Editorial by the Rev. Fr. Sebastian Wall, Prior of St. Andrew's House, Carluke, Scotland
With the First Sunday of Advent the new Church year begins. This period of preparation for Christmas will occupy us for most of the coming month. The commercialisation of Christmas has all but suppressed a Christian keeping of the season though, it is certain, a period of preparation, normally through some form of fasting or abstinence, has been observed from earliest times. The French custom of keeping a partial fast from the feast of St. Martin spread to the rest of the Church towards the end of the sixth century and though the amount of fasting or its duration changed during the Middle Ages the idea that Christmas was something which ought to be prepared for remained a constant.
Cardinal Wiseman remarks, "We are not dryly exhorted to profit by that blessed event, but we are daily made to sigh with the Fathers of old, 'Send down the dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One: let the earth be opened, and bud forth the Redeemer.' The Collects on three of the four Sundays of the season begin with the words, 'Lord, raise up thy power and come' — as though we feared our iniquities would prevent His being born."
But it is not just an historical commemoration of the birth of Christ. The term Advent is derived from the Latin word for coming but if we look at the Greek term we see Parousia' which reminds us of the theme of the Last Sunday of the year as well as the First Sunday of Advent—the coming of Our Lord in glory at the end of time. This too needs to be prepared. And the Church does this through the readings. In the Epistles she exhorts us that, since the Redeemer is nearer, we should cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; should walk honestly, as in the day, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ; she shows that the (heathen) nations are called to praise the name of the Lord; she asks them to rejoice in the nearness of the Lord, so that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, may keep, their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; she admonishes them not to pass judgment, for the Lord, when He comes, will manifest the secrets hidden in hearts. In the Gospels the Church speaks of the Lord coming in glory; of Him in and through Whom the prophecies are being fulfilled; of the Eternal walking in the midst of the Jews; of the original vox clamantis crying, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord".
Both these themes reinforce the Christian maxim which is valid throughout the year but which is particularly apt in Advent which is that of preparing the coming of our Lord in grace and particularly in Holy Communion. Periods of penance and reflection are just what we need during these precious weeks of preparation, not office parties and carol concerts. When Christmas does arrive, however, I wish you all the blessings of that holy time and have included a brief look at Christmas customs in this month's edition. Don't forget the Christmas party for the children on the 27th in St. Andrew's, Glasgow!
With every good wish and blessing,
Rev. Sebastian Wall (Prior)