Thursday, November 16, 2006

But Advent and Lent Are Not the Same Thing

Yes, there are certainly similarities between the two great penitential seasons of the year: the emphasis is on the need for contrtition, and there really should be no weddings scheduled. And, depending on your tradition, some other things are off limits too. Like certain foods. An Advent fast is urged just as a Lenten fast is urged. There are venerable traditions which would agree, and a particular Advent fast is a long-standing custom in some places.

It seems to me, though, that fasting ought at least to be enjoined a bit more seriously during Lent than during Advent; the former is, after all, is even called Die Fasten in German.

The seasons have significant differences, too, which, I would submit, can give us some direction as to how they are to be handled respectively. Lent is a season which tends to grow darker as it moves on, until the darkest time, the Triduum Sacram, is reached. Then, suddenly, at the Great Vigil, Easter arrives and all is instantly brightened. Advent, by contrast, tends to grow lighter from week to week, as is most prominently seen in the lighting of successive Advent candles each week. Advent is a season of penitential hope and expectation, while Lent is a season of penitential sorrow as the Day of Christ's passion approaches.

Inasmuch as Advent has this 'brightening' character to it, it seems prudent to me to allow that certain customs need not be quite as stringently applied as in the case of Lent. OK, so for example, neither season ought to celebrate a wedding, but I for one don't mind if people want to have a Christmas party during Advent. Our choir has one, for that matter.

If it makes you liturgically uncomfortable to sing Christmas carols at parties or in the marketplace before Christmas, I recommend remembering that this isn't church. The Advent hymns can and should still be the standard fare for Holy Mass and any other worship settings; but I'm fine with carolling outside of Mass. After all, it's the only time of year you can actually hear some great hymns about Jesus in the marketplace at all. They want to pipe in Hark, the Herald for shoppers during December? Hey, fine with me! I'll take it any time. That goes for creche scenes and holiday lights, too. I love 'em all! Holiday shopping season have too much tinsel, you say? Nay, I say, bring it on. Don't want to see too much of the Babe in swaddling clothes? Well, I do, and that image is as meaningful to me as the crucifix. Both are saying, Pure Gift from Heaven. Now what can be wrong with that message?

So, at our church, we, um, gradually decorate during December. This is a bit parochial, perhaps (well, come to think of it, maybe not), but we put up a little more each week. The tree goes up some time in the middle of the month. We hold off on the gazillion poinsettias until Christmas Eve, and also the white paraments, and, yes, the Chrsitmas carols. Nevertheless prior to Christmas Eve there's a hint of a difference in liturgical appearance from week to week, consistent with the lighting of another candle each week.

So just try to think of those Christmas parties as times to rehearse the carols meant for Christmas itself. OK? How's that? We're just practicing, see? It's all good!


Peter said...

Hey, this sounds ok to me. It's ok to eat a little bit of dessert first. And, until the big day, see you at the office party. You lead the carols, and I'll bring the egg nog.

Anonymous said...

Father Eckardt,

What "certain foods" should one avoid if one were to fast during Advent?


Michael E. said...

Fr. Eckardt,

Your writings are excellent. We do the same at the church I serve. We decorate slowly. Trees up midway through Advent. No Christmas hymns or carols sung until the season at Mass and Midweek. It also takes some pressure off the altar guild and others who decorate. It doesn't have to be done all at once! Thanks for your insightful articles.

Father Eckardt said...

I'm not realy an expert on the certain foods to be avoided during Advent, but if, in the traditions which have an extensive use of the fast, it's anything like Lent (such as in the East), then my guess would be meat (at least from 4-footed beasts, and perhaps also from the 2-footed), cheese, milk, eggs, and sweets. Kinda makes Christmas parties hard to have during Advent, though, so while I do find fasting a fine discipline, I also tend not to tremble with fear over the breaking of canon law here and there. Indeed, in Advent, I mostly think about fasting. Hmmm, does that count? However, I do think fasting for at least an hour (I think Rome puts it at three hours) before participation of the Blessed Sacrament is always a good thing.

Peter said...

Is this fasting an hour before the sacrament analogous to not swimming until an hour after you eat? It is funny that Advent and Lenten services are most usually accompanied by congregational meals . . . which, even if they consist of soup or such, are usually pretty good.

Father Eckardt said...

The idea of fasting before partaking in the Sacrament is actually quite salutary: it helps you realize that what you are about to receive is unlike any other food on earth. There's something unseemly about receiving the Body of Christ with you last bit of salad still stuck in your teeth.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father,

Thank you for posting these thoughts; they've given me a great deal to think about and pray about.

For all of my 39 years I've been a Roman Catholic, born after Second Vatican, and find myself exceedingly frustrated by the willy-nilly things going on in the RC. I must hand it to you, our Lutheran brothers and sisters; what we Romans tend to turn into a problem, you folks gently remind us to return to our roots. Jeff, my good friend, is part of the LCMS, and our friendship and faith have become enriched by our common roots. He shared with me his new prayerbook, and it was refreshing to see that the hymns therein were not butchered the way the American RC has done.

Your thought of "penitential hopefulness," I think, hits the nail right on the head. I remember having a discussion with my seminary math teacher (who was also Lutheran) about Advent, and how the RC seemed to be moving away from the penitential nature of the season. To which she replied, "Well, what about John the Baptist, and his message of 'Repent, for the time is near?'" She very simply, and firmly, reminded me that yes, Advent is indeed penitential.

As a child, I knew Advent was penitential. I also knew Lent was penitential. I further understood the difference between Advent and Lent. Purple is worn both seasons, yet I still knew the difference. It wasn't until I got older that folks started messing with Advent and fashioning it to the latest liturgical trend.

One Advent Sunday I entered church and saw that it was nearly as barren as on Good Friday - and our priest had a shiny new blue chasuble. The focus was on him; he looked like a bloody emporer.

Thank you, Father, for your thoughts which help me to remember the proper focus of Advent. Much peace to you!