Advent (Latin, advenire, to come to) is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30) and embracing four Sundays. In the early Church there was a divergence of date and practice in Advent celebration. Thus, in France it began on St. Martin's Day (11 November) and ended with Christmas, France kept Advent with tri-weekly fasts. Rome did not, in very early days, observe the Advent fasts, but maintained the shorter period, containing only four Sundays. (Father Thurston, The Month, No. 498).

Several authors stated that this period of preparation for the celebration of Christ's birthday was instituted by Gregory the Great. It is now traceable to the fourth century in France; in Rome it was of later date. The Church, as is seen in the Advent Offices in the Breviary, instituted this part of the liturgical year to honour and to recall the two comings of Christ—His first coming in human form at Bethlehem, as Saviour; and His second coming, as Judge of all mankind. In her liturgy she expresses repeatedly both sentiments, a sentiment of joy and a sentiment of sorrow. The former she expresses by her alleluias and the latter by her omission of the Te Deum and by her recital of the ferial prayers, the prayers of tears and grief.

In the Advent Offices are many phrases which were fulfilled at the Incarnation: "Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant Justum; O Adonai, veni ad redimendum nos; Emitte Agnum, Domine, Dominatorum terrae; Orietur sicut sol Salvator mundi et descendet in uterum Virginis." Centuries have passed since the Saviour came, and yet the Church wishes us to repeat the sublime prayers and prophecies which associate themselves with the coming of the Word made Flesh, and by our repetition to be animated with the ardent longings of olden days; and that by them we may awaken our faith, our hope, our charity, and obtain and augment God's grace in our souls.

Rubrics. The first Sunday of Advent has the invitatory hymn and the rest of the Office proper. The lessons are from Isaias, the prophet of the Incarnation. The first response to the lesson is unique in the Breviary for it has three verses (see p. 164). These three verses are spoken in the names of the holy people who lived before the law, during the law, and after the law. The Gloria Patri is added to honour the Holy Trinity, who has at length sent the long-watched-for Messias (Durandus). And the response is repeated from the beginning because the second coming of Christ is watched for, by His faithful (Honorius d'Autun). The Te Deum is not said, in order thereby to mark the sad thought of the second coming of Christ, then our judge.

Lessons. From the first Sunday of Advent until the first Sunday of August the lessons of the first and second nocturns are given in the Breviary in the Proprium de Tempore, after the Psaltery. The lessons of third nocturn for same period are given after those of second nocturn. The suffrages are not said in Advent. In Advent the lectio brevis is "Domine miserere." In Sunday Matins special versicles are given. The preces are said at Lauds and Vespers in ferias of Advent and at the small Hours; preces are said, too, if they be said at Lauds.

The great antiphons are the antiphons of the Magnificat which begin on the 17th December. They are sometimes called the great O's, or the O antiphons, as each begins with this letter. They begin "O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti ..." and continue "O Adonai, O radix Jesse," etc.... They are the most beautiful antiphons in the liturgy, expressing the prayers and ardent hopes for the coming Saviour. They have formed the subjects of study for poets, scholars and liturgists, ancient and modern. It is asked why these antiphons introduce the Magnificat and not the Benedictus. And liturgists reply: Because the Incarnation was of Mary, and hence these heralds of the Infant King more appropriately introduce Mary's canticle rather than that of Zachary. And the old liturgists add that these antiphons are said at Vespers, the evening Hour, because the Messias was expected and watched for in the world's evening. They tell us, too, why there are seven great antiphons. They are to excite our piety during this octave preparatory to the birthday of Christ. This number seven typifies the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; it represents the seven miseries of mankind, ignorance, eternal punishment, the slavery of the devil, sin, gloom and exile from our fatherland, which is Heaven. And those wonderful men of mediaeval days tell us why we have need of a Teacher, O Sapientia; of a Redeemer, O Adonai; of a Liberator, O Radix Jesse; of a Guardian, O Clavis David; of a brilliant Instructor, O Oriens; of a Saviour to bring us, Gentiles, back to our Great Father, God; O Rex gentium; a Herald to the Jews. Honorius of Autun tells that these antiphons refer to the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost and are arranged in the well-known order in which these gifts are always arranged in works of piety. He says that Christ came in the Spirit of Wisdom, O Sapientia, that in the word "Adonai" is indicated that Christ redeemed us in the Spirit of Understanding. He says, too, that the antiphon "O Radix" signifies the sign of the cross, and that Christ redeemed us in the Spirit of Counsel. "O Clavis" indicates that Christ opened Heaven and closed Hell in the Spirit of Strength or Fortitude. "O Orient" shows forth Christ enlightening us in the Spirit of Knowledge. "Rex gentiam" points out the holy King who saved men by the Spirit of Piety. "O Emanuel" refers to Christ coming in the Spirit of Fear, but giving us also the Law of Love.

These antiphons have formed the theme of the oldest Christian poem in Europe—Cynewulf's "Christ," a work which is the admiration of modern scholars. They were celebrated with great pomp and joy in monastic life, the monks carrying their congruous symbolism into their recitation. For, to the gardener-monk was assigned, the chanting of "O Radix Jesse," and to the cellarer-monk, the "O clavis David"—typifying their work of root-growing and key keeping. (See The Month, No. 489; The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, December, 1918).

Christmas. Antiquity. "It was formerly taken for granted that Christ had actually been born on this day, and, accordingly, the learned were of opinion that the Church had observed it from the beginning, as the day of His birth. Even at the present day it will be dfficult for many to give up this idea. But there is no Christmas among the Christan feasts enumerated by Tertullian ([died] 220), Origen (185-254), and the recently published Testament of Jesus Christ. On the contrary, there is clear proof that even in the fourth and fifth centuries it was unknown in some parts of the Church, where its introduction, at a later period, can be proved historically" (vide Kellner, op. cit., pp. 127-158).

Christmas is one of the great festivals. In Rome there were two night Offices. The first, celebrated at nightfall in the Papal chapel, begins with the antiphon of the first psalm in the nocturn. It has nine lessons and the Te Deum. About midnight a more solemn Office began, this time with the invitatory and psalm Venite. The first of these Offices became the Office of the vigil.

In the Office of Christmas Day the lessons are read without the title of the book (Isaias) from which they are taken, because their author's name was so often repeated during the Advent that each one knew their source, or because at Christmas God speaks to us by His Son, rather than by His prophet. In the first response the Gloria Patri is said, to thank God for the great favour He has bestowed on us—His Son, the Christ. In the third nocturn, Alleluia is added to the antiphons, because the third nocturn typifies the time of grace, in which we should express the joy that is ours in the birth of the Saviour. In this nocturn, too, are given three Gospel extracts, corresponding with the Gospels in the Mass of Christmas. Matins are separated from Lauds by the first Mass because, it is said at midnight, and Lauds is a day Office. At Prime the versicle of the little response is Qui natus est.

Rubrics. Christmas is a primary double of the First Class. The third of the new Tres Tabellae (S.C.R., January, 1912) in the new Breviaries gives the rules for concurrence of Vespers in the Octave of Christmas.

Feast of St. Stephen. The worship of St. Stephen may be said to be as old as the Church herself, since St. Paul gave him the title of Martyr of Christ (Acts XXII. 20). His name is to be found in the earliest liturgical sources, e.g., the Arian martyrology belonging to about 360 and in all calendars, ancient and modern, excepting the Coptic. His cultus received great impulse from the discovery of his relics at Kaphar Gamala, on the shore of Lake Genesareth, and the wonderful miracles wrought by them, A basilica in his honour was erected, in Rome in the fourth century.

St. John the Apostle. The commemoration of St. John on the 27th December was formerly united with that of St. James the Less. In time, St. John's feast only was celebrated on this date, and such was the case as early as the time of Bede.

The Circumcision. This festival was originally called Octava Domini, and hence it may be inferred that it was not an independent festival and passed unnoticed if it fell on a week day. Thus, in the Homilarium of Charlemagne (786) it is referred to by this name. But very shortly after this, the name which we now use for the festival of the 1st January was used in Rome, and spread through the Church. In the early days of Christianity the first day of the civil year was given over to rejoicings, dancing, feasting and rioting. And these abuses lingered in France, though stripped of their pagan character, until the later middle ages. A remnant of them is found in the so-called Feast of Fools, which was held in churches, and which mocked several religious customs and ceremonies. These feasts lasted till the middle of the fifteenth century.

Epiphany. The name is derived from a Greek verb employed to describe the dawn, and the adjective derived from the Greek verb was applied in classic Greek, to the appearances of the gods bringing help to men. In Christian liturgy, the feast was instituted to celebrate the appearance, the manifestation of Christ, to the Gentiles, in the persons of the Magi. In later times, there were added to this commemoration of Christ's manifestation to the Gentiles, two further commemorations of his wonderful showings of His divine mission, viz., His manifestation in His baptism in the Jordan, a manifestation to the Jews, and His miracle at Cana, a showing forth to His friends and disciples. This feast is of early origin. Suarez thinks it should be attributed to the Apostles (De Relig. L.2. ch.5, n.9); and Benedict XIV. held that it was established by the infant Church at Rome to draw off the Christians from the profane and sinful revelry which marked the pagan feast of this date. However, these statements are hardly accurate. "With regard to the antiquity and spread of the feast, it was unknown in North Africa during the third century, for Tertullian makes no reference to it; and even in the time of St. Augustine, it was rejected by the Donatists as an oriental novelty. In Origen's time, at least, it was not generally observed as a festival in Alexandria, since he does not reckon it as such. For Rome, evidence is wanting for the earliest times, but since the daughter Church of Africa knew nothing—of the festival at first, it may be inferred that originally it was not kept at Rome, but was introduced there in course of time. In Spain it was a feast-day in 380, in Gaul in 361 ..." (Kellner, op. cit., p.172).

In the antiphons for the Magnificat and the Benedictus it may be noticed that the three manifestations are given not in the same order. "This day is the Church united to the Heavenly Spouse, for Christ, in the Jordan, washes away her sins; the Magi run to the royal nuptials with their gifts, and the guests of the feast are gladdened by the water changed into wine" (Ant. of Benedictus). The Magi, seeing the star, said to each other: "This is the sign of the King: let us go and seek him, and offer him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh" (Ant. of Magnificat, 1st Vesp.), "We celebrate a festival adorned by three miracles: this day, a star led the Magi to the manger; this day water was changed into wine at the marriage feast; this day Christ vouchsafed to be baptised by John, in the Jordan of our salvation" (Ant. of Magnificat, 2nd Vesp.). Now, the baptism is the special event commemorated by the Easterns on this feast, and on account of its connection with the baptism, this feast has, amongst the Greeks, the secondary title of the feast of lights. And, in Ireland (Synodus II., St. Patricii, can. 20), contrary to the ancient custom of the Church, solemn baptism was administered on this feast day. This subject of the baptism forms the only theme of the ancient sermons bearing on this feast. On the other hand, the visit of the Magi is the sole event commemorated by St. Augustine in his six sermons delivered on this feast day. The third event, the marriage feast, is of later commemoration; and Maximus of Turin doubted if they all actually happened on the same day.

The Octave to the feast dates from the eighth century. It was customary on this date, in the Eastern Church, to read publicly the epistola festalis of the Patriarch of Alexandria arranging the date of Easter and the practice was ordered by the fourth Council of Orleans in 541.

In Epiphany the invitatory is not said in the beginning of Matins, in order, say the liturgists, not to repeat the inquiry made by Herod from the scribes about the birthplace of Christ, an inquiry and invitation inspired by hatred and anger. The invitatory is omitted, they tell us, that we, like the Magi, may come to Christ, without other than a silent invitation. Teachers of olden time used to urge those who were slow to believe to imitate the Magi. But, the invitatory is not quite omitted. It is read in the third nocturn, which typifies the law of grace, in which the Apostles and their successors invite all to praise and worship God. The psalms of the feast are taken from the psalms of each day of the week, but chiefly from Friday's psalms, perhaps because the Magi's visit was on that day.


"During the age of the persecutions it was scarcely possible for Christians to observe any other festival than Sunday, and so it is not surprising that the two writers who have occasion to speak of the institution of the festivals of the Church, mention only Easter and Pentecost, both of which fall on a Sunday. To these Christmas was added in the fourth century and Epiphany somewhat earlier. These chief festivals, along with others soon added to their number, formed the elements for the organisation of a festal system in the Church, as centres round which the lesser festivals grouped themselves. The last step of importance, however, in the development of the Church's year was to connect these chief festivals with one another, so as to make them parts of a whole. The Sundays afforded a convenient means for effecting this. They were associated with the festal character of the nearest feast and were connected with it as links in a chain. The way for this development had been prepared by the season of preparation for Easter, and the Sundays in the fifty days between Easter and Pentecost—Quinquagesima—were marked with the festal character with which antiquity invested the whole period. All that was needed was, first of all, to connect Christmas, Easter and Pentecost; and, in the second place, the institution of a season of preparation before Christmas. This was accomplished between the sixth, and the eighth centuries.

"During the first six centuries the ordinary Sundays of the year had neither liturgical position or character, since they were not even enumerated. There was a sort of commune dominicarum, i.e., a number of Masses existed from which one could be chosen at will for each Sunday. To these Sundays, which were called simply dominicae quotidianae, those after Epiphany and Pentecost belonged.

"They numbered altogether twenty-nine or thirty, according as the calendar gave fifty-two or fifty-three Sundays in the year.... The smaller number of these, six at most, come between Epiphany and Septuagesima, but the larger, twenty-three to twenty-eight, between Whit Sunday and Advent. The variation depends on the date of Easter. There is no historical circumstance forthcoming to give these a specially festal character. ..." (Kellner, op. cit., pp. 176, et seq.).

Septuagesima Sunday comes nine weeks before Easter. It cannot come before the 18th January, nor after the 22nd February. It is the first day of a period of mourning and penance, preparatory to the great penitential period of Lent. On the Saturday preceding Septuagesima two alleluias are added to the Benedicamus and Deo Gratias, to intimate that the period of rejoicing in the Saviour's birth has passed. Violet, the penitential colour, is used at Mass, and the chapters in Genesis recording the fall of Adam, warn man to think well, to humble himself and to do penance. Every part of the Office, the lessons, antiphons and hymns, bear the notes of mourning and penance.


Lent.—The Teutonic word, Lent, originally meant the spring season. It has come to mean the forty days preceding Easter. Scholars used to maintain that this season of penance was of apostolic origin; but, modern scholars noting the diversity of practice and the diversity of duration in different churches and the Easter controversy, hold that it is not of apostolic origin, and that it dates from the third century or even from the fourth century. It is not mentioned in the Didascalia (circa 250 A.D.), but was enjoined by St. Athanasius upon his flock in 331.


Easter is the chief festival of Christendom, the first and oldest of all festivals, the basis on which the Church's year is built, the connecting link with the festivals of the old covenant and the central point on which depends the date of the other movable feasts. Some of the very early Christian writers call it feast of feasts (festum festorum).

The English word Easter is from Eastre, the goddess of spring. In the liturgy we never find the word Pascha, always the words dominica resurrectionsis. Pascha has no connection with the Greek [Greek: Pascho], but is the Aramaic form of pesach.

Some points regarding this festival are to be noted, its antiquity, its connection with Jewish feasts and Christian feasts, its preparation, character and duration.

Antiquity. No mention of this feast is in the Didache, in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, or in his apologies. But in the year 198 A.D. an exchange of letters between Pope Victor, Bishop Narcissus of Jerusalem, Polycrates of Ephesus, shows that the feast had been for years in existence. Many references are found in Tertullian and writers of his time to this festival.

Connection of the Christian Festival with the Jewish. "The connection between the Christian and the Jewish feasts is both historical and ideal—historical because our Lord's death happened on the 15th Nisan, the first day of the Jewish feast; ideal, because what took place had been prefigured in the Old Testament by types, of which itself was the antitype. The Jewish rites and ceremonies (Exodus XII.) are referred to in the prophecies of the Messias. Thus, Isaias calls Him the Lamb chosen by God, who bears the iniquities of others. The Baptist called Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Evangelist refers to the typical character of the Passover rites, when he applies, 'a bone of it shall not be broken' (Exod. XII. 46), to Christ on the Cross. Justin and Tertullian see in the Christian sacrifice the fulfilment of the imperfect sacrifices of the old law. Hence, there is no doubt that the Jewish Passover was taken over into Christianity. Thereby its typical ceremonies found their due fulfilment.

"To the real and historical connection between Easter and the Passover is due the explanation of a striking peculiarity in the Church's year, viz., the moveable feasts of which Easter is the starting point. Easter falls on no fixed date, because the Jewish 15th Nisan, unlike the dates of the Julian and Gregorian Calendars, varied year by year.

"The preparation for Easter was the Lenten fasts. The fare on fast days consisted of water and soup made with flour; fruit and oil and bread were also eaten. The catechumens also fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. Among the faithful there were some who ate nothing from their repast on Sunday until the following Saturday, e.g., for five days, and who all the year round took only one meal a day. Others abstained in Lent from all food for two consecutive days, but others fasted by taking nothing to eat all day, until the evening" (Kellner, op. cit., p. 93).

The Easter celebrations were in the early ages chiefly noted for the great and solemn ceremonies of baptism conferred on a large number of catechumens, with solemn procession from the baptistry to the cathedral. The Easter Octave celebrates by festivals the supper at Emmaus, the appearance of our Lord (St. Luke xxiv.), His appearance by the sea (St. John xxi. 1-14), His appearance to Magdalen (St. John xx. 11-18), His appearance on the mountain (St. Matthew xxviii. 16-20), and His appearance just after He had risen (St. John xx, 1-9),


This day was kept as a festival in very early times, although it is not mentioned in the lists of Church festivals given by Tertullian (+220), nor by Origen (185-254). St. Augustine (354-430) (Epist. ad Januarium, 54, c.l.) attributes the institution of this festival to an apostolic ordinance or the injunction of a general council. But neither can be proved. But the festival dates from the days of the early Church, and as it was natural that the concluding act of our Saviour's life should be remembered and honoured, the celebration of the feast of His Ascension spread widely and rapidly. The feast was noted for the solemn processions held, to imitate and to commemorate our Lord's leading of the Apostles out of the city to the Mount of Olives.


Pentecost or Whit Sunday extends back to the early days of the Church. From Tertullian, it is plain that the festival was well known and long established. In the Peregrinatio Silviae, we read a detailed account of how the feast was kept in Jerusalem at her visit (385-388). "On the night before Whitsunday the vigil was celebrated in the church of the Anastasis, at which the bishop, according to the usual custom in Jerusalem on Sundays, read the Gospel of the Resurrection, and the customary psalmody was performed. At dawn, all the people proceeded to the principal church (Martyrium) where a sermon was preached and Mass celebrated. About the third hour, when the psalmody was finished, the people singing accompanied the bishop to Sion. There, the passage from the Acts of the Apostles describing the descent of the Holy Ghost was read, and a second Mass was celebrated; after which the psalmody was resumed. Afterwards, the archdeacon invited the people to assemble in the 'Eleona,' from whence a procession was made to the summit of the Mount of Olives. Here, psalms and antiphons were sung, the Gospel was read and the blessing given. After this, the people descended again into the 'Eleona,' where Vespers were sung, and then, with the bishop at their head, proceeded in a solemn procession, with singing, back to the principal church, which was reached towards 8 p.m. At the city gate the procession was met by torch bearers, who accompanied it to the Martyrium. Here, as well as in the Anastasias, to which the people proceeded in turn, and in the chapel of the Holy Cross, the usual prayers, hymns and blessings took place, so that the festival did not conclude until midnight." (Kellner, op. cit., pp. 112-113). In most churches, the principal services were solemn baptism and processions. In some places it was customary to scatter roses from the roof of the church, to recall the miracle of Pentecost. In France, trumpets were blown in church, in memory of the great wind which accompanied the Holy Spirit's descent.


The first Sunday after Pentecost, for centuries, was not called Trinity Sunday. Pope Alexander II. (circa 1073) was questioned about a feast in honour of the Holy Trinity and he replied that it was not the Roman custom to set apart any particular day in honour of the Trinity, which was honoured many times daily in the psalmody, by the Gloria Patri. But an Office and Mass, dating from a hundred years earlier than this Pope's time, were in use in the Netherlands and afterwards in England, Germany and France; and in 1260 were spread far and wide. In 1334, Pope John XXII. ordered uniformity and general observance of this feast on the Sunday after Pentecost. The Office in our Breviaries dates from the time of Pius V. It is beautiful and sublime in matter and in form. Whether this is a new Office or a blending of some ancient offices, is a matter of dispute. Baillet, Les Vies des Saints (Tom ix. c. 2, 158) thinks it a new Office. But Binterim, Die Kirchichle Heortology, Part I., 265, and Baumer-Biron, Histoire du Breviaire, 298, take a different view. The Roman rite follows the older form of enumeration, second Sunday after Easter and so forth, and not first Sunday after Trinity. The latter form of enumeration is adopted in the Anglican church service books.


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The Divine Office: A Study of the Roman Breviary