead, but may come to life again; visited, lastly, in those who are not in communion with her, and even in the very infidels, that so they may be converted to the true light, which shines even for them. The expressions of the liturgy which the Church makes use of to ask for this loving and invisible coming, are those which she employs when begging for the coming of Jesus in the flesh; for the two visits are for the same object. In vain would the Son of God have come, nineteen hundred years ago, to visit and save mankind, unless He came again for each one of us and at every moment of our lives, bringing to us and cherishing within us that supernatural life, of which He and His holy Spirit are the sole principle.
But this annual visit of the Spouse does not content the Church; she aspires after a third coming which will complete all things by opening the gates of eternity. She has caught up the last words of her Spouse, 'Surely I am coming quickly;' 6 and she cries out to Him, 'Ah! Lord Jesus Come!' 7 She is impatient to be loosed from her present temporal state; she longs for the number of the elect to be filled up, and to see appear, in the clouds of heaven, the sign of her Deliverer and her Spouse. Her desires, expressed by her Advent liturgy, go even as far as this: and here we have the explanation of these words of the beloved disciple in his prophecy: 'The nuptials of the Lamb are come, and His wife hath prepared herself.' 8
But the day of His last coming to her will be a day of terror. The Church frequently trembles at the very thought of that awful judgment, in which all mankind is to be tried. She calls it 'a day of wrath, on which, as David and the Sibyl have foretold, the world will be reduced to ashes; a day of weeping and of fear.' Not that she fears for herself, since she knows that this day will for ever secure for her the crown, as being the bride of Jesus; but her maternal heart is troubled at the thought that, on the same day, so many of her children will be on the left hand of that Judge, and having no share with the elect, will be bound hand and foot, and cast into the darkness, where there shall be everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is the reason why the Church, in the liturgy of Advent, so frequently speaks of the coming of Christ as a terrible coming, and selects from the Scriptures those passages which are most calculated to awaken a salutary fear in the mind of such of her children as may be sleeping the sleep of sin.
This, then, is the threefold mystery of Advent. The liturgical forms in which it is embodied, are of two kinds: the one consists of prayers, passages from the Bible, and similar formulae, in all of which, words themselves are employed to convey the sentiments which we have been explaining; the other consists of external rites peculiar to this holy time, which by speaking to the outward senses, complete the expressiveness of the chants and words.
First of all, there is the number of the days of Advent. Forty was the number originally adopted by the Church, and it is still maintained in the Ambrosian liturgy, and in the eastern Church. If, at a later period, the Church of Rome, and those which follow her liturgy, have changed the number of days, the same idea is still expressed in the four weeks which have been substituted for the forty days. The new birth of our Redeemer takes place after four weeks, as the first nativity happened after four thousand years, according to the Hebrew and Vulgate chronology.
As in Lent, so likewise during Advent, marriage is not solemnized, lest worldly joy should distract Christians from those serious thoughts wherewith the expected coming of the sovereign Judge ought to inspire them or from that dearly cherished hope which the friends of the Bridegroom 9 have of being soon called to the eternal nuptial-feast.
The people are forcibly reminded of the sadness which fills the heart of the Church, by the sombre colour of the vestments. Excepting on the feasts of the saints, purple is the colour she uses; the deacon does not wear the dalmatic, nor the sub-deacon the tunic. Formerly it was the custom, in some places, to wear black vestments. This mourning of the Church shows how fully she unites herself with those true Israelites of old who, clothed in sack-cloth and ashes, waited for the Messias, and bewailed Sion that she had not her beauty, and 'Juda, that the sceptre had been taken from him, till He should come who was to be sent, the expectation of nations.' 10 It also signifies the works of penance, whereby she prepares for the second coming, full as it is of sweetness and mystery, which is realized in the souls of men, in proportion as they appreciate the tender love of that divine Guest, who has said: 'My delights are to be with the children of men.' 11 It expresses, thirdly, the desolation of this bride who yearns after her Beloved, who is long a-coming. Like the turtle dove, she moans her loneliness, longing for the voice which will say to her: 'Come from Libanus, my bride! come and thou shalt be crowned. Thou has responded to my heart.' 12
The Church also, during Advent, excepting on the feasts of saints, suppresses the angelic canticle, Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis; for this glorious song was sung at Bethlehem over the crib of the divine Babe; the tongues of the angels are not loosened yet; the Virgin has not yet brought forth her divine Treasure; it is not yet time to sing, it is not even true to say, 'Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.'
Again, at the end of Mass, the deacon does not dismiss the assembly of the faithful by the words: Ite missa est. He substitutes the ordinary greeting: Benedicamus Domino! as though the Church feared to interrupt the prayers of the people, which could scarce be too long during these days of expectation.
In the night Office, the holy Church also suspends, on those same days, the hymn of jubilation, Te Deum laudamus.13 It is in deep humility that she awaits the supreme blessing which is to come to her; and, in the interval, she presumes only to ask, and entreat, and hope. But let the glorious hour come, when in the midst of darkest night the Sun of justice will suddenly rise upon the world: then indeed she will resume her hymn of thanksgiving, and all over the face of the earth the silence of midnight will be broken by this shout of enthusiasm: 'We praise Thee, O God! we acknowledge Thee to be our Lord! Thou, O Christ, art the King of glory, the everlasting Son of the Father! Thou being to deliver man didst not disdain the Virgin's womb!'
On the ferial days, the rubrics of Advent prescribe that certain prayers should be said kneeling, at the end of each canonical Hour, and that the choir should also kneel during a considerable portion of the Mass. In this respect, the usages of Advent are precisely the same as those of Lent.
But there is one feature which distinguishes Advent most markedy from Lent: the word of gladness, the joyful Alleluia, is not interrupted during Advent, except once or twice during the ferial Office. It is sung in the Masses of the four Sundays, and vividly contrasts with the sombre colour of the vestments. On one of these Sundays, the third, the prohibitionof using the organ is removed, and we are gladdened by the grand notes, and rose-coloured vestments may be used instead of the purple. These vestiges of joy, thus blended with the holy mournfulness of the Church, tell us, in a most expressive way, that though she unites with the ancient people of God (thus paying the debt which the entire human race owes to the justice and mercy of God), she does not forget that the Emmanuel is already come to her, that He is in her, and that even before she has opened her lips to ask Him to save her, she has already been redeemed and pre-destined to an eternal union with Him. This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.
III. Practice During Advent
If our holy mother the Church spends the time of Advent in this solemn preparation for the threefold coming of Jesus Christ; if, after the example of the prudent virgins, she keeps her lamp lit ready for the coming of the Bridegroom; we, being her members and her children, ought to enter into her spirit, and apply to ourselves this warning of our Saviour: ‘Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands, and ye yourselves be like unto men who wait for their Lord !' 14 The Church and we have, in reality, the same hopes. Each one of us is, on the part of God, an object of mercy and care, as is the Church herself. If she is the temple of God, it is because she is built of living stones; if she is the bride, it is because she consists of all the souls which are invited to eternal union with God. If it is written that the Saviour hath purchased the Church with His own Blood, 15 may not each one of us say of himself those words of St. Paul, ‘Christ hath loved me, and hath delivered Himself up for me ‘ ? 16 Our destiny being the same, then, as that of the Church, we should endeavour during Advent, to enter into the spirit of preparation, which is, as we have seen, that of the Church herself.
And firstly, it is our duty to join with the saints of the old Law in asking for the Messias, and thus pay the debt which the whole human race owes to the divine mercy. In order to fulfil this duty with fervour, let us go back in thought to those four thousand years, represented by the four weeks of Advent, and reflect on the darkness and crime which filled the world before our Saviour’s coming. Let our hearts be filled with lively gratitude towards Him who saved His creature man from death, and who came down from heaven that He might know our miseries by Himself experiencing them, yes, all of them excepting sin. Let us cry to Him with confidence from the depths of our misery; for, notwithstanding His having saved the work of His hands, He still wishes us to beseech Him to save us. Let therefore our desires and our confidence have their free utterance in the ardent supplications of the ancient prophets, which the Church puts on our lips during these days of expectation; let us give our closest attention to the sentiments which they express.
This first duty complied with, we must next turn our minds to the coming which our Saviour wishes to accomplish in our own hearts. It is, as we have seen, a coming full of sweetness and mystery, and a consequence of the first; for the good Shepherd comes not only to visit the flock in general, but He extends His solicitude to each one of the sheep, even to the hundredth which is lost. Now, in order to appreciate the whole of this ineffable mystery, we must remember that, since we can be pleasing to our heavenly Father only inasmuch as He sees within us His Son Jesus Christ, this amiable Saviour deigns to come into each one of us, and transform us, if we will but consent, into Himself, so that henceforth we may live, not we, but He in us. This is, in reality, the one grand aim of the Christian religion, to make man divine through Jesus Christ: it is the task which God has given to His Church to do, and she says to the faithful what St. Paul said to his Galatians: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed within you !‘ 17
But as, on His entering into this world, our divine Saviour first showed Himself under the form of a weak Babe, before attaining the fulness of the age of manhood, and this to the end that nothing might be wanting to His sacrifice, so does He intend to do in us; there is to be a progress in His growth within us. Now, it is at the feast of Christmas that He delights to be born in our souls, and that He pours out over the whole Church a grace of being born, to which, however, not all are faithful.
For this glorious solemnity, as often as it comes round, finds three classes of men. The first, and the smallest number, are those who live, in all its plenitude, the life of Jesus who is within them, and aspire incessantly after the increase of this life. The second class of souls is more numerous; they are living, it is true, because Jesus is in them; but they are sick and weakly, because they care not to grow in this divine life their charity has become cold ! 18 The rest of men make up the third division, and are they that have no part of this life in them, and are dead; for Christ has said: ‘I am the Life,’19
Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all men’s hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice Him; at another, so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for He wishes to be born in their house. The house indeed is His, for he built it and preserves it; yet He complains that His own refused to receive Him ; 20 at least the greater number did. ‘But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, born not of blood, nor of the flesh, but of God.’ 21
He will be born, then, with more beauty and lustre and might than you have hitherto seen in Him, O ye faithful ones, who hold Him within you as your only treasure, and who have long lived no other life than His, shaping your thoughts and works on the model of His. You will feel the necessity of words to suit and express your love; such words as He delights to hear you speak to Him. You will find them in the holy liturgy.
You, who have had Him within you without knowing Him, and have possessed Him without relishing the sweetness of His presence, open your hearts to welcome Him, this time, with more care and love. He repeats His visit of this year with an untiring tenderness; He has forgotten your past slights; He would ‘that all things be new.' 22 Make room for the divine Infant, for He desires to grow within your soul. The time of His coming is close at hand: let your heart, then, be on the watch; and lest you should slumber when He arrives, watch and pray, yea, sing. The words of the liturgy are intended also for your use: they speak of darkness, which only God can enlighten; of wounds, which only His mercy can heal; of a faintness, which can be braced only by His divine energy.
And you, Christians, for whom the good tidings are as things that are not, because you are dead in sin, lo! He who is very life is coming among you. Yes, whether this death of sin has held you as its slave for long years, or has but freshly inflicted on you the wound which made you its victim, Jesus, your Life, is coming: ‘why, then, will you die? He desireth not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live,’ 23 The grand feast of His birth will be a day of mercy for the whole world; at least, for all who will give Him admission into their hearts : they will rise to life again in Him, their past life will be destroyed, and where sin abounded, there grace will more abound. 24
But, if the tenderness and the attractiveness of this mysterious coming make no impression on you, because your heart is too weighed down to be able to rise to confidence, and because, having so long drunk sin like water, you know not what it is to long with love for the caresses of a Father whom you have slighted — then turn your thoughts to that other coming, which is full of terror, and is to follow the silent one of grace that is now offered. Think within yourselves, how this earth of ours will tremble at the approach of the dread Judge; how the heavens will flee from before His face, and fold up as a book ; 25 how man will wince under His angry look; how the creature will wither away with fear, as the two-edged sword, which comes from the mouth of his Creator,26 pierces him; and how sinners will cry out, ‘Ye mountains, fall on us! ye rocks, cover us !' 27 Those unhappy souls who would not know the time of their visitation, 28 shall then vainly wish to hide themselves from the face of Jesus. They shut their hearts against this Man-God, who, in His excessive love for them, wept over them: therefore, on the day of judgement they will descend alive into those everlasting fires, whose flame devoureth the earth with her increase, and burneth the foundations of the mountains, 29 The worm that never dieth,30 the useless eternal repentance, will gnaw them for ever.
Let those, then, who are not touched by the tidings of the coming of the heavenly Physician and the good Shepherd who giveth His life for His sheep, meditate during Advent on the awful yet certain truth, that so many render the redemption unavailable to themselves by refusing to co-operate in their own salvation. They may treat the Child who is to be born 31 with disdain; but He is also the mighty God, and do they think they can withstand Him on that day, when He is to come, not to save, as now, but to judge? Would that they knew more of this divine Judge, before whom the very saints tremble! Let these, also, use the liturgy of this season, and they will there learn how much He is to be feared by sinners.
We would not imply by this that only sinners need to fear ; no, every Christian ought to fear. Fear, when there is no nobler sentiment with it, makes man a slave; when it accompanies love, it is a feeling which fills the heart of a child who has offended his father, yet seeks for pardon; when, at length, love casteth out fear, 32 even then this holy fear will sometimes come, and, like a flash of lightning, pervade the deepest recesses of the soul. It does the soul good. She wakes up afresh to a keener sense of her own misery and of the unmerited mercy of her Redeemer. Let no one, therefore, think that he may safely pass his Advent without taking any share in the holy fear which animates the Church, She, though so beloved by God, prays to Him to give her this fear; and in her Office of Sext, she thus cries out to Him: ‘Pierce my flesh with Thy fear.’ It is, however, to those who are beginning a good life, that this part of the Advent liturgy will be peculiarly serviceable.
It is evident, from what we have said, that Advent is a season specially devoted to the exercises of what is called the purgative life, which is implied in that expression of St. John, so continually repeated by the Church during this holy time : Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Let all, therefore, strive earnestly to make straight the path by which Jesus will enter into their souls. Let the just, agreeably to the teaching of the apostle, forget the things that are behind, 33 and labour to acquire fresh merit. Let sinners begin at once and break the chains which now enslave them. Let them give up those bad habits which they have contracted. Let them weaken the flesh, and enter upon the hard work of subjecting it to the spirit. Let them, above all things, pray with the Church. And when our Lord comes, they may hope that He will not pass them by, but that He will enter and dwell within them ; for He spoke of all when He said these words : ‘Behold I stand at the gate and knock: if any man shall hear My voice and open to Me the door, I will come in unto him.'
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|The Root of Jesse|
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