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.
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,
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We have entered the Holy Season of Advent.
What is Advent? The simple answer to this question is that Advent is a period of four weeks in preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas and also of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. It is our spiritual journey to celebrate Christmas. But if we do not know what Christmas is we will fail to know what Advent is for.
In the readings of the Mass on this First Sunday of Advent, we find Jesus referring to the end of the world and the Last Judgement, when Christ will come in glory. Jesus exhorts us to be ready and to hold our heads high, because our redemption is at hand.
It may seem strange that at the beginning of our preparation for Christmas, the message is centred on the end of the world and the coming of Christ in glory. This is the second coming of Jesus, and the church tells us that as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we are really preparing for the meeting we will eventually have with the Lord when our time comes to give an account of our life. Christmas is not just a memory of the day when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but it is also a reminder that there will be, so to say, another coming of Jesus, another final encounter with him, for which we are constantly preparing, but around Christmas this preparation is put more into focus.
Advent is the beginning of a new Liturgical Year in the Church. In a way we continue our journey but at the same time we renew and give more impetus to our preparation to welcome Christ in our lives as he is always knocking on our door. As we read in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3, 20).
How do we prepare for Christmas? For many the reaction to this question will be buying presents, preparing shopping lists for when family gathers to celebrate. There is nothing wrong in the material preparations for Christmas, but if the spiritual preparation is missing then it is a half-baked preparation and the whole point of Christmas is lost.
This four-week preparation invites us to reflect on how much God has loved us, in sending His own Son to be born to show us the face of God and to save us through his death and resurrection from sin and assuring us of eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn 2, 16).
While reflecting on God’s love for us, we are invited to respond to God’s love, and Christ tells us how this response should be. “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). Loving our neighbour is the measure of our love of God. As James tells us in his letter, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”. (James 2, 17). Jesus himself tells us what it means to love one another, when he describes the last judgement. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and … “ (cf. Mt 25, 35-40). Pope Francis is all the time reminding us of our duties as Christians and as members of the family of humankind, to remember the poor, the homeless, the underprivileged, the refugees, those suffering from disasters whether natural or created by wars and persecutions. God did not close his eyes to our needs, and we are called to open our eyes to the needs of others and be ready to help according to our means and circumstances.
In the last two years, due to the pandemic which unfortunately is still with us, so much has changed, and we have changed. Nobody and no institution can boast of not having been affected by the pandemic. We all suffered and are suffering in some way or other, whether financially, emotionally, psychologically, and physically.
We are living in uncertain times. In these times the best in us has come out, trying to help those who needed our help and support. We are not out of the woods yet, and we pray that we may see the end of the tunnel in the near future.
What has not changed despite the difficult times we have and are experiencing is the message of Advent. That message tells us of God’s love for us and of our need for that saving love. Our whole life is our Advent, during which time we prepare ourselves for the moment when we enter fully into the life of God. This Advent may something more of Christ enter us.
With the assurance of my prayers and a blessing on you all.
Given on the 24th November 2021, feast of Saints Andrew-Luc and his Companions, Martyrs.
Bishop of Gibraltar
PASTORAL LETTER BY THE BISHOP OF GIBRALTAR A Church that journeys together
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The whole Catholic Church has been called by Pope Francis to participate in the forthcoming Synod, beginning this October in the Local Churches and eventually culminating in a General Synod in October 2023.
The title of the 2023 Synod of Bishops is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.” For the first time, the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops in Rome has produced a comprehensive process which encompasses the stated aim of the Holy Father that the Church in today’s world should have a vision of missionary communion orientated to evangelisation.
In this way the whole Church is being encouraged to contribute towards the next Synod of Bishops. The beginning of this Synod takes place on the 9-10 October this year, when the Pope will pray and celebrate Mass from the Vatican. The following Sunday, the 17th October, we will celebrate the beginning of this Synod on Synodality in our Diocese by celebrating Mass at the Cathedral at 10.30, to which all are invited. Everyone is encouraged to take part in this process which is a call to Communion (getting together), Participation (taking part by expressing the discernment we reach after praying to the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and listening to what others have to say}, and Mission, (the universal call to evangelise).
The word Synodality means walking together on a particular journey. As the people of God, we are called to participate actively in our journey as living members of the Church. Pope Francis in his book Let us Dream says “we need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas”. This is at the heart of the process which we are invited to take part in during the next six months.
The Synodal Process is not about a democratic debate or about Church teaching or dogma. It is a place of respectful mutual listening and experiencing the call of the Holy Spirit to move forward in new ways. Listening to each other is very important. Mutual listening and reflection are vital, as what is proposed grows from the unity and conviction that comes from the lived practice of faith within the community.
We all share, in view of our Baptism, Christ’s Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly functions. Whatever the charisms or gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us, we are all called to contribute to the building of the Body of Christ, the Church. We are called to be witnesses of God’s love. The Church is being called to examine the complexities of the society in which we live and apply the light of the Gospel to such a reality.
The basic question to guide us in our discernment is:
A Synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, “journeys together”. How is this “journeying together” happening today in our Diocese? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?
In order to journey together we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We need to have the courage and the freedom to help in the continual renewal of the Church, which, although a divine institution, also expresses a human dimension that needs constantly to be purified of what does not reflect the Gospel. In this journey we all have something to learn and to contribute.
I intend, with the collaboration of some helpers, to organise group encounters to facilitate this process in our diocese, culminating in a meeting of all who want to participate in this synodal process. I ask you to pray that this experience, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will leave its fruits in our Diocese. Pray that this invitation to journey together which comes from the Pope will help us to move on together, realising that we are all called to collaborate in the mission of bringing the good news to others.
May Our Lady of Europe, our Patroness and Mother of the Church, help us during the journey we are undertaking for the good of our Diocese and of the whole Church.
Given on the 1st of October 2021, the memory of St Theresa of the Child Jesus.
+Carmel Zammit Bishop of Gibraltar
From the prayer to be said before any assembly of the Synod:
We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name. With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts; teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.
We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder.
Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.
Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.
All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.
For the last three years, unfortunately we were unable to celebrate this Mass at our national Shrine, on the eve of Gibraltar Day, to honour our Lady of Europe as our patron, always seeking her protection. Three years ago, it was due to road works near the Shrine that kept us from celebrating here, and the following two years it was due to the pandemic that have gripped us and the whole world. Today I am very glad that it is possible to celebrate this Eucharist in the presence of a congregation. This is a tradition that needs to be kept. I thank you for coming to honour our Lady once again on such a special day for Gibraltar, and to thank her for her protection and help in all the challenges that we have faced and which we will face in the future as a community.
In the Gospels, Mary appears as a woman of few words, but with an attentive gaze capable of guarding the life and mission of her Son. She uttered four sentences in the gospels, and two of them are related: ‘Be it done to me according to your word’ to the Angel Gabriel when he announced to her and ‘Do what he tells you’ in the Wedding at Cana. She accepted to do God’s will, and she is telling us also to accept in our lives God’s will.
Her maternal role in the history of salvation has been affirmed clearly by the present Pope who declared Mary Mother of the Church as a feast to be celebrated the day after Pentecost, certainly due to her presence in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and the Church was born [referring to the reading from the Act of the Apostles just read]. From that day she was actively the mother of the Church.
The maternal vocation and mission of the Virgin towards those who believe in Christ actually began when Jesus said to her when he was crucified “Woman behold your son”.
The words [from the Gospel just read] addressed by the crucified Lord to his disciple, to John and through him to all disciples of Jesus: “Behold your mother”, are fulfilled anew in every generation. Mary has truly become the mother of all believers.
From the earliest times of the Church, the faithful turned to Mary in prayer for her help, protection and intercession. The oldest prayer ‘Sub tuum praesidium’, dates back to the third Century. It is a prayer that invokes Mary’s protection on her children and to help us in our trials and tribulations. Pope Francis urged us to recite this prayer daily, considering the dangers the world faces not only due to the Pandemic but also the many wars that are going on in the world and the danger of people dying of hunger, together with the natural disasters that occur from time to time, remembering that Pope Francis is a pope who is always reminding us about our duty to safeguard nature, to protect us from the disasters that climate change is bringing with it. It has been noted that the present pandemic will be nothing compared to the disasters that will happen in the future unless we stop abusing nature.
The statue of Our Lady of Europe, present here in front of us, has a history of its own since it was commissioned six hundred years ago. The sailors who crossed the straits in the past used to salute Our Lady, and they also would visit the shrine and leave their precious offerings here. The turret with its lamp burning on oil donated usually by visitors was also a shining light to warn ships of danger. The image was known not only as Our Lady of Europe, but also as Our Lady of a safe passage.
During the worst period of Covid-19, Gibraltarians have shown that there are values instilled in us which we inherited from our Christian culture. The value of solidarity, of care, of helping others, of saving lives, of sacrificing ourselves for the good of others, show that our culture is a Christian culture. We are capable of rising up to the needs of the occasion. I would like to take this occasion to thank all those who worked in some way or other, sometimes at a clear danger to their own life, to help those who were at risk and who were suffering from the virus. We are not out of the woods yet, and these unsung heroes still deserve our appreciation for what they are doing in the community.
Europe has been shaped in its values by its Christian beliefs, some of which are still very much part of our values even if some have been lost.
Gibraltar day is a celebration of national unity, whether we gather in squares or in a church or by celebrating in restaurants or on the beach or even in Spain. On this day, we pray that the unity we celebrate is not just an illusion or wishful thinking. This unity means that we, as citizens, pull together for the good of all. The pandemic has put us to the test and we have shown that in times of need and of danger we are capable of sacrifice and of serving others.
Gibraltar has always proclaimed its pride that we are capable of living together in a harmonious and tolerant society, where respect is shown towards all irrespective of their religion, social status, gender or ethnicity.
I wish I am wrong in what I am going to say, but with a heavy heart I notice that this value of tolerance seems to have been lost in a section of our community, when especially on the social media hate speech abounds, together with bullying and aggressive language aimed at those who may have different views from ours. Are we treating each other as brothers and sisters or are we using the category of enemy for each other when ideologies don’t meet? Everyone has a right to be treated with respect, however different our ideas or beliefs are. Our differences do not take away the fact that we are all the same, all human beings, and for those who believe, we are all created in the image of God.
The future for many may be uncertain, and we all know that life after this pandemic and with Brexit will not be the same as before. It is only experience and time which will tell us how we are to adapt to the new future. I hope and pray that the lessons learned during the months that we have experienced this virus will not be quickly forgotten, and the sense of dedication and care for others will continue to be felt well after the dangers brought by this virus are put behind us.
As we venerate Mary, the mother of God, the mother of the Church, and our mother, let us entrust the needs of Gibraltar to her maternal care.
Today, on the Eve of Gibraltar’s National Day, we come here to pray, in union with Mary, for our human family, and to find rest with the Mother of the Lord. We pray for her constant help, for ourselves and for those who are dear to us. We pray that Mary generates in our hearts the consolation, peace and joy that comes from believing that God is merciful and compassionate. So is Mary, God’s privileged daughter and mother, She is the mother of mercy, as we pray when we say the ‘Hail Holy Queen’. May she be always our help, our refuge and our hope.
We fly to thy protection,
O holy Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
Fr Tancred Sultana (from the Archdiocese of Malta), who arrived yesterday afternoon in Gibraltar to supply at the Cathedral for the next seven weeks, died suddenly in the early hours of this morning after suffering a massive heart attack. His body will be repatriated to Malta as soon as it is possible. A Requiem Mass will be held in Gibraltar on Tuesday 20th July at 12:25 at the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned, presided by His Lordship the Bishop. Our condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The forthcoming Referendum on 24th June 2021 —by coincidence the Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist— will determine whether the abortion laws, already passed by our Parliament to extend our current abortion laws, should be enacted or not.
The Referendum effectively places the responsibility on Gibraltarians to decide whether or not abortion should be liberalized: whether the most vulnerable in our society will continue to enjoy the present status of the right to life, or will be subject to a significant broadening of the grounds for their legal termination.
The Church has always been clear in her teaching on this matter. All Catholics, as indeed all persons of good will, have a moral duty to defend innocent human life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Whatever the result of the Referendum, this teaching cannot change.
Living in a democratic society, this Referendum is an opportunity not only to exercise our right to vote and thereby contribute now to the Common Good, but also to defend the weakest in our society. Until now, the child in the womb has enjoyed a right to life except in extremely rare, exceptional, circumstances. This will be severely eroded if the Referendum ratifies the new, liberal, abortion laws. Whichever way one tries to justify it, what is being proposed is ‘abortion on demand’ putting at risk the lives of the unborn children, even up to the very moment prior to birth.
The Church holds that human life starts at conception, and that this life is to be cherished, respected, protected and loved until its natural end. Therefore, the intentional termination of a pregnancy, at whatever stage, is the direct and intended termination of an innocent, unborn child. The 5th Commandment of God states unambiguously: “You shall not kill” innocent human life (Exodus 20:13).
Abortion is the attempted elimination, not of a problem, but of a child, through their death. It can never be a good —or a loving— act of itself, because it results in the termination of an innocent human life, and all who intentionally cooperate in the termination of human life are morally culpable for this act.
All human life is of equal dignity. The right to life is the most fundamental of human rights. All other human rights derive from this basic right. This is not a privilege conferred by government. Any human law that removes this right to life, is an unjust law. The unborn have no voice to defend and protect their rights. We are the voice of the voiceless.
The Church, as can be verified in her earliest writings, has consistently taught that the deliberate taking of an innocent human life is, in all circumstances, gravely wrong. St. John Paul II in particular, reiterated this infallible truth —that morally, abortion is always gravely wrong, no matter the circumstances. He declared:
“Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church … this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops … I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.”
(Evangelium vitae, n. 62).
If the law determines that the human life still in the mother’s womb is disposable, it will not be long before it decides the same for human life at any other stage.
Scientifically, there is no doubt that an unborn child is a human being, and that she/he too has the same right as I and you have to live. Equality of rights should extend also to the unborn child. The equal right to life and love of a mother and her unborn child is fundamental to the Common Good of every society.
Abortion should never be an easy decision, since it goes against the very nature of being a parent. When one finds oneself in such a desperate situation, abortion may seem as the only way out. Yet, in all countries where abortion is available virtually on demand, it has become a relatively easy decision to take, treated in some cases almost like a contraceptive. We cannot ignore the experience of countries where liberal abortion laws exist: with the passage of time the legal clauses, designed to protect against misuse or malpractice, become ineffective. Evidently, abortions increase exponentially, using the widest possible interpretation of the laws and criteria that allow them. This has been the experience of so many countries over time, which have liberalized their abortion laws.
As a society caring for all, we must find solutions of life for the unborn child, by supporting the mother throughout her pregnancy and beyond. Pope Francis said that “we must do more to accompany women in difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their painful anguish” (25th May 2019).
The people of Gibraltar are being presented with a choice: To choose between life or death; to choose whether the most vulnerable in our society will continue to enjoy the present status of the right to life, or will be subject to a significant broadening of the grounds for their legal termination. To vote ‘no’ is to emphatically defend the right to life as enshrined currently in Gibraltar’s Constitution. Let us turn in prayer to Our Lady of Europe, our Patroness and Mother, and to St Joseph, her spouse, that they may protect us with their parental care. May the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, protect all mothers, all unborn babies, and enlighten all of us in our duty to show them love and support whilst protecting the right to life of the unborn.
Given today, 12th June 2021, the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I feel sorrow thinking about those who died crossing the English Channel, those on the borders of Belarus, many of whom are children, those who drown in the Mediterranean, those who are repatriated to North Africa and forced into servitude.