Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent History

But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the
season of Advent, have been, in the western Church, so gradually relaxed
as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries, the general
character of the liturgy of this holy time has not changed; and it is by
their zeal in following its spirit, that the faithful will prove their
earnestness in preparing for Christmas.
The liturgical form of Advent as it now exists in the Roman Church, has
gone through certain modifications. St. Gregory seems to have been the
first to draw up the Office for this season, which originally included
five Sundays, as is evident from the most ancient sacramentaries of this
great Pope. It even appears probable, and the opinion has been adopted by
Amalarius of Metz, Berno of Reichnau, Dom Martene, and Benedict XIV, that
St. Gregory originated the ecclesiastical precept of Advent, although the
custom of devoting a longer or shorter period to a preparation for
Christmas has been observed from time immemorial, and the abstinence and
fast of this holy season first began in France. St. Gregory therefore
fixed, for the Churches of the Latin rite, the form of the Office for this
Lent-like season, and sanctioned the fast which had been established,
granting a certain latitude to the several Churches as to the manner of
its observance.
The sacramentary of St. Gelasius has neither Mass nor Office of
preparation for Christmas; the first we meet with are in the Gregorian
sacramentary, and, as we just observed, these Masses are five in number.
It is remarkable that these Sundays were then counted inversely, that is,
the nearest to Christmas was called the first Sunday, and so on with the
rest. So far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, these Sundays were
reduced to four, as we learn from Amalarius St. Nicholas I, Berno of
Reichnau, Ratherius of Verona, &c., and such also is their number in the
Gregorian sacramentary of Pamelius, which appears to have been transcribed
about this same period. From that time, the Roman Church has always
observed this arrangement of Advent, which gives it four weeks, the fourth
being that in which Christmas day falls, unless December 25 be a Sunday.
We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of
Advent as having lasted a thousand years, at least as far as the Church of
Rome is concerned; for some of the Churches in France kept up the number
of five Sundays as late as the thirteenth century.
The Ambrosian liturgy, even to this day, has six weeks of Advent; so has
the Gothic or Mozarabic missal. As regards the Gallican liturgy, the
fragments collected by Dom Mabillon give us no information; but it is
natural to suppose with this learned man, whose opinion has been confirmed
by Dom Martene, that the Church of Gaul adopted, in this as in so many
other points, the usages of the Gothic Church, that is to say, that its
Advent consisted of six Sundays and six weeks.
With regard to the Greeks, their rubrics for Advent are given in the
Menaea, immediately after the Office for November 14. They have no proper
Office for Advent, neither do they celebrate during this time the Mass of
the Presanctified, as they do in Lent. There are only in the Offices for
the saints, whose feasts occur between November 14 and the Sunday nearest
Christmas, frequent allusions to the birth of the Saviour, to the
maternity of Mary, to the cave of Bethlehem, &c. On the Sunday preceding
Christmas, in order to celebrate the expected coming of the Messias, they
keep what they call the feast of the holy fathers, that is the
commemoration of the saints of the old Law. They give the name of
Ante-Feast of the Nativity to December 20, 21, 22, and 23; and although
they say the Office of several saints on these four days, yet the mystery
of the birth of Jesus pervades the whole liturgy.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

History of Advent (contd)

The oldest document in which we find the length and exercises of Advent
mentioned with anything like clearness, is a passage in the second book of
the History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours, where he says that St.
Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that see about the year 480,
had decreed a fast three times a week, from the feast of St. Martin until
Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether St. Perpetuus, by his
regulations, established a new custom, or merely enforced an already
existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of
forty-three days, so expressly mentioned, and consecrated to penance, as
though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that
which precedes Easter.
Later on, we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Macon, held in
582, ordaining that during the same interval between St. Martin's day and
Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, should be fasting days,
and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to the lenten rite.
Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had
enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas.
This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for
the laity: and it was commonly called St. Martin's Lent. The capitularia
of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter; and
Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of clerics, bears
testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on
St. Martin's feast, just as we see them practised now at the approach of
Lent and Easter.
The obligation of observing this Lent, which, though introduced so
imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to
be relaxed, and the forty days from St. Martin's day to Christmas were
reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed
first in France; but thence it spread into England, as we find from
Venerable Bede's history; into Italy, as appears from a diploma of
Astolphus, king of the Lombards, dated 753; into Germany, Spain, &c., of
which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dom Martene, On the
ancient rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advent's being reduced
to four weeks is to be found in the ninth century, in a letter of Pope St.
Nicholas I to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona, and of
Abbo of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove
that, even then, the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast
by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true that St. Peter Damian,
in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for
forty days; and that St. Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that
length of time; but as far as this holy king is concerned, it is probable
that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.
The discipline of the Churches of the west, after having reduced the time
of the Advent fast, so far relented, in a few years, as to change the fast
into a simple abstinence; and we even find Councils of the twelfth
century, for instance Selingstadt in 1122, and Avranches in 1172, which
seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of
Salisbury, held in 1281, would seem to expect none but monks to keep it.
On the other hand (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no
doubt, to there never having been any uniformity of discipline regarding
it in the western Church), we find Pope Innocent III, in his letter to the
bishop of Braga, mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of
Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome; and Durandus, in the same
thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that,
in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that
holy time.
This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell
into disuse, that when, in 1362, Pope Urban V endeavoured to prevent the
total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the
clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any
way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. St. Charles
Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan to the spirit, if
not to the letter, of ancient times. In his fourth Council, he enjoins the
parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to Communion on the Sundays,
at least, of Lent and Advent; and afterwards addressed to the faithful
themselves a pastoral letter, in which, after having reminded them of the
dispositions wherewith they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly
urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least, of
each week in Advent. Finally, Pope Benedict XIV, when archbishop of
Bologna, following these illustrious examples) wrote his eleventh
Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the minds of his
diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times had of the
holy season of Advent, and of removing an erroneous opinion which
prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent concerned religious only and
not the laity. He shows them that such an opinion, unless it be limited to
the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is, strictly speaking, rash
and scandalous, since it cannot be denied that, in the laws and usages of
the universal Church, there exist special practices, having for their end
to prepare the faithful for the great feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though
with much less rigour than that of Lent. It consists of forty days,
beginning with November 14, the day on which this Church keeps the feast
of the apostle St. Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain
from flesh-meat, butter, milk, and eggs; but they are allowed, which they
are not during Lent, fish, oil, and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is
binding only on seven out of the forty days; and the whole period goes
under the name of St. Philip's Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations
by this distinction: that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only
an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of
apostolic institution.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The History of Advent

The History of Advent

The name Advent (From the Latin word Adventus, which signifies a coming)
is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which
the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the
feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The
mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared
for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to
state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation (which had long
been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first
instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the
west, since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a
preparation for the feast of Christmas, until that feast was definitively
fixed to the twenty-fifth of December; which was done in the east only
towards the close of the fourth century; whereas it is certain that the
Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.
We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of
preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Saviour, by works of
penance: and secondly, as a series of ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for
the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of
giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the feast
of Christmas. We have two sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this
subject, not to speak of several others which were formerly attributed to
St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, but which were probably written by St.
Cesarius of Aries. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration
and what the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how
ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special
sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, St. Bernard, and several other doctors of
the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu
Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday homilies on the Gospels of that
season. In the capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the bishops
admonish that prince not to call them away from their Churches during Lent
or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of
war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfil, and particularly that
of preaching during those sacred times.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB, during an exclusive interview with journalist Peter Jennings for CTS, explains how priests and the lay faithful should work closely together to achieve a standard of liturgical celebration which is both dignified and beautiful.

Peter Jennings: Your first CTS booklet, “Understanding the Roman Missal” has been well received. How does your new publication “Participating in the Mass – Celebrating the Liturgy with dignity & beauty” (available now) relate to it?

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB: There is a widespread desire not only in the Catholic Church in Great Britain but elsewhere to celebrate the Liturgy with dignity and beauty.

This booklet carefully explains that mere external and aesthetic issues, important though these may be, are not of themselves enough. There is a need for all of us, priests and lay-faithful people, to learn the art of celebration. This is a skill which enables us to exercise correctly that full, conscious, and active participation in the Liturgy first called for by the Church more one hundred years ago and yet still not fully understood today.

Peter Jennings: In what particular way is the full, conscious, and active participation in the Liturgy not fully understood?

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson:The expression full, conscious, and active participation should be understood within the context of the Church’s teaching on the Liturgy. Participation is first and foremost sharing in the Divine Life through the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the words of Saint Peter we are partakers of the Divine nature.

Participation is a disposition of mind and heart, body and soul. In general terms we understand participation as simply taking part in an event. Whereas in the liturgy our participation is not conditioned by what we do but by what we are: co-heirs with Christ and sharers in the Divine nature. Because of this everyone, irrespective of personal disability or restricted ability is able to participate fully and meaningfully in the Liturgy.

Peter Jennings: From what you have said so far, I understand that it is not by doing things in the Liturgy that one participates but by the fact of being baptised. Is this correct?

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson: Yes, you are right and put in another way, participation as understood in this way is the exercise of the priesthood of all the faithful, We are a Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a People Set Apart. There is indeed a diversity of roles to be fulfilled in the celebration of the liturgy. Those who exercise them in a way which edifies everyone is one manifestation of the actualising of our baptismal responsibilities as members of the Body of Christ.

Peter Jennings: The Church has given many directives about the Liturgy so what more needs to be done?

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson: Directives and instructions are necessary and we have had an abundance of them, some may say we have had far too many. Indeed all that needs to be said has been said. For this reason the booklet “Participating in the Mass” is not a series of do’s and don’ts. It is an attempt to help us understand the liturgical, theological and spiritual dimension of the directives which ensure good order and dignity when we celebrate the sacred Liturgy.

No matter how faithful the observance of ceremonial and rubrics might be, no matter how elegant the vestments and ornamentations of the church might be, this will not of itself ensure that conscious and active participation which leads us to share and live the mystery of Christ in the Liturgy.

Peter Jennings: I know that you have always had a keen interest in the liturgy form the time that we first knew each other at school in Scotland over fifty years ago. Tell me something of your experiences over the years.

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson: My interest in the Liturgy stems from my parish church on Tyneside where my uncle was the organist and choirmaster.

I always preferred to serve the sung Mass on a Sunday. The choir sang simple Gregorian chant antiphons and the Masses of Sir Richard Terry the first Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral. When I joined the monastery in 1964, I received encouragement from Dom Henry Ashworth to pursue the study of the Liturgy. I was able to pursue the technical side of both the Liturgy and the Chant at the Abbey of Solesmes in France and in Rome.

After obtaining a doctorate in Liturgical Theology, I was called to the Vatican to work in the Congregation for Divine Worship from 1983 to 1996.

Peter Jennings: I know you have co-authored about 16 volumes on the sources of the Latin liturgy and written numerous articles in International Reviews and the richness of your experience come through in your writing. With such experience, how do you see the development of the liturgy?

Abbot Cuthbert Johnson: While we must always trust in the Lord, we must take care not to presume upon His goodness and kindness. To expect great improvements without making an effort to bring them about, is like asking the Lord to change stones into bread. Musicians, artists and all who work in the sphere of the Liturgy need to be encouraged and not just by words. Music and works of art need to be commissioned. And Bursaries could be set up to help young Catholic musicians and artists.

Those who can contribute to the development of the aesthetic dimension of worship need to be helped to what is meant by sacred art and learn from the Church’s rich musical patrimony.

Peter Jennings: Please give me a specific example?

Abbot Johnson: On Easter morning, the Introit as given in the Gregorian Chant version, is in the contemplative and meditative fourth mode. The words and melody suggests the image of one who has awoken from sleep, who lays aside the shroud and wraps up the cloth which was about his head.
Gregorian chant has its joyful and vigorous modes, but the Church chooses to open the Easter Mass in the awesome contemplation of the mystery of the Resurrection.

It is to the silent yet eloquent testimony of the tomb that the Church guides our attention, for only the tomb witnessed that saving event. Many composers might be tempted to open the Easter Day celebration with a fanfare of trumpets and multiple “alleluias”. This is another and equally valid approach but would we not be losing a precious insight if we overlooked this other dimension?

By studying such ancient examples in both music and art we can learn so much and enrich our faith.

Friday, 9 September 2011



Abbot Cuthbert Johnson’s booklet Understanding the Roman Missal was very well received when it was published earlier in the year. Here, he explains the differences between that one and his new booklets which he sees as companions to it. He points out that they were written to coincide with the priests and people getting used to the new English translation of the Mass, and tells of how the success of his first text was a springboard to writing more, looking at different aspects and consequences of the changes to the Liturgy.

The first booklet Understanding the Roman Missal was written before the texts of the Order of Mass came into use. There had been some concerns about the new translation of the third edition of the Latin Roman Missal which was published in 2002. Since these concerns were dealt with in publications by those who had been more closely involved in the preparation of the texts, it seemed more appropriate for me, as a monk and liturgist, to prepare a more directly liturgical and spiritual commentary in preparation for the introduction of the new text.

It would appear that this small work was much appreciated and I was encouraged to write similar works as part of the catechetical preparation for the introduction of the full Missal in Advent. The Simple Guide to the Mass is designed to be read in the light of the experience of the Order of Mass which was introduced last week. It is similar in style to the booklet Understanding the Roman Missal and is a companion to it. Several of the points touched upon in the first booklet are developed in this short and concise study of the Mass.

The third booklet Participating in the Mass, Celebrating the Liturgy with dignity and beauty is meant to provide practical assistance to both clergy and lay faithful to ensure a celebration of the liturgy which is both spiritually enriching and aesthetically pleasing. Many people have felt that the beautiful dimension of liturgical worship has been undervalued. This work, which could be described as a guide to the art of celebration, should make a contribution to the restoration of what some have described as the “loss of a sense of mystery”.

All of them are available from the CTS website.

Of related interest:

D745Simple Guide to the Mass – Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB, a Consultor to the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, provides a simple and concise guide to the new translation of the Mass introduced by the Church on Sunday, 4 September 2011.

Pope Benedict XVI has expressed the wish that the introduction of the new translation will mark the beginning of: “A renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world”.

LT03Participating in the Mass -Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB, in this companion to his widely acclaimed CTS booklet Understanding the Roman Missal, provides an informative, step-by-step guide to the celebration of the Mass, to enable the Liturgy to be celebrated with reverence.
LT02Understanding the Roman Missal – the New Translation -A presentation and explanation of the new translation, accompanied by liturgical and spiritual reflections. This presentation and explanation of the new translation is accompanied by a series of liturgical and spiritual reflections.