Friday, 9 December 2016

Advent Carols

Singing Christmas Carols

Yes, we've heard them all our lives, but didn't think about them being for Advent.... 

I've listed some here and with the You Tube versions for your enjoyment...

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O Come Divine Messiah

Maria Walks Amid the Thorn

Gabriel’s Message

Creator of the Stars of Night

Saviour of the Nations Come Arranged by J.S. Bach.

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending By Charles Wesley

Wake, Awake, for night is flying A 16th century German hymn.

Rorate Caeli A traditional latin hymn.

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Prayer - Desire of the Heart

Prayer is the Desires of the Heart 

The Desire of Your Heart 
Constitutes Your Prayer

From a discourse on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop

In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. There is a hidden anguish which is inaudible to men.  Yet when a man’s heart is so taken up with some particular concern that the hurt inside finds vocal expression, one looks for the reason.  And one will say to oneself: perhaps this is what causes his anguish, or perhaps such and such has happened to him.  

                 But who can be certain of the cause except God, 
                        who hears and sees his anguish?  

Therefore the psalmist says: In the anguish of my heart I groaned aloud. For if men hear at all, they usually hear only bodily groaning and know nothing of the anguish of the heart from which it issues.

Who then knows the cause of man’s groaning? All my desire is before you.  No, it is not open before other men, for they cannot understand the heart; but before you is all my desire. 

If your desire lies open to Him who is your Father 
and Who sees in secret, He will answer you.

For the desire of your heart is itself your prayer.

And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer.  The Apostle Paul had a purpose in saying: Pray without ceasing.  Are we then ceaselessly to bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands?  Is this what is meant in saying: Pray without ceasing? Even if we admit that we pray in this fashion, I do not believe that we can do so all the time.

Yet there is another, interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. 

Whatever else you may be doing, 
if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, 
your prayer will be ceaseless.
Therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, 
do not cease to desire.

The constancy of your desire will itself be the ceaseless voice of your prayer.  And that voice of your prayer will be silent only when your love ceases.  For who is silent?  Those of whom it is said: Because evil has abounded, the love of many will grow cold.

St. Augustine of Hippo
The chilling of love means that the heart is silent; while burning love is the outcry of the heart.  

If your love is without ceasing, you are crying out always; if you always cry out, you are always desiring; and if you desire, you are calling to mind your eternal rest in the Lord.

And all my desire is before you. What if the desire of our heart is before him, but not our groaning?  But how is that possible since the groaning is the voice of our desire?  And therefore it is said: My groaning is not concealed from you. It may be concealed from men, but it is not concealed from you.  Sometimes God’s servant seems to be saying in his humility: My anguish is not concealed from you.  At other times he seems to be laughing.  Does that mean that the desire of his heart has died within him?  If the desire is there, then the groaning is there as well.  Even if men fail to hear it, it never ceases to sound in the hearing of God.

“We are Christ’s pilgrim people, 
journeying until we reach our homeland, 
singing on the way as we eagerly 
expect the fulfillment of our hope. 
For if one hopes, even though his tongue is still, 
he is singing always in his heart.

But the man who has no hope, 
no matter what clamors and shouts 
he makes to be heard by men, 
is speechless in the presence of God.”

God's pilgrim on the journey

Excerpt from the Liturgy of the Hours Friday, 3rd Week of Advent

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Five Fatima Prayers

Angel of Fatima
The two prayers taught by the Angel:

My God, I believe, I adore, I hope in and I love You. I ask pardon for all those who do not believe in You, do not hope in You, do not love You.

Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the same Son Jesus Christ, present in the Tabernacles of the world, in reparation for all the sacrileges, outrages and indifferences by which He Himself is offended.  And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, O beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.

Our Lady of Fatima
The three prayers taught 

by Our Lady:

O Most Holy Trinity, I adore Thee; my God, I love Thee in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

O my Jesus, forgive our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need.

O my Jesus, it is for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer this sacrifice to Thee.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Lights at Christmas

Jesus Christ the Light of the World

Christmas is known as the "feast of light", 
as Jesus, the Light of the World, 
the Rising Dawn, the Light 
to be revealed to the Nations (Luke 2, 32), is born.

Those of the Jewish faith annually celebrate in December the anniversary of the Re-dedication of the Temple as a "feast of lights" (Hanukkah). Christians have made the Nativity their feast of lights in honor of Him who was born as a Light to illuminate the nations (Luke 2, 32).

In medieval times it was customary to represent Christ the Lord by a burning candle. This custom is still preserved in the liturgy of the Church, as for instance, the Easter candle, the last candle at the Tenebrae services of Holy Week. At Christmas, a large candle symbolizing the Lord used to be set up in the homes of the faithful on the eve of the Feast. It was placed in the center of a laurel wreath and kept burning through the Holy Night, and was lit, thereafter, every night during the holy season.

The custom of the Christmas candle is still kept in its original form in some countries. In Ireland, the mother or the father of the household lights a holly-bedecked large candle on Christmas eve while the entire family prays for all its dear ones, both living and departed. Among the Slavic nations (Poles, Ukrainians, Russians) the large Christmas candle is put on the table after it has been blessed by the priest in church. The Ukrainians do not use candlesticks but stick the candle in a loaf of bread.

In many sections of South America the candle is placed in a paper lantern with Christmas symbols and pictures of the Nativity decorating its sides. In England and France the Christmas light often consisted of three individual candles molded together at the base, in honor of the holy Trinity. 

In Germany the Christmas candle used to be placed on top of a wooden pole decorated with evergreens (Lichtstock), or sometimes many smaller candles were distributed on the shelves of a wooden structure made in the form of a pyramid, adorned with fir twigs or laurel, draped with glittering tinsel (Weihnachtspyramide). (During the seventeenth and eighteenth century this pyramid was replaced by our Christmas tree.)

In addition to the main candle, it later became a custom to set up other smaller candles all through the house in honor of the Feast:

Then be ye glad, good people,
This night of all the year,
And light ye up your candles:
His Star is shining near.

Candle in the window
The customs of placing lighted candles in the windows at Christmas was brought to America by the Irish. The historical background of this custom is interesting. When religion was suppressed through Ireland during the English persecution, the people had no churches. Priests hid in forests and caves and secretly visited the farms and homes to say Mass there during the night. It was the dearest wish of every Irish family that at least once in their lifetimes a priest would arrive at Christmas to celebrate the Divine sacrifice during Holy Night. For this grace they hoped and prayed all through the year. When Christmas came, they left their doors unlocked and placed burning candles in the windows so that any priest who happened to be in the vicinity could be welcomed and guided to their home through the dark night. Silently he entered through the unlatched door and was received by the devout with fervent prayers of gratitude and tears of happiness that their home was to become a church during Holy Night.

To justify this practice in the eyes of the English soldiers, the Irish people used to explain: "We burn the candles and keep the doors unlocked, that Mary and Joseph, looking for a place to stay, will find their way to our home and be welcomed with open doors and open hearts." The English authorities, finding this Irish "superstition" harmless, did not bother to suppress it. The candles in the windows have always remained a cherished practice of the Irish, although many of them have long since forgotten the earlier significance. The custom was brought to this country in the early nineteenth century and spread throughout the land, so much so that in recent years electric candles and lights of all kinds are used in homes and in public squares during the Christmas season. Business districts as well as suburban streets spend much time and money to make their decorations gay and bright with lights.

Feast of Lights Switzerland
An inspiring and colorful sight are the Christmas fires burned on the peaks of the Alps in Central Europe. Like flaming stars they hang in the dark heavens during Holy Night, burning brightly and silently, as the farmers from around the mountain-sides walk through the winter night down into the valley for midnight Mass. Each person carries a lantern, swinging it to and fro; the night seems alive with hundreds of glow-worms converging toward the great light at the foot of the mountain — the parish church — shining and sparkling, a "Feast of Lights," indeed. No one who has witnessed this scene on Christmas Eve in Austria, Bavaria, or Switzerland will ever forget it.

A seasonable Christmas in England and Northern Europe is a cold one. In past centuries it was even colder than it is now because the "old Christmas" — before Pope Gregory XIII corrected the Julian calendar in the sixteenth century — came eleven days later, on January fifth of the present calendar.

At a time when coal and other modern heating fuels were unknown, the firewood to be burned during Holy Night and on Christmas assumed special significance. A huge log was selected and brought to the house with great ceremony in preparation for the ceremony. It was called the "Christmas log" or "Yule log," as Herrick sings:

Yule Log

Come, bring with a noise,
My merrie, merrie boyes,
The Christmas Log to the firing. . . .

In some places the Yule log was the whole trunk of a tree, carefully selected on the preceding feast of Candlemas and stored away to dry out during the summer. Many popular customs and ceremonies were connected with the Christmas log. The unburnt parts, for instance, were put aside and preserved because the new log of next year had to be kindled with wood from the old one. The main purpose of the log, however, was to blaze and burn on the open hearth during Holy Night and on Christmas day.

In spite of modern heating today the Yule log has survived in many homes in England and America as an old and cherished Christmas tradition, though actually it originated among the Germanic tribes as a pagan celebration for the Yule-god Thor at the time of the solstice.

Activity Source: Christmas Book, The by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, 1952
Taken from website Catholic Culture

St. Francis and the First Nativity Scene

St. Francis and the Christmas Creche

by Fr. William Saunders

What is the origin of the Nativity Scene (creche)?

The story of the origin of the Christmas creche rests with the very holy man, St. Francis of Assisi.

In the year 1223, St. Francis, a deacon, was visiting the town of Grecio to celebrate Christmas. Grecio was a small town built on a mountainside overlooking a beautiful valley. The people had cultivated the fertile area with vineyards. 

St. Francis realized that the chapel of the Franciscan hermitage would be too small to hold the congregation for Midnight Mass. So he found a niche in the rock near the town square and set up the altar. However, this Midnight Mass would be very special, unlike any other Midnight Mass.

St. Bonaventure (d. 1274) in his Life of St. Francis of Assisi tells the story the best:

It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Grecio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. 

Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. 

The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. 

Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem. 

A certain valiant and veracious soldier, Master John of Grecio, who, for the love of Christ, had left the warfare of this world, and become a dear friend of this holy man, affirmed that he beheld an Infant marvellously beautiful, sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awake Him from sleep. 

This vision of the devout soldier is credible, not only by reason of the sanctity of him that saw it, but by reason of the miracles which afterwards confirmed its truth. For example of Francis, if it be considered by the world, is doubtless sufficient to excite all hearts which are negligent in the faith of Christ; and the hay of that manger, being preserved by the people, miraculously cured all diseases of cattle, and many other pestilences; God thus in all things glorifying his servant, and witnessing to the great efficacy of his holy prayers by manifest prodigies and miracles.

Although the story is long old, the message is clear for us. Our own Nativity scenes which rest under our Christmas trees are a visible reminder of that night when our Savior was born. 

May we never forget 
to see in our hearts 
the little Babe of Bethlehem, 
who came to save us 
from sin. 

We must never forget that 
the wood of the manger 
that held Him so securely 

would one day give way to the wood of the cross. 

May we too embrace Him with all of our love 
as did St. Francis. 

The Christmas Tree - A Catholic Tradition

St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree

By Steve Weidenkopf (excerpts from article)

St. Boniface (680–754), known in Church history as the Apostle to the Germans. Boniface is regarded as “probably the greatest missionary since St. Paul” for his extensive travels and successful evangelization efforts in modern-day Germany] While he is well known as a great bishop and evangelizer, Catholic legend, based on actual historical events, also holds that Boniface is the founder of the use of a Christmas tree to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

. . . Boniface spent the rest of his life evangelizing the areas of modern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. He also became a friend of the Frankish court and helped reform and reorganized the Church in that area. From his missionary travels, Boniface knew that in winter the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Thunder Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor. This annual event of worship centered on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar.
St. Boniface chopping down the Thunder Oak of Thor

His fellow missionaries were scared and fearful that the Germans might kill them, so they balked when they reached the outskirts of the village on Christmas Eve. Boniface steadied the nerves of his friends and as they approached the pagan gathering he said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.”

Boniface and his friends arrived at the time of the sacrifice, which was interrupted by their presence. In a show of great trust in God and born from a desire to enkindle the fire of Christ in the German pagans, Boniface grabbed an axe and chopped down the Thunder Oak of mighty Thor.

The Germans were astounded. The holy bishop preached the Gospel to the people and used a little fir tree that was behind the now felled oak tree as a tool of evangelization. Pointing to it he said,

“This little tree, 
a young child of the forest, 
shall be your holy tree tonight. 
It is the wood of peace…
It is the sign of an endless life, 
for its leaves are ever green. 

See how it points upward to heaven. 

Let this be called 
the tree of the Christ-child; 
gather about it, not in the wild wood, 
but in your own homes
there it will shelter no deeds of blood,
but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”

Awed by the destruction of the oak tree and Boniface’s preaching, the Germans were baptized.

The holy bishop Boniface can call himself father of all the inhabitants of Germany, for it was he who first brought them forth in Christ with the words of his holy preaching; he strengthened them with his example; and lastly, he gave his life for them; no greater love than this can be shown.”

In the centuries that followed, the Catholic tradition of using an evergreen tree to celebrate the birth of Jesus spread throughout Germany, and German immigrants in the eighteenth century brought the custom to the New World. 

Although there are many stories, legends, and myths surrounding the founding of the Christmas tree, including the claim that the custom originated with Martin Luther, there is only one story rooted in a real person and a real event: Boniface, converter of the Germans, who destroyed Thor's mighty oak.

Excerpts from St. Boniface and the Christmas Tree By Steve Weidenkopf

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Advent - Keep Awake, Awaiting His Coming

Second Coming of Christ

Keep watch, He is to come again

From a commentary on the Diatessaron by Saint Ephrem, deacon

To prevent His disciples from asking the time of his coming, Christ said: About the hour no one knows, neither the angels nor the Son. It is not for you to know times or moments.  He has kept those things hidden so that we may keep watch, each of us thinking that he will come in his own day.  

If He had revealed the time of His coming, 
His coming would have lost its savor: 

it would no longer be an object of yearning 
for the nations and the age in which it will be revealed.
He promised that He would come but did not say when 
He would come, and so all generations 
and ages await Him eagerly.

Though the Lord has established the signs of His coming, the time of their fulfillment has not been plainly revealed.  These signs have come and gone with a multiplicity of change; more than that, they are still present.  His final coming is like His first.  As holy men and  prophets waited for Him, thinking that He would reveal Himself in their own day, so today each of the faithful longs to welcome Him in His own day, because Christ has not made plain the day of His coming.

He has not made it plain for this reason especially, that no one may think that He whose power and dominion rule all numbers and times is ruled by fate and time.  He described the signs of His coming; how could what He has Himself decided be hidden from Him?  Therefore, He used these words to increase respect for the signs of this coming, so that from that day forward all generations and ages might think that He would come again in their own day.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon and
Doctor of the Church (309-373).
Keep watch; when the body is asleep nature takes control of us, and what is done is not done by our will but by force, by the impulse of nature.  When deep listlessness takes possession of the soul, for example, faintheartedness or melancholy, the enemy overpowers it and makes it do what it does not will.  The force of nature, the enemy of the soul, is in control.

When the Lord commanded us to be vigilant, He meant vigilance in both parts of man: in the body, against the tendency to sleep, in the soul, against lethargy and timidity.  

As Scripture says: Wake up, you just, and I have risen, and am still with you; and again, Do not lose heart. Therefore, having this ministry we do not lose heart.