Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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Liturgiology is a vast and complicated, and except to the few, an unattractive, subject. To attempt here a survey of the liturgies in their relation to Christmas is obviously impossible ; we must be content to dwell mainly upon the present-day Roman offices, which, in spite of various revisions, give some idea of the mediaeval services of Latin Christianity, and to cast a few glances at other western rites, and at those of the Greek Church.
Whatever may be his attitude towards Catholicism, or, indeed, Christianity, no one sensitive to the music of words, or the suggestions of poetic imagery, can read the Roman Breviary and Missal without profound admiration for the amazing skill with which the noblest passages of Hebrew poetry are chosen and fitted to the expression of Christian devotion, and the gold of psalmists, prophets, and apostles is welded into coronals for the Lord and His saints. The office-books of the Roman Church are, in one aspect, the greatest of anthologies.
Few parts of the Roman Breviary have more beauty than the j Advent* offices, where the Church has brought together the majestic imagery of the Hebrew prophets, the fervent exhorta- | tion of the apostles, to prepare the minds of the faithful for the coming of the Christ, for the celebration of the Nativity. D
Advent begins with a stirring call. If we turn to the opening j service of the Christian Year, the First Vespers of the First Sunday in Advent, we shall find as the first words in the " Proper of the Season" the trumpet-notes of St. Paul: " Brethren, it is high time to awake out of sleep ; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." This, the Little Chapter for the office, is followed by the ancient hymn, " Creator alme siderum," J chanting in awful tones the two comings of
* The first mention of a season corresponding to Arlvent is at the Council of Tours, t about 567, when a fast for monks in December is vaguely indicated. At the Council of Macon (5S1) it is enjoined that from Martinmas the second, fourth, and sixth days I of the week should be fasting days ; and at the close of the sixth century Rome, under § Gregory the Great, adopted the rule of the four Sundays in Advent. In the next ; century it became prevalent in the West. In the Greek Church, forty days of fasting are observed before Christmas ; this custom appears to have been established in the L thirteenth century. In the Roman Church the practice as to fasting varies : in the British Isles Wednesday and Friday are observed, but in some countries no distinction 18 made between Advent and ordinary weeks of the year.-
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