Advent Time, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of the painting 'Am Abend vor Christi Geburt' (On the eve of the birth of Christ) by Michael Rieser, 1869; photographed by Dorotheum; swiped from Wikimedia MediaJoy and Gratitude

The ecclesiastical year of the Church begins with the holy season of Advent, about four weeks before Christmas. For every faithful child of the Church it ought to be a matter of joy and thanksgiving that with the opening of this new year of the Church begins also a season of special devotion to the Queen of heaven.

The word Advent means “the coming” and has reference to the coming of Jesus Christ, the world’s Redeemer, through the intervention of Mary, the Virgin Mother.

During these four weeks of Advent the Church goes back in spirit to the four thousand years which preceded the real and veritable coming of Christ to the earth, by virtue of the mystery of the Incarnation. During that long and gloomy period of time the world sighed, yearned and hoped for the Messias. The Lord had said solemnly to the serpent-tempter in the garden, “I will put enmities between thee and the woman . . . she shall crush thy head.” (Genesis 3:15) From the time those words were uttered poor, fallen, helpless man ceased not to long for the coming of that Virgin who was to conceive and bring forth the Son who was to be called Emmanuel – “God with us.” Thus Advent is not only a season devoted to the Son of God made man,but also to His highly favored Mother.

Christian reader, if you would observe every year the holy time of Advent in union with your holy Church, then you should pass those solemn days in rejoicing that Mary was chosen for the high dignity of Mother of God, and also in giving thanks because she accepted that sublime dignity. As a means of giving outward practical expression to such joy and such thanks, I would suggest to you the beautiful devotion of the Angelus, and would recommend you to perform it with unwonted fervor at sunrise, noon, and sunset.

The “Rorate” or “Mass of the Falling Dew”

The sentiments animating the soul of every believing Christian during the holy time of Advent, may find expression in the beautiful words of the prophet Isaias, “Drop down dew (rorate), ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just; let the earth bud forth a Saviour” (Isaias 45:8). These inspired words of the prophet, so expressive of his longing for the Redeemer, form the Introit of a votive Mass to the Blessed Virgin, which the rubrics of the Church recommend every priest to celebrate during Advent time.

In many countries it is the custom to celebrate this votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin, beginning with the words “Rorate,” etc., or “Rain down dew,” etc., two or three times every week, with great pomp and solemnity. It is known as the “Rorate ” Mass. Sometimes, too, it is called the Angel Mass, because the gospel sung in it relates the history of the angel’s message to Mary when he announced to her the great mystery of the Incarnation. On such occasions true Catholic sentiment and a genuine love for Mary are heightened by all the surrounding circumstances. The “Rotate” Mass is usually Celebrated in the earliest hour of the day. The darkness of the waning night still broods over nature, outside the Church, and is a fitting symbol of the darkness and misery, of the poverty of faith and charity, in which unredeemed mankind were buried before the coming of Christ. Within the sacred edifice the altar of the Blessed Virgin is all ablaze with lights, and her image stands forth amid a very sea of brightness and beauty, to remind the worshipers of the fullness of grace that deluged the immaculate soul of the Mother of God, and also the light of faith and of grace that was shed upon the world by her divine Son.

Certainly, Christian reader, you will not grudge to deprive yourself of one hour’s unnecessary sleep in the morning in order to participate in the benefits and blessings of the “Rotate” Mass whenever it is celebrated in your parish church. If circumstances forbid such service, then be only the more eager to assist at the ordinary daily Mass, for it is not the number of lights, nor the grand chant of the singers, that give value to the Mass. It is Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. He is the Light of the world; He it is who offers Himself to the Eternal Father for your salvation, even if there are but two candles burning on the altar and the perpetual light before the tabernacle.

Advent Time in Rome

The holy season of Advent is kept in Rome with mingled seriousness and cheerfulness. At the wish and instigation of the Archconfraternity of a Happy Death, there was established at Rome, in the year 1560, the profoundly earnest and touching custom of the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the course of the ecclesiastical year. This beautiful devotion still continues to flourish.

On the first Sunday of Advent our Holy Father, the Pope, after celebrating pontifical Mass in the Sistine chapel in the Vatican, exposes the Blessed Sacrament in the Pauline chapel. It remains there, surrounded by crowds of pious worshipers, till the following Tuesday morning. Then the cardinal-vicar of the diocese, about the same hour that the devotion closes at the Pauline chapel, exposes solemnly the Blessed Sacrament at the Church of Saint John Lateran. When the forty hours expire, the same ceremony is renewed in another church, and again successively at every other parish church in the city. When this devotion of the “Forty Hours Adoration” has been gone through in every church, the ecclesiastical year has expired. Then, on the first Sunday of Advent, our blessed Lord resumes, as it were, His pilgrimage of salvation to men, by appearing again in solemn exposition on the altar where the devotion started. Thus, in Rome, it is a continuous advent of Jesus Christ, who comes veiled under the sacramental species, now to one congregation, then to another. Thus the Redeemer Himself, in union with the devout Catholic inhabitants of the Eternal City, keeps perpetual advent. Truly the people of Rome enjoy ample facilities and uninterrupted opportunities to welcome the advent of “The Desired of Nations” and to congratulate the blessed Mother that her divine Son, today, as of old in Judea, is going about “doing good.”

Among the many beautiful devotions of Advent time in Rome, the following is peculiarly touching and attractive: From time immemorial its streets have resounded with the simple music of the so-called Pipers. These rustic musicians are shepherds from the Abruzzi and Sabine mountains, who, in fulfillment of a simple promise to do what they can to contribute to the honor of the Blessed Virgin and to the glory of her incarnate Son, come down from their mountain homes, every year just before Advent, and make their appearance in the streets of the city early in the morning of the first Sunday of Advent. Every day from that time till Christmas eve they may be seen and heard in the public streets of the city, standing before some statue or image of the Blessed Virgin and discoursing on their rude pipes plain rustic music in honor of the Mother of God, the chief import of which is that the coming of the Saviour is again at hand. They form a pretty picture as, clad in their quaint mountain costumes, and with heads respectfully uncovered, they Stand in groups, usually of three persons-a gray-haired sire, a man in middle life and a little boy, and pipe forth their simple melodies before a wayside Madonna. Neither the cold and piercing blasts of winter nor the heavy rains of the season can deter these hardy mountaineers from their loving occupation. Rome is pleased when the pipers come to announce the arrival of the Advent season. For the inhabitants look with kind affection on anything that reminds them of the beloved patroness. There are in Rome so many outdoor images of Mary, and the little bands of rustic pipers are so numerous, that one can hardlywalk ablock through the city, or rest an hour at his window, without being reminded by the cheerful strains of the pipers’ instruments of the approaching commemoration of the mysterious birth of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Thus these simple peasants retain to this day the privilege of being the first to proclaim the birth of the Saviour, as did their prototypes, the shepherds of the plains of Bethlehem. The song which these devout men sing before the statues of the Blessed Virgin, may be thus rendered in English –

ln Bethlehem, when the Christ was born,
Shone the midnight like the mom;
Such bright gleaming,
Midday seeming,
Streamed from every burning star.
And the Wise Men, called afar,
Came from lands that see the dawn.

Nature knew no poisoned fang;
Hymns of peace the whole earth sang.
Lambs safe feeding,
Never heeding
Lions in their pastures laid,
While the young kids frisked and played
With the leopards as they sprang.

Bears in shaggy coats of brown.
With the soft-eyed calves lay down;
Lambkins sleeping,
In the keeping
Of the gray wolves, swift and wise;
While the old sheep turned their eyes
Towards the shepherds’ wond’ring frown.

But an angel, clad in light,
Brighter than the sun is bright,
Stood before them,
Bending o’er them,
Said, “Rejoice, be not afraid;
Laugh, for earth once more is made
Paradise, for man’s delight!”

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898