As we enter the Advent season, listeners submitted questions about Advent, ranging from its history and origins, to how best to celebrate Advent with children, and whether or not it’s ok to put up Christmas decorations during Advent!
Welcome to the SSPX Podcast, delivering
sermons, lectures, and the spoken word from across the English-speaking World.
On this episode of Questions with Fr., we’re speaking about Advent, the time of
the liturgical calendar that is devoted to preparation for the coming of our Savior. Father will answer questions submitted by our
listeners on the topic of Advent, ranging from the history of Advent itself (why
it’s four weeks instead of forty days for Lent) as well as suggestions on how
to make the Advent season more advantageous for children and families. We’ll
also discuss the not so commonly known origins behind one of your favorite
Advent songs. All this and more is coming up on the SSPX podcast. If you would
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help more people to see the SSPX podcast in their suggested podcast feed. With
that said, we’ll turn now to Father Robinson on the topic of Advent.
We are here with the SSPX podcast – a
special edition, I guess we could call it, Father Robinson? – where we are
tackling one topic this week with several questions, and that topic is Advent. Hello
Father Robinson, how are you?
Doing fine, Andrew!
Very good, and you are in Denver,
you are the Prior of Denver as we’ve already discussed and currently traveling
around a little bit and we appreciate you making the time to talk with us about
these topical questions as we head into Advent.
Glad to be back on, Andrew, and I
think this is an important subject coming up on this liturgical season of
Advent; this is just such a rich season. There’s a lot we can profit from, I
Absolutely and it’s not one that’s
like Lent, where it’s all-consuming, but it is a season where we can, like you’ve
said Father, gain some profit and prepare a little bit. We reached out to our faithful and invited
them to submit questions on the theme: are
there any things you wanted to know about Advent that you didn’t know, or any
advice that you would like to ask Father?
So we’ll dive right in with the first one on that theme, which is
preparing. Are there any good meditations for children, a mother asked, or
dinner table discussion topics for kids to get them in the right mind for
Well, probably a lot of our
listeners know that Angelus Press, just a few years ago, produced a book by a Society
priest in France, Father Troadec, he was the rector in the seminary in Flavigny
for a couple of decades. He put together
some meditations from Advent to Epiphany, and of course there’s books for the
other times of the Liturgical season. I
read the book myself, I found the meditations quite helpful, and I think
parents could read that book themselves and get some ideas about how to discuss
Advent with their children. And
obviously, The Liturgical Year by Dom Guéranger is
the go-to resource for anything on the Liturgical year. The first volume of The
Liturgical Year by Dom Guéranger is really fantastic
to help us understand how the Liturgy forms our spirit at the time of Advent. You
know, there’s different times of the year where the Liturgy is more intense. Right
now, after the Feast of Pentecost we go to the Sundays after Pentecost, and
it’s really a bit of downtime in the Liturgical year, for Liturgical intensity. Things ramp up considerably when we get to Advent,
and we start the liturgical year of course with Advent, so it’s a very rich
season in the Liturgy in the sense that there is a very careful crafting of the
Masses. Also the Divine Office is very
rich, so there’s a lot to be gained by actually studying the Liturgy during the
time of Advent.
Absolutely and those are great
starting points, but taking a step backwards, we can read the liturgical year
in these books and start to piece together some things, but what would you say
is the guiding principle or overriding theme of the season of Advent?
Well the theme is just simply one of
anticipation. Advent of course means “a coming” so we’re waiting for the coming
of Our Lord with this sort of joyful anticipation. I think it’s important to point out something
I’ve sometimes preached about: it’s a spiritual
good that we’re looking for. We recognize that we are sinners, that without a Redeemer
we’re completely and utterly lost. We
know that God has promised that he’s going to send us a Redeemer and we have
this period where we wait, where we’re confident that the promise of God is
going to be fulfilled, and we’re begging God to hasten, to come quickly. There are so many times during the season,
during the Office, where there’s this very lovely anxiety on the part of the Church,
where the Church is saying, “come Lord, don’t delay, don’t take Your time,
hasten, come quickly,” and it’s just repeated over and over again. Meanwhile
there’s various things the Liturgy does to help us sense the absence of Our
Lord; the name of Our Lord is kept out of the of the conclusions of the Collects,
you usually hear “per Christum Dominum nostrum” but that doesn’t appear in the Collects
for the Sundays of Advent. The Masses of
the Advent Sundays are repeated during the week. If there’s a Ferial Day the
priest has to repeat the Mass of the Sunday.
If people are going to Mass during the week; they get that same Mass
over again and it helps keep them in that that Advent mood. And then of course St. John the Baptist is
pretty dominant during the Advent season since he appears in the gospels and he
has this preaching of penance and preparation; he’s preparing of course the
Jews for the coming of Our Lord and in the Liturgical year, the Church uses him
to prepare us for the coming of Our Lord as well. We’re sort of in tune with the Liturgy with
the Sunday Masses, weekday Masses, and even the Office itself. We’re able to really foster this good spirit
of anticipation of the coming of Our Savior.
And is the Church, in setting up the
Liturgy the way that they have done, mirroring the anticipation that people had
for the coming of the Savior for those four thousand years or so until the
birth of Our Lord? Are we kind of doing that same thing in just the four short
weeks? There’s kind of a parallel there,
I don’t know if it was done on purpose or not but are we kind of marrying that
same sort of thing, reliving that same sort of anticipation, just in a much
Yes, the whole Liturgical year
represents the history of the world. The
time of Advent is the time before the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and it
can be represented by four different periods, four weeks. Obviously the longest Advent would be four complete
weeks, and the shortest Advent would be three weeks and one day if Christmas
falls on a Monday. There’s certainly the
intention on the part of the Church to think of ourselves as before the coming
of Christ and waiting for Him to come during that Advent period, however long
And you were talking about the
Liturgy of the Mass, Father. Are there
other places within the Liturgy that people can gain some merit and some
insight into the proper feeling of the season?
That sounds really modern, the feeling of the season, but for lack of a
better way of saying it, lay faithful don’t often recite or read the Divine
Office. Is there anything in there that
maybe we could pick up and read, or look through during the season?
Yes, really you’ll find all these
things in The Liturgical Year by Dom Guéranger, but those who are
praying the Office as the priests do really get a sense of the increasing
anticipation as we get closer to Christmas.
The Church, as it were, gets more and more excited about the coming of
Our Lord. As we draw closer to Christmas,
there’s this very beautiful practice of the Church to have special antiphons
for Vespers, for the seven days before Christmas Eve, from December 17th to
December 23rd. There’s a
different antiphon – a very short verse that precedes the praying of The
Magnificat. You pray The Magnificat
whenever you pray Vespers, it’s near the very end of Vespers, you always pray the
hymn of Our Lady, that Magnificat and it has an antiphon – usually an antiphon is
just a standard antiphon, the same for each day, but for these seven days the Church
has made a special antiphon where we address Our Lord with a special title each
day. There’s the title of Our Lord as Emmanuel,
Our Lord as King, Our Lord as the rising sun, Our Lord as the Key of David, Our
Lord as the root of Jesse, Our Lord as “Adonai” or the Hebrew word for
Lord, and then Our Lord as wisdom; of course Our Lord is the Incarnate wisdom. And in each of these antiphons they repeat
the word “veni” several times, “come and save us”, and something very
interesting about them is that if you take the first word from December 23rd
back to December 17th, they form an acrostic in Latin; so if you
take the first letter of each word they form the Latin words “ero cras”
and that would mean “I will be here tomorrow”. It’s just a very beautiful process. At the seminary we would put up the one
letter for that day after we pray Vespers, and slowly but surely build up the
words “ero cras” and then you’re like wow, I think Christmas is almost
And just to get back to the original
question about it helping the family and helping children get prepared for
Christmas, that would be a really neat visual aid, something that’s tangible, almost
like an Advent calendar or wreath where you’re counting down. You could do the same thing with Post-it
notes or something on the wall, counting it out, that would be really neat to
do with the family as well.
Absolutely, I think that’s something
very beautiful that can be done with the children. I think it is important of
course to explain to the children what Advent is about, but I think the visual
tools have an even greater impact. So if
the family has an Advent wreath where they have the four candles, and they only
light the one candle the first week, and perhaps turn the lights off and light
the candle during the family rosary, and sing a verse of “O come, O come
Emmanuel” for instance. In fact, believe
it or not, “O come, O come Emmanuel” has seven verses. They’re just an English translation of those
antiphons that I was just talking about.
You can read the hymn “O come O come Emmanuel and you’ll see the seven
names that are given to Our Lord, so it’s a way for the faithful to relate to
that. But even if they don’t say the
Divine Office, they can come in touch with the Divine Office just by getting
out “O come, O come Emmanuel” so it may be singing a different verse of it each
night. When I was growing up – they have
them still today – the Advent calendars where you have all the days leading up
to Christmas and you open a different door each day and there’s something in
there, maybe a piece of chocolate or some sort of image. I think these are just excellent tools to create
that Spirit of anticipation, and to give the children the sense that something
wonderful is going to happen, the coming of Our Lord, and we are getting
ourselves ready, and we’re even very much looking forward for the coming of Our
That’s wonderful. Moving on to another question from a mother
who wanted to know about preparations for Advent and also for Christmas, she
said everyone is against celebrating or preparing for Christmas until just the
day of, or Christmas Eve, but I’m sure Our Lady didn’t wait until the day of to
set up her house for her child. Father,
do you have any thoughts or meditations on that?
Well, I think there’s a distinction
that she’s making between celebrating and preparing, and that’s really the
important distinction. Advent is a time
of preparation, not a time of Celebration, so if you’re doing things that are
preparing for Christmas then that’s good.
I know some people set up their tree and just don’t put anything on it
or they don’t adorn it, so they have an unadorned tree, and then as you get
closer perhaps you put a few more things on the tree and the gifts only go under
the tree on Christmas Eve, something like that. The main thing is that they
keep the spirit of preparation and anticipation before Christmas arrives, that
they don’t go into celebration mode. We don’t
want to go into celebration mode where we’re walking around with candy canes singing
“Joy to the World” a week before Christmas starts, because if we do that we’ve
just ruined Advent. So the Church gives
us a time of celebration and a time of preparation. The time of preparation is Advent, the time
of celebration is the twelve days, really even the forty days, of the Christmas
season. That’s the important thing. I don’t care if you put up the tree
beforehand as long as you put it up in a spirit of preparation, and not a
spirit of celebration.
That makes sense, Father. So, is putting up some holly or some winter
time or Christmas Eve decorations around the house before the Christmas season
starts officially not a big deal there, as long as we have the mindset internally? And also with the family with the children
letting them know that what we’re doing is to prepare for Christmas, and again
I’m thinking back to the original question.
I know my mother, and other families I know, think “well the Church says
we can’t decorate for Christmas yet, but holy cow it’s December 24th
and it’s crazy, and I can’t do it all!” I don’t think that’s what you’re saying,
Father. The Church doesn’t say you can’t
decorate for Christmas on December 20th or 18th as long
as it’s done with a mind towards not starting the celebrations too early.
Right, and as I say it should be
very sober. You can do a two-stage
decoration where initially you have wreaths that are unadorned, or a tree
that’s unadorned; it’s very sober, you don’t ramp up the decorations until you
get closer to Christmas. Even just
having an unadorned tree might help the spirit of preparation. They see the
tree is there, but not adorned. I think
it is very important for the children to understand that we are celebrating the
coming of Christ, and so the giving of gifts is for us to imitate God giving Himself. So the real gift of Christmas is Our Lord – God
gives Himself to us by coming on this Earth – and we want to imitate that
giving of God Himself by giving gifts to one another, to explain the symbolism
behind the exchange of gifts. It’s not
just a way to make sure Walmart stays in business. It’s much more to indicate the spiritual significance
of Christmas and that you have the greatest gift of all, Our Lord, and we want
to imitate His generosity by giving gifts to one another.
That’s beautiful. Another question about Advent, and I’ll
confess I didn’t even know that Advent wasn’t always the time period that it
was, but the questioner said why do we start Advent on Quadragesima? Why not the old fashioned Martinmas, which is
referring to the feast of Saint Martin?
I don’t know what they’re talking
about, with Quadragesima, I don’t know if they might be confused with the Lenten
period, I’m not sure what they mean, but it is true that in a certain region of
the Church, just in France, they did have a practice of starting Advent on the
first day after the feast of St. Martin.
The Feast of St. Martin is November 11th, then forty days after
that you would have the feast of Christmas.
They called it “the Lent of St. Martin” because it was forty days and
the people fasted three times a week during that time. They also abstained from meat the whole time.
That was a local practice in France;
Advent is one of those things that didn’t exist from the very beginning. It was
a liturgical custom that appeared in certain places and slowly spread to the universal
Church. It’s not like there was a
standardization that took place from the beginning; it slowly but surely became
standard, and then at least in the western Church, we got to the current
practice where we start Advent on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew. So, Advent can start as early as the 27th
of November and as late as the 3rd of December. That’s the current length, and as to why that
practice of France did not become the universal practice, why we didn’t make
Advent parallel to Lent, where Advent is forty days as Lent is forty days, to
be honest I don’t know the answer to that but I strongly suspect that the Church
did not want to make Advent to seem to be the same as Lent. There might be a little confusion if we made Advent
forty days and as penitentially intense as Lent is, because the fact is that Lent
is a more intense penitential season.
We’re really focused on our sins and the death of Our Lord, whereas with
Advent we’re just preparing for the coming of Our Lord. We’re doing penance in
order to dispose our souls like those Disciples of St. John the Baptist, where
he was saying “repent and do penance in order to get ready for the coming of
the Messias”. That’s not as intensely
penitential as Lent, I think the Church doesn’t want Advent to be so intense in
that regard as Lent is.
As much as it counts, Father, I
think Holy Mother Church made the right decision in putting it after the Feast
of St. Andrew, not St. Martin, but I might be a little bit biased.
Well St. Andrew is a great saint,
and I’m sure he deserves that.
So you touched on this a little bit,
that this season is of preparation, not as much a penitential season. Could you talk about that just for a minute? What is the difference therein – and I get
the difference is because we’re preparing for the coming of Our Savior, and
it’s not a more sober season as Lent is – but is there a difference between
doing penance in preparation versus doing penance in reparation? Could you say that the penances during Lent are
more of almost a reparation, or is there a way that we can look at the
sacrifices or penances we make during Advent and Lent differently? I guess that’s my broader question.
Yes, Advent is like a long vigil, you
have a big feast and the day before the big feast you would have a fast and an abstinence,
just recognizing that if you do that you’re probably going to be more spiritual
on the feast. Just the practice of
abstaining from food the day before will make you more spiritually ready for
all the graces of the feast itself. If you
extend that to the four weeks before Christmas, that spirit of the Vigil,
that’s kind of what Advent is like. We
want to really dispose our souls for the grace of the feast, and for the coming
of Our Lord. We receive Him in the best
dispositions possible, and that is a very different thing from saying we’re
going to have forty days and we want to make up for our sins, do reparation for
our sins, and we want to enter into the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
recognizing He suffered for us, so I want to willfully do some actions of
suffering, of penance and mortification myself, in order to unite with His
sufferings and His death. So, it is a
very different optic and obviously we wouldn’t want to make the preparation for
a big feast seem as an equivalent to uniting with the sufferings of Our
Lord. Obviously we want our penance to
be more intense when we’re uniting those sufferings and doing penance for our
own sins, than if we’re just disposing our souls for a big feast day.
Well Father, thanks, that helps a
lot just to help us get in the mindset and understand some of these things a
little bit better. While we’re on the
topic of preparing for Advent and Christmas, any favorite celebrations or traditions
that you had in your family for Christmas that are special to you?
I have to confess that I’m an addict
when it comes to Christmas songs. It
amazes me how many Christmas songs there are, Christmas carols, and the
intrinsic appeal of the nativity scene.
There’s something about the scene of Our Lord in that cave in Bethlehem
that always touches us and creates that special Christmas atmosphere and
motivates every generation to break out in song. I think it’s a very good practice for
families to just get together and sing Christmas carols, and to learn these Christmas
carols. A lot of them have very
beautiful verses that speak about the coming of Our Lord. To go through four or five verses of a song,
it does help to learn these songs, to have the practice of singing them when
you’re growing up, and to have them as a part of your Christmas celebration. If we just pass up those songs, we don’t sing
together as a family, I think we’re really missing out on a lot.
That’s great advice Father, and
maybe on the next episode of the podcast we can we can dive into some of the
symbolism and the meanings behind some of these Christmas carols like “O come O
come Emmanuel”, that would be fascinating.
I didn’t know that it was taken from the Liturgy, from the antiphons,
that it was so fascinating, I would love to chat some more about that.
Yeah I thought you were going to suggest
we have a singalong together, you and I, for some Christmas music, but we can
do that other thing instead, that would be fine.
Father you have a beautiful singing
voice. Mine? – no, we would lose listeners
fast. Father, as always, thank you so
much for taking the time and for diving into some of these questions as we come
into Advent. I wish you a blessed Advent and hope to chat with you again maybe
even before Christmas.
That would be great Andrew, thank you.
Thank you for listening to this
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