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Advent Has a Long History

Who Established Advent?

Q: Can you tell me who established the liturgical season of Advent and when it was done?


A: Thomas J. Talley in The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Pueblo Publishing Company) sees the beginning of an advent season in the Fourth Canon of the Council of Saragosa in 380. In 567, the Synod of Tours established a December fast. And in 581 the Council of Macon ordered an advent fast for the laity from the Feast of St. Martin (November 11) to Christmas. This took the name of St. Martin's Lent.

In the seventh and eighth centuries, lectionaries (books containing the scriptural readings for the Liturgy of the Word) provided for six Sundays in Advent.

According to the Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, edited by Richard P. McBrien, Gregory the Great, who died in 604, was the real architect of the Roman Advent. Gregory fixed the season at four weeks and composed seasonal prayers and antiphons. Gaul (France) enriched the season with eschatological elements. And the fusion of the Roman and Gallican observances returned to Rome by the 12th century.

Did Jesus Despair on the Cross?

Q: When Jesus was dying on the cross, did he despair when he said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"


A: Your question has been asked by many others, which may be why Raymond Brown devoted 15 pages to this cry in Volume Two of The Death of the Messiah.

Did Jesus feel abandoned and forsaken? It seems obvious he did. He was abandoned by his disciples, mocked by passersby and endured great physical pain.

But did he despair? Lose hope? Think himself lost to God?

Simply put, no. His words are words of prayer, taken from Psalm 22 which ends on a magnificent tone of hope. And one who prays has not lost hope. Brown states that calling God, "My God," implies trust. And the centurion confesses Jesus to be Son of God. Despair would not have prompted that reaction.

Further, on theological grounds, we know Jesus was without sin so he could not have been guilty of the sin of despair.

Did Mary Attend Mass?

Q: After Jesus' resurrection and ascension, did the apostles celebrate Mass and distribute holy Communion? Would Mary have attended Mass and received holy Communion? Would Mary have continued going to the Jewish Temple?

A: Early in the Acts of the Apostles (2:42) we read, "They [the Jerusalem Community] devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers."

Further, in 1 Corinthians 11:20-33, Paul speaks not only of the institution of the Eucharist but also of the faults of those at Corinth in celebrating the Eucharist. It is thus clear that the Church of the apostles celebrated the Eucharist. Scripture doesn't tell us whether Mary received Communion. I would expect, however, that Mary was among those present for the breaking of the bread (Mass).

It also seems evident from Acts that the early Jewish Christians continued to go to the Temple for prayer (Acts 3:1, Acts 5:20). I would expect that Mary, too, would go to the Temple.

What to Do When the Chalice Is Spilled

Q: Please advise the proper procedure for treating the altar linen when blessed wine has been spilled on it during Mass. My understanding has been that it is supposed to be rinsed out in the special sink in the sacristy before it can be taken home for soaking and washing. What is special about that sink that it can be used for that purpose without disrespect to the Body and Blood of Christ? We are told that we are "nit-picking" on this issue but believe that the wine does not cease to be the Body and Blood of Christ simply because Mass has ended. I can find nothing in the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the subject.

A: That "special sink" you mention is called a sacrarium. It is special because it drains directly into the soil underneath the church rather than into a common drain.

Number 239 of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (in front of the Sacramentary) states, "If any of the precious blood spills, the area should be washed and the water poured into the sacrarium." So, too, should the purificators used to cleanse chalices, patens and ciboria be washed in the sacrarium and the water drained into the earth.

If there should be no sacrarium, water from these washings may be poured on clean earth in the garden where it will not be stepped on. After the first washing these cloths may be allowed to dry and then washed in a normal way.

For more about what to do in the case of accidents with the eucharistic elements, see the Appendix in Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite, by Msgr. Peter J. Elliot (Ignatius Press).

Where Do Cremation Ashes Go?

Q: Please give me information on cremation. In particular, is it proper to bring the urn with the ashes to church for the Mass? If so, where should it be placed? Please let me know any other information regarding cremation. Thank you and God bless your ministry to us.

A: The Order of Christian Funerals, Appendix 2 on cremation (Catholic Book Publishing Company), makes it clear the Church still prefers burial of the deceased's body. When cremation takes place, the cremated remains should be treated with respect always and in all their handling and during any ceremonies.

When a choice has been made for cremation, it is recommended that the cremation take place after the funeral liturgy.

When cremation and committal take place before the funeral liturgy, with the approval of the diocesan bishop, the liturgy may be celebrated with the ashes present.

Number 427 says in this case: "The cremated remains of the body are to be placed in a worthy vessel (urn). A small table or stand is to be prepared for them at the place normally occupied by the coffin. The vessel containing the cremated remains may be carried to its place in the entrance procession or may be placed on this table or stand sometime before the liturgy begins."

For more details and particulars, see the 16-page appendix on the rites and ceremonies available from Catholic Book Publishing Company and Catholic bookstores (for example, St. Francis Bookshop, 1618 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45210). You can also obtain a copy of our Catholic Update C1097, "Cremation: New Options for Catholics," by Fran Helner, for $1.00 and a self-addressed stamped envelope, by writing St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1615 Republic Street, Cincinnati, OH 45210 or online by clicking on the title earlier in this sentence.

Finally, the remains should be buried in a grave or put in a mausoleum or columbarium—not kept in a home, or scattered on the ground somewhere or on a body of water.

Changing Texts and Rubrics

Q: Should the celebrant be telling everyone to sit down while the Gospel is being read, and should the Lectionary be used or can the celebrant proclaim the Gospel from memory? Some people would like to know what you think.

A: If you live in a nursing home, I can understand the celebrant might tell all to sit or remain sitting. However, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal #24, in the front of the Sacramentary (the Mass book), calls upon all to stand for the reading of the Gospel.

Concerning the proclamation of the Gospel from memory, I put your question to Father Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., who teaches liturgy at St. Meinrad Seminary. He responded:

"I know of no official (magisterium) statements about this; I consulted other colleagues and they too know of no statements. The practice is not sufficiently widespread to bring about any official comment. The opinion of liturgists, professors of homiletics and professors of communication arts is mixed.

"Against the practice are those who say that it is a reading, and should be read. They say there must be a connection between the reader and the written text, the Lectionary.

"Supporting the practice (I would be in this group) are those who say that the main thing for the practice is the overwhelmingly favorable reaction of the people. People put down their books and look at you. They say afterward that they never heard the Gospel with such clarity before, etc. The time it takes to memorize the text causes the preacher to live with the word in such a way that it greatly improves the proclamation of the Gospel with meaning and conviction, and the homily is more likely to grow out of the sense of the text.

"The more important issues are not the reading vs. reciting on the part of the priest, bishop or deacon but rather reading vs. listening on the part of the congregation. Faith comes by hearing, not by reading, Scripture says."

A recent newsletter from the U.S. bishops' liturgy committee states, "Just as the Church is obliged to faithfully proclaim the Bible as it has been passed on, the reader is obliged to faithfully proclaim the biblical text exactly as it appears in the Lectionary for Mass."

The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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