Dom Guéranger's Practice During Advent
#1
THE LITURGICAL YEAR
By the Rev. Dom Prosper Gueranger
CHAPTER THE THIRD:
PRACTICE DURING ADVENT

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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!’ [St. Luke xii. 35, 36]. 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 [Acts xx. 28], 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’ [Gal. ii. 20]. 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!’ [Gal. iv. 19].

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! [Apoc. ii. 4]. 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.’ [St. John xiv.6].

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 [Ibid. i. 11]; 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 or blood, nor of the flesh, but of God.’ [Ibid. 12, 13].

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.’ [Apoc. xxi. 5]. 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.’ [Ezechiel xviii. 31, 32]. 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. [Rom. v. 20].

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 [Apoc vi. 14]; 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 [Ibid. i. 16], pierces him; and how sinners will cry out, ‘Ye mountains, fall on us! ye rocks, cover us!’ [St. Luke xxiii. 30]. Those unhappy souls who would not know the time of their visitation [Ibid. xix. 44], 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 [Deut. xxxii. 22]. The worm that never dieth [St. Mark ix. 43], 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 [Is. ix. 6] 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 [1 St. John iv. 18], 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 [Phil. iii. 13], 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 will open to Me the door, I will come in unto him.’ [Apoc. ii. 20].
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
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#2
The True Advent Fast
Previously known as: St. Martin's Lent

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The History of the Advent Fast

The Catechism of the Liturgy describes the fast leading up to Christmas: “In a passage of St. Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks we find that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors in the See, had decreed in 480 AD that the faithful should fast three times a week from the feast of St. Martin (November 11th) [up] to Christmas… This period was called St. Martin’s Lent and his feast was kept with the same kind of rejoicing as Carnival.” In historical records, Advent was originally called Quadragesimal Sancti Martini (Forty Days Fast of St. Martin). The Catechism of the Liturgy notes that this observance of fasting in some form likely lasted until the 12th century.

Turning to The Catechism of Perseverance by Monsignor Gaume from 1882, we read the following historical account of the Advent fast taking the form of a fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from St. Martin’s Day until Christmas:
Quote:“The institution of Advent would seem as old as that of the festival of Christmas, though the discipline of the Church on this point has not been always the same. For several centuries, Advent consisted of forty days, like Lent: it began on St. Martin’s Day. Faithful to the old customs, the Church of Milan kept the six weeks of the primitive Advent, which had been adopted by the Church of Spain. At an early period the Church of Rome reduced the time to four weeks, that is, to four Sundays, with the part of the week remaining before Christmas. All the West followed this example.

“Formerly, a fast was observed throughout Advent. In some countries this fast was of precept for every one; in others, of simple devotion. The obligation of fasting is attributed to St. Gregory the Great, who had not, however, the intention of making it a general law. In the middle of the fifth century – 462 – St. Perpetuus, Bishop of Tours, commanded that there should be three fast days weekly in his diocese from the festival of St. Martin to Christmas. This rule became general in the Church of France til the seventh century, after the holding of the Council of Macon in 581. The holy assembly prescribed that a fast should be observed on the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of each week, from the feria or festival of St. Martin to the Nativity of our Lord; and that the offices, especially the sacrifice of the Mass, should then be celebrated as in Lent. The use of flesh-meat was forbidden every day during Advent.

“The same abstinence was observed in other Catholic regions as a pious donation proves for us. In 753, Astolphus, King of the Lombards, having granted the waters of Nonantula to an abbey of the same name, reserved forty pike to furnish his own table during St. Martin’s Lent. We may infer that, in the eighth century, the Lombards observed the fast during the forty days before Christmas, or at least abstained from flesh meat.”

By the 1100s, the fast had begun to be replaced by simple abstinence. As stated in A History of the Commandments of the Church by Rev. Antoine Villien:
Quote:“Thus even before reaching full vogue, the Advent fast was on the decline. At the end of the twelfth century it was nearly abolished. The Council of Avranches AD 1172 made not only fasting but even abstinence in Advent a matter of simple counsel especially addressed to clerics and soldiers. In Rome, the observance still existed but in Portugal, it was not known whether it carried with it any obligation for the Archbishop of Braga questioned Pope Innocent III on this point and the Pope, instead of insisting that there is an obligation, simply states that in Rome the fast is observed. No very clear information is to be obtained from Durand de Mende if an Advent fast existed at his time. Durand does not speak of the way it was observed. In England, it was obligatory only for monks like the daily fast imposed by the Council of Tours for the month of December up to Christmas.”

As indicated, in 1281, the Council of Salisbury held that only monks were expected to keep the fast; however, in a revival of the older practice, in 1362 Pope Urban V required abstinence for all members of the papal court during Advent. Yet, this too did not last long. By the time of St. Charles Borromeo in the 16th century, the saint urged the faithful under his charge in Milan to observe fasting and abstinence on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of Advent. Dom Gueranger similarly testifies to this in The Liturgical Year:
Quote:“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 endeavored 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 week in Advent.”


In More Modern Times

Even closer to our modern times, remnants of St. Martin’s Lent remained in the Roman Rite through the 19th century, when Wednesday and Friday fasting in Advent continued to be mandated in some countries.

In the United States, fasting was kept on the Wednesdays and Fridays of Advent, as was the universal practice of the Church, until 1840 when the fast on Wednesdays in Advent was abrogated for Americans. The fast on Fridays in Advent was then abrogated in 1917 in America and abroad with the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The Code similarly removed the Wednesdays of Advent for any localities that continued to mandate them, as well as the Saturdays of Advent which were kept elsewhere, such as in Italy.

But even the attempts to maintain elements of the Advent fast from the 17th through the 20th centuries were shadows of St. Martin’s Lent. In fact, the Church still encouraged people to keep the venerable discipline of St. Martin’s Lent, even if it was not obligatory under pain of sin. This fact is expressed with conviction in the Catechism of Perseverance:
Quote:“The Church neglects no means of revisiting in her children the fervour of their ancestors. Is it not just? Is the little Babe whom we expect less beautiful, less holy, less worthy of our love now than formerly? Has He ceased to be the Friend of pure hearts? Is His coming into our souls less needed? Alas! perhaps we have raised there all the idols that, eighteen centuries ago, He came to overturn. Let us therefore be more wise. Let us enter into the views of the Church: let us consider how this tender mother redoubles her solicitude to form in us those dispositions of penance and charity which are necessary for a proper reception of the Babe of Bethlehem.”

Are these words not more applicable today than when they were written?

 
The West Has Forgotten Its Advent Fast

The Advent fast, long observed in anticipation of Our Lord’s birth, had ceased, although the fast of the Advent Ember Days, the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception, and Christmas Eve remained. Yet by the time of Vatican II, even these venerable fasts were also removed.
Despite being one of holiest days in the year, Christmas had ceased to be prepared for with a fast of any kind. And soon after, the secular world insisting on materialism turned Advent into Christmastide. Christmas parties, gift exchanges, and consumer splurging have all taken place during the time that our forefathers were diligently preparing for the Redeemer’s birth by observing a fast. How far we have fallen from the times of St. Martin!

Above all, as we approach Advent this year and await the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, let us embrace some fasting. Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays during this time is preferable to not fasting at all. But this mitigated fast is only a remnant of the true Advent fast.

Strive to keep at least Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from St. Martin’s Day as days of fast. Should you wish to do more, keep all forty days as days of fast. Indeed, as St. Frances de Sales noted: “If you’re able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church.” Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays would be appropriate to observe as days of abstinence without fast. Saturdays are separately an appropriate day to fast in honor of our Lady.

As a result, I suggest the following schedule for St. Martin’s Lent, based on the Church’s venerable tradition:[1]
Fasting and Abstinence: Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Abstinence-only: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
No discipline on Sunday

As we celebrate St. Martin’s Day on November 11, let us prepare for forty days of fasting, penance, and prayer in preparation for Our Lord’s Nativity. And when Christmas comes, let us celebrate it joyfully and festively until February 2. While the world celebrates too early and ceases celebrating on the 2nd day of Christmas, let us not make that same grave mistake. And before any feast, there should be an appropriate fast.

[1] Note, the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception and the Ember Days should still be observed, which are separate from the schedule here. For instance, in 2020 Ember Saturday of Advent is December 19, which should be observed as a day of fasting by virtue of it being an Ember Day. These days of stricter penance would replace the general St. Martin’s Lent discipline mentioned here.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
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