The Season of ADVENT

By | Christmas, News

Advent marks a time of spiritual preparation before Christmas

It begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30) and spans four Sundays or four weeks unless Christmas falls early.

The historical origins of Advent are hard to determine with great precision. From its earliest form in the 4th century, Advent has always been similar to Lent, with an emphasis on prayer and fasting.

The Gelasian Sacramentary, traditionally attributed to Pope St. Gelasius I (d. 496), was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope St. Gregory I (d. 604) enhanced these liturgies composing prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses. Pope St. Gregory VII (d. 1095) later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church’s Liturgical Year.

The Catechism stresses the two-fold meaning of this coming : When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (No. 524).

The importance of this season is therefore to focus on the coming of our Lord. Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning coming:

  • We REFLECT BACK and are encouraged to celebrate the anniversary of the Lords first coming into this world. We are invited to ponder more deeply into the great mystery of the incarnation when our Lord humbled Himself, taking on our humanity, and entered our time and space to free us from sin.

 

  • We LOOK FORWARD as we recall in the Creed that our Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead and that we must be ready to meet Him.

 

Our use of the Advent wreathe was inspired by the German Lutherans in the early 1500’s. The wreathe is a circle, which has no beginning or end: In this way, we call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of Gods plan of salvation and how we hope to share eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. The wreathe is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new life through His passion, death, and resurrection. Three candles are purple (the same colour as the Priest’s vestments in Advent), symbolizing penance, preparation, and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished.

The light represents Christ, who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the way of righteousness. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet our Lord. Each family ought to have an Advent wreathe, light it at dinner time, and say the special prayers. This tradition will help each family keep its focus on the true meaning of Christmas. In all, during Advent we strive to fulfil the opening prayer for the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent:

 

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Christmas Anticipation Prayer

By | Christmas, News

Beginning on St. Andrew the Apostle’s feast day, November 30…

The following beautiful prayer is traditionally recited fifteen times a day until Christmas. This is a very meditative prayer that helps us increase our awareness of the real focus of Christmas and helps us prepare ourselves spiritually for His coming.

 

Hail and blessed

be the hour and moment

in which the Son of God was born

of the most pure Virgin Mary,

at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.

In that hour vouchsafe, O my God,

to hear my prayer and grant my desires,

[here mention your request]

through the merits of

our Saviour Jesus Christ,

and of His blessed Mother.

Amen.

The Ephiphany of the Lord

By | Christmas, News

6th January

There is a Catholic tradition that Christmas decorations go up on the 8th December, Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, or around the First Sunday of Advent, and stay up until the Epiphany which follows twelve days after Christmas, on January 6th.

Others prefer to keep the crib until the 2nd February, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after His birth (known also as Candlemas Day, when the blessing and procession of candles is included in the liturgy).

In the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, this ‘Christmas Feast’ is referred to as the Purification of Mary: The Torah commanded that a woman who had given birth to a son should not approach the Temple for 40 days; after which time she was to offer a sacrifice for her purification. By another requirement of the Law, every first-born son was to be considered as belonging to God (since the first-born sons of Israel had been spared in Egypt), and was to be redeemed as narrated in Luke 2:22-40.

The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from the Biblical Greek word ἐπιφάνεια, epipháneia, meaning ‘manifestation or appearance’: It celebrates ‘the revelation’ of God in His Son as human in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 2:1-12 records the visit of the ‘Wise Men’ or ‘Magi’:

“After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the East. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage’…”.

Tradition has it that there were three wise men -after the 3 offerings mentioned in the Gospel- and names them as:

  • Melchior: who brings gold, representing wisdom and His royal standing as King of Kings;
  • Caspar: who brings frankincense, representing His Divine birth and worship as true God;
  • Balthazar: who brings myrrh, a funeral embalming ointment, representing morality and suffering, foretelling His Passion on the cross and the anointing when He was laid in the tomb.

Festivities for the ancient Christian feast day vary around the world, from swimming in icy waters (e.g. Bulgaria) to exchanging presents (e.g. Spain), special foods (e.g. Mexico) fireworks (e.g. Santo Domingo), parades and cavalcades (e.g. Gibraltar).

In many countries the day is a public holiday. As recently as the 1950’s, in Britain, the eve of the Epiphany or the ‘Twelfth Night’ was a night for wassailing. Wassailers, like carol singers, go from house to house singing and wishing their neighbours good health. The Drury Lane Theatre in London has had a tradition since 1795 of providing a Twelfth Night cake. The will of Robert Baddeley made a bequest of £100 to provide cake and punch every year for the company in residence at the theatre on 6 January. The tradition still continues.

Another tradition that remains to this day, is that the bones of the 3 Kings are located in Cologne Cathedral.

Originally situated in Constantinople, they were brought to Milan in an oxcart by St. Eustorgius I Bishop of Milan (from 343-49), to whom they were entrusted by the Emperor, Constantine. In 1164, the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick I ‘Barbarossa’ donated the casket of the Magi, located at the church of Saint Eustorgius, to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel in appreciation of his services on the Emperor’s Italian campaign. Two years previously, the Emperor, with the support of the Archbishop (who was also one of the most powerful princes of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany and Archchancellor of Italy) had taken Milan, which had risen up against Frederick, and seized the relics.

 Archbishop Rainald campaigned to make the relics, which had been virtually unknown in Milan, famous throughout Europe and indeed, the entire Christian world. Cologne Cathedral become one of the most significant places of pilgrimage in Europe. These relics quickly attained outstanding importance, not least among German royalty. On their way home after their coronations in Aachen, German kings would traditionally stop in Cologne to venerate the relics of the biblical Wise Men, who were revered in Medieval times as the first Christian kings. Der Dreikönigenschrein or ‘Shrine of the Three Kings’ have been a site of constant pilgrimage to Cologne ever since.

 

Bishop’s New Year Message

By | Christmas, News

“Good politics is at the service of peace” (Pope Francis)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

At the beginning of the year, we tend to look back at what big events there were in the last year which played a major part in our lives, and we look forward to a year which we pray will offer us security, health and peace.

One of the main topics which dominated the year we are leaving and which will continue to dominate this coming year is Brexit, with its uncertainties as things stand now and the dangers and consequences that might have to be faced. We are urged by St Paul to pray for “ all those in authority so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:2). Let us pray for our political leaders that God may help them in their efforts to work for the common good.

There are other issues which we will be facing in the new year, which will have great influence on the kind of society we will be living in. While not everything is going to be perfect and there will be things about which we might complain, there is much to be grateful for and many blessings for which we should be thankful to God.

While we may have things to complain about, things that are not quite right and could be better, when compared with what many other people have in other parts of the world, we have so many blessings to be thankful for by comparison.

This year, on the 1st January, we celebrate the 52nd World Day of Peace. The Holy Father in his message for this year has emphasized the role of politicians and political life which helps in furthering peace in the world. The title of his message is: Good politics is at the service of peace.

In his message the Pope refers to the “Beatitudes of the Politician”, proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận.

Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.

Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.

Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.

Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.

Blessed be the politician who works for unity.

Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.

Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.

Blessed be the politician who is without fear.

Pope Francis also refers in his message to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which this year celebrates its seventieth anniversary. He writes:

In this context, let us also remember the observation of Pope John XXIII: “Man’s awareness of his rights must inevitably lead him to the recognition of his duties. The possession of rights involves the duty of implementing those rights, for they are the expression of a man’s personal dignity. And the possession of rights also involves their recognition and respect by others”.

The Pope continues that peace “entails a conversion of heart and soul; it is both interior and communal; and it has three inseparable aspects:

– peace with oneself, rejecting inflexibility, anger and impatience; in the words of Saint Francis de Sales, showing “a bit of sweetness towards oneself” in order to offer “a bit of sweetness to others”;

– peace with others: family members, friends, strangers, the poor and the suffering, being unafraid to encounter them and listen to what they have to say;

– peace with all creation, rediscovering the grandeur of God’s gift and our individual and shared responsibility as inhabitants of this world, citizens and builders of the future.

I pray that we may all help, in our own small way, to further peace around us.

I wish you all a very happy new year, full of God’s peace and blessing.

+Carmel Zammit
Bishop of Gibraltar

Bishop’s Christmas Message

By | Christmas, News

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus!

I would like to share with you something that the great preacher, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, said, “I think God must have said to Himself: Man does not love Me because He does not see Me; I will show Myself to him and thus make him love Me.  God’s love for man was very great, and had been great from all eternity, but this love had not yet become visible… Then, it really appeared; the Son of God let Himself be seen as a tiny Baby in a stable, lying on a little straw”.  Christmas is about God making himself visible in Jesus to show his love for us.

The Gospel of St Luke Chapter 2 gives us a snapshot of what happened on the night when Jesus was born. When Mary gave birth to her son, Jesus, She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room available for them at the Inn. There were shepherds around minding their flocks when an angel appeared to them and told them: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds went and found the baby and then they returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen,

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. The letters M – A – S after a word mean “the feast of”. Therefore the actual word “Christmas” means the feast of Christ. It would be a great pity if we were to ignore the meaning of the word Christmas and refer to this period of joy and peace in other terms, like the festive season or the holiday season. Christmas is festive in nature and we do enjoy a holiday in this period, but we must not eliminate the word Christmas for this period with the excuse that the word may offend others who do not share our belief. I can assure you that no other religion ever objected to the word Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ. No one objects to the celebration of the Chinese New Year, because of a fear that it might offend persons who are not Chinese or Buddhist; no-one objects to the celebration of Diwali, on the grounds that it might offend persons who are not Hindus. And rightly so. Why, then, should Christians be treated differently? To eliminate anything that refers to Christ in shops and superstores full of Christmas goods shows which way we are heading if we do not put back Jesus in Christmas.

We pride ourselves on this blessed Rock for being a tolerant and friendly people, respecting each other and living in harmony with each other. That is essentially the message that Christmas brings to all of us. The birth of Christ was not glamorous. What the gospels tell us is that God in Christ stepped into the depths of our broken, sad and troubled world to bring us what we need: peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and a transformation of our lives.

It is sad to notice that although we pride ourselves on being friendly and generous, when an issue arises which leads to different attitudes and opinions, the language that is at times used towards one another and about one another may be bitter, vindictive and hurtful.

On social media in particular, people seem to lose all restraint in attacking those with whom they disagree.

We have a choice. We can treat one another as a threat, abuse those who are different from us, misrepresent people’s motives and spread lies about them; or we can follow a better way, reaching out to others with care, attention and service.

If that sounds simple, it is; and it is the simple message at the heart of the Christmas festival.

As we celebrate Christmas this year and bring to mind the birth of Jesus, may our lives be deeply touched by God’s love. As we contemplate the child Jesus who is born, may our hearts be filled with joy. This is the time when we reach out to others who are in need of our support, care and love, those who are suffering in some way or other. Let us also remember and help out those in other places who are being persecuted, tortured and even martyred due to their beliefs.

God is with us and shares our human life, the joys and challenges along with our pain and suffering. The word Emmanuel beautifully describes the gift of Christmas, it means ‘God is with us’.   This is the main message of Christmas.

Christmas presents a challenge to all of us. We are called to become messengers of Emmanuel, to help bring Christ’s love to the world. Let us be Emmanuel’s messengers, let us be his hands, feet and voice. Let us bring his love to all.

May I suggest that now is the time to make an extra effort to keep Christmas not just on the 25th of December but throughout the year, by getting closer to Jesus.

I wish you peace and joy this Christmas. I pray that our Heavenly Father will abundantly bless you and all those you love this day. May he shower you with every grace and blessing throughout the coming year. Happy Christmas.

O Antiphons

By | Christmas, News

O Sapientia… O Emmanuel

O Sapientia ~ O Wisdom (December 17)
O Wisdom (Sirach 24:3),
You came forth from the mouth of the Most High (Sirach 24:3), and reaching from beginning to end You ordered all things mightily and sweetly (Wisdom 8:1). * Come, and teach us the way of prudence (Isaiah 40:14).

O Adonai ~ O Lord and Ruler (December 18)
O Adonai (Exod 3:14)
and Ruler of the house of Israel (Matt 2:6; Micah 5:1; 2 Sam 5:2), You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush (Exod 3:2) and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law (Exod 20). * Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us (Jeremiah 32:21).

O Radix Jesse ~ O Root of Jesse (December 19)
O Root of Jesse, (Isaiah 11:1)
You stand for the ensign of mankind (Isaiah 11:10); before You kings shall keep silence and to You all nations shall have recourse (Isaiah 52:15). * Come, save us, and do not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

O Clavis David ~ O Key of David (December 20)
O Key of David, (Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7)
and Sceptre of the house of Israel (Numbers 24:17): You open and no man closes; you close and no man opens (Isaiah 22:22). * Come, and deliver him from the chains of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death (Ps 107:10).

O Oriens ~ O Rising Dawn or Morning Star (December 21)
O Rising Dawn, (Jer 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12),
Radiance of the Light eternal (Habakkuk 3:4; Wisdom 7:26; Hebrews 1:3) and Sun of Justice (Malachi 3:20): * come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death (Ps 107:10; Lk 1:78).

O Rex Gentium ~ O King of the Nations (December 22)
O King of the Gentiles (Jeremiah 10:7; Haggai 2:7),
and the Desired of all, You are the Cornerstone that binds two into one (Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:20). * Come, and save man whom You fashioned out of clay (Genesis 2:7).

O Emmanuel (December 23)
O Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14; 8:8; Luke 1:31-33),
our King and Lawgiver (Genesis 49:10; cf. Ezekiel 21:32), the Expected of the nations and their Saviour (Isa 33:22): Come, and save us, O Lord our God.

The truly ancient tradition of reciting the O Antiphons refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23.

Tradition explains that the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, Tomorrow, I will come.

Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, Tomorrow, I will come.

Pope Francis visits Benedict XVI

By | Christmas, News

Lieber Vater, Frohe Weihnachten!

As is his custom every year, on 21st December at 18:15 the Holy Father, Pope Francis, went to the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery to visit Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

He also gave him his Christmas presents!

Although Benedict XVI at 91 understandably appears enfeebled with age, he remains in great spirits.

He is looking forward to his brother Monsignor Georg Ratzinger’s visit for two weeks after Christmas when he will be bringing him gifts from their birthplace in Bavaria.

Despite Mgr. Georg’s almost total blindness, the two look forward to playing the piano and singing traditional Christmas carols!

Christmas Season Holy Days of Obligation

By | Christmas, News

Apart from our Sunday Mass commitment, the Church asks us to honour these two special days during the Christmas Liturgical season:

 

Tuesday 25th December:                   CHRISTMAS DAY

Tuesday 1st January:                           MARY, MOTHER of GOD

The Immaculate Conception

By | Christmas

Hail Mary, conceived without sin!

We believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved free from the effects of the sin of Adam (usually referred to as “original sin”) from the first instant of her conception.

This teaching is not to be confused with Jesus’ conception in Mary’s womb. The Immaculate Conception is not about Jesus’ conception, but about Mary herself, in St. Anne’s womb.

Various texts in both the Old and the New Testaments support the doctrine. There is plenty of evidence indicating this teaching of Mary’s holiness was widely accepted in the early Church. The devotion took on a new impetus after Mary had been solemnly declared to be the Mother of God at the Council of Ephesus in 431. How could one so close to God have actually experienced sinful acts? The Church Fathers’ writings witness unanimously that Mary, the true disciple of the Lord, always cooperated with grace in the most perfect of ways as “the Handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).

The belief that Mary had thereby been spared also from the disposition to evil inherent in original sin (concupiscence) was not clearly articulated until the 12th century, when considerable debate was centred on an English celebration of Mary’s conception. The discussion was severely clouded by medieval understandings of the biological aspects of conception; and by a concern that it sounds as if Mary preceded Jesus in bringing the very universal redemption effected by Jesus on the Cross!

St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century voiced these difficulties, but without denying what was traditionally believed about our Holy Mother. The Franciscan theologian, Blessed John Duns Scotus, argued that Christ’s redemptive grace was applied to Mary to prevent sin from reaching her soul and that this special intervention resulted in a more perfect redemption in her case. Mary’s ‘privilege’ thus, was the result of God’s grace and not of any intrinsic merit on her part.

The Franciscan argument gradually won favour, as reflected in the teaching of various Popes (especially Sixtus IV in the late 15th century) and the councils of Basel (1439) and Trent (1546). It was not, however, until December 8, 1854, that Blessed Pius IX, urged by the Catholic bishops throughout the world, solemnly declared in the bull Ineffabilis Deus* that the doctrine was revealed by God and hence was to be firmly believed as such by all Catholics.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8 and is usually a holy day of obligation (on which Catholics are required to attend Holy Mass).

 

*Ineffabilis Deus

Apostolic Constitution of Blessed Pope Pius IX solemnly defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 1854.

 

[extract:]

“…Therefore, having full trust in the Lord that the opportune time had come for defining the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, which Holy Scripture, venerable Tradition, the constant mind of the Church, the desire of Catholic bishops and the faithful, and the memorable Acts and Constitutions of our predecessors, wonderfully illustrate and proclaim, and having most diligently considered all things, as we poured forth to God ceaseless and fervent prayers, we concluded that we should no longer delay in decreeing and defining by our supreme authority the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And thus, we can satisfy the most holy desire of the Catholic world as well as our own devotion toward the most holy Virgin, and at the same time honour more and more the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord through his holy Mother–since whatever honour and praise are bestowed on the Mother redound to the Son.

The Definition

Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honour of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”[29]

Hence, if anyone shall dare–which God forbid!–to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart”.