The end of the year is upon us. Our calendars (for those who do not use an electronic one) are turning to the last page. It becomes a time to reflect upon the past year while preparing for the one to come. Looking over the past year we might recall scandals in the church, failures in government, along with the shifting attitudes in society causing division and explosive tensions. We might ask: What is to be done?
For the church, it is also a time to begin a new calendar. With the first week of Advent, the church begins anew her liturgical year, where she calls to mind the saving events of our salvation accomplished by Jesus. The Advent season is a time to prepare for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus.
Society too will be preparing for Christmas. There will be parties, songs, sales and decorations. Many will be busy looking for the perfect gift while hoping to receive that most desired gift they have been longing for all year. In the midst of all the merriment and shopping, we can easily lose sight of what Christmas is about: the birth of the Incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ. Losing sight of Jesus at Christmas always leads to losing sight of him the rest of the year. This only adds to the ungodliness we find in the world. Such ungodliness contributes to the cold indifference so often people show to each other, not to mention the violence and so many forms of immorality.
The Advent Season is a time to counter this by focusing on the birth of Jesus and what that means for all of mankind. It is important to recall that Advent is a penitential observance. That it is a time similar to Lent. Advent too is a time for prayer, fasting and the giving of alms.
As materialistic as our society seems to be, there is an air of generosity at this time of year. There will be food drives, gift drives for clothing and toys, as well as plenty of opportunities to give money for the poor and less fortunate. Truthfully, this is a sign of hope for our society. Such actions should be yearlong. So, while shopping, perhaps pick up a gift or a bag of food for the less fortunate.
Fasting this time of year can be difficult. All those Christmas cookies can certainly be difficult to resist. While we might not need to kick the cookies to the curb, it is possible to eat fewer cookies or perhaps sometime during the week a day without any. The point is to have some type of fasting during the season. Every time you pull your hand back from the food, recall why you are fasting; you are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Saviour.
As for prayer, perhaps the Angelus is best suited for the Advent Season. The Angelus is a traditional Marian devotion, prayed usually at 6 a.m., 12 noon and 6 p.m. The Angelus uses the encounter of Mary with the Archangel Gabriel, calling to mind the angel’s message, Mary’s response and the resulting Incarnation.
This simple prayer was highly recommended by Pope Saint Paul VI in his 1974 Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus, stating “the value of contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, of the greeting to the Virgin, and of recourse to her merciful intercession remain unchanged.” The Saintly Pope sums up well the purpose of the prayer: calling to mind the Incarnation, Mary’s response and her continued motherly care for us. Not only should we entrust our needs to Mary, but we should devoutly follow her example: hearing and receiving the Word of God, joyfully treasuring this Word, and living by the Word so to manifest Christ to the world. Saint Paul VI further stated that “despite the changed conditions of the times, for the majority of people there remains unalerted the characteristic periods of the day — morning, noon, evening — which mark the periods of their activities and constitute an invitation to prayer.”
Saint Paul the Apostle writes to us through his letter to Saint Titus, that “the grace of God our Saviour has appeared to all men; instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world” (Ti 4:11-12). The Angelus, during Advent and throughout the year, is an excellent means for keeping the truth of the appearance of God’s grace, Jesus the incarnate Son of God, always before us. With this grace filling our hearts and minds, we will manifest Jesus to the world, calling people to faith, the greatest gift of all.
Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for Advanced Studies.