(From the book “Could You Explain Catholic Practices?”
by Rev. Charles J. Mullaly, S.J. – 1937)
Advent is a season of penance, and of preparation by the Faithful
for the spiritual joy of Christmas. It is a time when the Church admonishes
us to lift our hearts to God and to trust in Him who is to free us from our
sins. As Advent is a season of penance, the color of the vestments used at
its seasonal Masses is violet and the altar is not decorated with flowers,
except on the third Sunday which is called Gaudete, or “Rejoice Sunday,”
because the Introit of the Mass of that day reminds us of the near approach
of our Lord’s birth: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Let
your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh.” During this season of
penance, as in Lent, the solemn celebration of marriage, that is, with
Nuptial Mass, etc., is forbidden.
We should strive ever to emphasize the fact that Christmas is the
Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The greeting cards we send
at the holy season should be a manifestation of our Catholic Faith, an aid
to our friends to enter into the spirit of the holy season, and a reminder
to them that we are praying that they may know Christ more intimately and
love Him more ardently. Your cards to non-Christian friends may be a means
of causing them to make inquiries in regard to the real meaning of
Christmas derives its name, “Christ’s Mass,” from the Mass offered in
honor of the Birth of Christ. Its early English form was written as
“Christes Maesse,” and in the course of the change of the English language
it eventually became Christmas. In the earliest days of the Church this
feast did not exist. Greater stress was placed on the Feast of the
Epiphany, because it commemorates the day on which our Saviour was made
known to the Gentiles, when the Wise Men came to adore Him. The Feast of
the Nativity came gradually into existence in the fourth century. Its first
mention is made by the great Christian writer, Clement of Alexandria, about
the year 200, and shows that it was celebrated on May 20. About the year
300, the Latin Church began to observe it on December 25, because an
ancient tradition assigns that day as the probable date of the Birth of our
Love of the Babe of Bethlehem, who was born to redeem us, caused
Catholics, in centuries long gone by, to introduce into our churches a
representation of the crib, the Divine Babe, The Blessed Mother, St.
Joseph, and the Shepherds. St. Francis of Assisi deserves the credit of
making this practice very popular. His zeal prompted him to place at
Graccio a representation of the cave of Bethlehem. His plan permitted the
Faithful vividly to grasp the story of Bethlehem and to realize the poverty
and suffering of our Saviour in the bleak, cold stable where He was born.
The plan has spread to churches in all parts of the world.
On the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, it is customary to put the
statues of the Wise Men beside the crib. In the early Church, this feast
was celebrated with great solemnity because it was the day on which our
Saviour was made known to those who were not of Israel. In the fourth
century, the Feast of the Nativity came into its own and was given first
importance, though in many Catholic countries the custom exists of giving
all Christmas presents on the Feast of Epiphany, since on that day the
Wise Men brought gifts to our Saviour.
The Christmas tree is of recent origin. It represents for us the Tree
of the Cross. Bethlehem and Calvary are ever associated together in our
Christian thoughts, for Christ was born to die on the Tree of Ignominy and
thus redeem a sinful world. The lights placed upon the Christmas tree have
for us a symbolical meaning. They portray the Light of the World, Jesus
Our modern Santa Claus, a crude, ridiculous figure, can be traced
back to that gentle lover of children–St. Nicholas. This Saint’s feast is
celebrated on December 6, and parents and friends gave children presents on
that day. The Dutch settlers in New York brought this custom with them to
the New World, and the giving of presents on December 6 and on Christmas
Day became somewhat confused. St. Nicholas was contracted into “Santa
Claus” and, with the increasing pagan idea of the Yuletide, became the
rollicking, bewhiskered figure so alien to the true Christmas spirit.
Let our children look to the Christ Child for their Christmas
presents. There is no need of deception here, and of shattering childish
faith. The Christ Child exists; He loves the little ones and He wishes them
to love Him. We have no use in a Catholic home for the fraudulent Santa
Claus and the pagan Christmas he now symbolizes. Let the Feast of the
Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ be for young and old a day of spiritual
joy and of close union with the Saviour whom we love.
Come to me, O Divine Savior, vouchsafe to be born in my heart.
Grant that, taught by Thine example, and assisted by Thy grace, I may
be poor in spirit and humble of heart. Keep me chaste and obedient.
I wish to live but for Thee. O Mary, my Advocate and Mother, obtain
by thy prayers forgiveness of my past offences and holy perseverance
unto death. St. Joseph, do thou also pray for me, that I may become
daily more pleasing to Jesus.
Sincerely in Christ,
Our Lady of the Rosary Library
“Pray and work for souls”
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