This Ascension Thursday was the first time I witnessed the extinguishing of the Paschal Candle. The lighting of the Paschal Candle is part of one of my favourite liturgical moments of the year (if not the favourite) – the Exultet. I have a post saved on the topic of the Exultet for another time; at the moment I want to reflect a bit on the meaning of the extinguishing of the Paschal Candle.
The Paschal Candle’s presence in the novus ordo is virtually perennial; not so in the vetus ordo. The Paschal Candle symbolizes the resurrected and glorified Christ. In the vetus ordo the candle is present since the Paschal Vigil, remaining lit in the sanctuary for 40 days, symbolizing the 40 days the resurrected Christ spent still among His disciples. On the 40th day, on the day of the Ascension, the Paschal Candle is extinguished, symbolizing Our Lord’s bodily Ascension. The Candle will only be relit for the Vigil of Pentecost (in the case of the pre-’55 rite), when the Mass parallels the Paschal Vigil.
Here is the genius of the Liturgy handed down to us. Here is a reminder that the Son has ascended to the Father; that we have spent these past 40 days in His company with His disciples, that we will no longer see His resurrected and glorified body with our eyes, but will require the eyes of Faith to see Him present in the Eucharist. We must remember that when the Sacred Mysteries are celebrated, we are outside chronos – outside chronological time – and inside kairos – sacred time, God’s time – and that we are re-living the events we celebrate (hence why the liturgical texts always refer to the present; the Hanc igitur of Pascha refers to the resurrection this day; the Ascension’s texts as well ).
Are we aware of the meaning of these symbols and their meanings, or do we just go through the motions?
Today my thoughts have settled on the details surrounding a confession I made nearly 3 years ago. What I’d like to write about today is the externals of it and the way they made an impression upon me.
Flashback to our daughter’s baptism. While the church was being prepared for the celebration of the Holy Mysteries, my wife and I decided that it might be a good idea to go to Confession before. The confessionals of the old village church serving as storage, we left the location up to the priest. He chose in front of the altar. Thinking back now, I wonder if the decision was a coincidence, or if it was deliberate as he is bi-ritual (he celebrated at the Russicum for a number of years). I mention this last aspect because I am aware that Byzantines (at least) have the habit of confessing before the iconostasis; I have also read in Dr. Hull’s book, The Banished Heart, that it was a medieval custom in the West to confess before the altar as well.
As I kneeled before him and he gave me absolution, he extended his hands (as is usual for the priest to do), but extended them so as to place them upon my head.
These two details – kneeling before the altar and the placing on of hands – were what impressed upon me the most.
What are these actions telling us visually? What does confession in a confessional tell us visually? Now, the following is just my reflection on the matter, and might very well be wrong, but still I would like to share it (if only for someone to correct me if I am wrong).
While I’ve never been against the confessional, if I were asked what it says to me visually, I would say that Confession within the confessional sends a message of it being a matter just between yourself and the priest; there doesn’t seem to be anything visual to connect it to the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
With Confession before the altar, however, one sees the altar, where Christ becomes present in His adorable Body and Blood. Why am I confessing here? What does it mean? After all, isn’t Confession about my personal sins and being reconciled to the Church? And yet, what does it mean to be reconciled to the Church but to be in communion with her? And the visible sign of that communion is the Holy Eucharist. Reconciling before the altar, besides being a visual reminder of restituting communion with the Mystical Body of Christ, is also a reminder that having been reconciled one is now able to participate in the Liturgy, to exercise one’s priestly vocation as a baptized Christian. One is also now, in a sense, able to offer himself up on that same altar, to be taken up with the offerings up bread and wine and to be transformed into Christ.
The laying on of hands in the Christian tradition has several meanings. Among them are those of healing and blessing, which are intimately connected. We see in the Gospels Christ impart blessings and healing by placing His “holy and venerable hands” upon people; in the book of Acts the Apostles continue this. When the priest laid his hands upon my head – when I felt those hands press upon it – and said the words of absolution, the thoughts that came to my mind were not of a legalistic “wiping-my-record-clean” bent; rather, they were of healing. This is truly a sacrament, of restoring justice, yes, but also of healing; of curing a diseased and moribund member of the Body and bringing it back to Life. It is not either/or, but both/and.
Our wedding anniversary is fast approaching and, as several friends’ marriages colapse and crumble, the meaning of Matrimony is something that is presently on my mind.
I proposed to my wife one year after we started dating. Before I met her, the married life was the farthest thing from my mind, but then the Lord has a way of pointing out the path when you continuously hit your head against the same wall. In a way, I was important in re-introducing her back to the Church, while she was pivotal in my becoming more “vocal” about my faith.
Our preparations hit a major obstacle which postponed our wedding 6 months. Not desiring to go into details, it should suffice to say that we had to run the metaphorical gauntlet because of the rite we desired. Over these 6 months I would frequently tell my (hopefully) wife-to-be that we would either come through this trial together, strengthened in our faith, or “we” would not come through it at all. The experience was not something I would wish on anybody getting ready to marry, but the Lord came through in the end (as He did in so many other ways for our wedding), and all that we suffered because of it – both before and after – helped to deepen the bond between us and to grow in faith and trust in Providence.
While other liturgical matrimonial rites (I am thinking of, for example, the Mozarabic and Byzantine) are rich in symbolism, the Roman rite is rather restrained. And yet there is one very subtle detail about the vetus ordo matrimonial rite which, as rich as it is, may easily go unnoticed by the aliturgical eye. I am speaking of the bride and groom entering the sanctuary. This might not seem a big deal, but those familiar with the vetus ordo will know that laity are not allowed within the sanctuary. The only occasion that a layman might enter, apart from ordination, would be on their wedding day. What is the big deal about such an insignificant detail, you might ask. We must remember that, liturgically, the sanctuary represents the sancta sanctorum, the Holy of Holies. When the couple enters into the sanctuary, where the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice, to exchange vows, what are they doing? It is not a mere blessing that they are receiving up there (though there is a blessing in the Mass that follows). No, they are taking their eros – their natural love – and offering it to God, that He may take it and transform it into a supernatural love. The couple exchange their vows – they sacrifice themselves for one another, so to speak – before the altar, so that the Lord might take it up and reveal its true meaning. When they come back from the sanctuary, they are not merely “husband and wife”. They are now an icon of Chirst and the Church. Just as Christ offers up his body for the Church at the altar, so too does the couple offer eachother themselves.
When people ask me what marriage is about I tend to reply: “martyrdom”. It always elicts surprise and shock. And while I might say it for the shock effect, (hopefully) the person asking will then ask what I mean by such a cryptic answer.
In my language, we can refer to our spouse as “conjuge”; the English language has “conjugal” as an adjective that relates to the married state. Why do I bring this up? Because of the etymology of the word. These words derive from the Latin conjungere – to be joined. A litteral translation would be “co-yoked”. The married couple is now “co-yoked”. They have both put on that same easy yoke which is the Cross. The couple’s life in common is now supposed to be an image of Christ and the Church. They must give witness – martys – of this reality in their everyday life. And everyday married life, especially after children come along, provides abundant occasions for mortification.
While there are plently of natural reasons for why Matrimony is indissoluble and must be open to life, I prefer to take a different approach to the matter, which I think is a valid approach.
If the couple now represents Christ and the Church, then it necessarily follows that their union must be indissoluble, for the Church is born of Christ’s side, just as Eve was of Adam’s, and Christ is ever-faithful to the flesh of His flesh. As for openness to life, just as the Church is generous in generating spiritual children, bringing them forth from her womb which is the baptismal font, so the couple must be generous.
Why this approach? I think part of our current crisis of faith is the inability to look at things liturgically. We do not see our lives as liturgy.
Is this just fanciful thinking? I think not.
As we prepared for that blessed day, the ill-reputed Ephesians pericope became the lense through which we were to see and understand the sacrament we were to “confect”, so much so that we had inscribed in the interior of our wedding bands “Ephesians 5”. I think it is worth recalling the pericope in question:
Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it: That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church: Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church.
It is from here that we get the understanding of Matrimony as icon. Hearing subjection refered to in the above-mentioned pericope might make some cringe and think it out-dated, but that would only be in the case of a faulty reading. One reads “women be subject to their husbands” and stops right there; one does not see the context in which it is said. Because we have a fallen understanding of subjection, we see it as a question of dominance, of power, of injustice. Yet if we don’t stop there, if we continue the reading we will see that the Church is subject to Christ as well. Does Christ “lord it over” the Church? Is the Church’s subjection to Him a humiliation, an injustice? Matrimony is about a mutual submission (and the Ephesian pericope’s greater context is just that – mutual subjection, though there may be heirarchical distinctions). Even in the Holy Rule we see that the Abbot must adapt himself to his monks for their salvation – is this not a form of subjection, even though they are subject to him? It is not, as certain would say, misogynistic, for even though both are helping the other in their sanctification, the greater burden seems to be placed on the husband. And if one reads the encyclicals on Matrimony (Arcanum and Casti Conubii, for example), the woman’s dignity and companionship is always stressed, as well as the husband’s responsibility to be as Christ.
We need to figure out how to apply this in our specific circumstances.
It surprises me that however often the subject of the Mandatum, the washing of feet, comes up, one rarely, if ever, hears mention of Matrimony to it. The washing of feet is rich in layers of meaning, especially depending on its context, so I don’t see why one cannot “adopt” it into the matrimonial context. When we finally got home on our wedding day it was something that came to my mind quite naturally. While it was done in silence, I think we both knew the meaning of what was being done in that context, especially given that part that Ephesians 5 plays in the understanding of our matrimonial vocation.
In closing, I would like to share this beautiful exhortation from the end of the Bragan rite’s Missa pro sponso et sponsa. At the end, the priest places the bride’s hand into the groom’s and says:
Frate, accipe conjugm tuam, et delige eam ut carnem tuam. Et trado tibi uxorem et non ancillam: tu autem custodi et dilige eam sicut Christus Ecclesiam: et ambulate in Pace. In nomine Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
Brother, receive your wife and love her as your own flesh. For I give you a spouse and not a slave: you, then, must guard and love her as Christ the Church. Go in peace.
This year March 25th was particularly interesting – the feast of the Annunciation coincided with Good Friday. For those of us on the Gregorian calendar this (literal) coincidence will not happen again until 2157! For more on the importance of this coincidence, I advise reading this interesting post.
Holy Pascha is a mere two weeks away – we’ve now entered Passiontide. The Liturgy continues its lenten “stripping”: just as we lost the joyous Gloria and Alleluia at the beginning of Septuagesima, now the Psalm prayed at the foot of the altar is gone as well. Suddenly, all images are veiled, even the cross (as a liturgical curiosity, the Bragan rite prescribes that all images and sanctuary be veiled throughout the whole of Lent – with certain exceptions – as was the original custom)! It is as if the Liturgy wishes to tell us “the Passion is coming; forget now the glories of the Church, look not on the wonders of her saints. No, this is Lent. You, the exules filii Evae, have been cast out of Eden. The Bridegroom must undergo His Passion before the gates of Eden can be openned to you again. Look at this temple where you worship, where all is hidden – it is as Eden – you cannot see its wonders, its majesty. All is focusing your attention on the Passion. Once the Bridegroom consumates His love, then you will see Eden again in all its splendour, then your temples will once again we filled with light and beauty and joyous song.” It is only the second year that I am attending Holy Mass with veiled images during Passiontide, and it does make quite an impact on me. No ammount of having previously read about it can actually give you the experience except for experiencing the thing itself (just as no ammount of reading about a solemn Mass or a vetus ordo Baptism could impress on me as much as actually participating in them). Words cannot describe enough how much I love the Prefaces (especially when they are sung), those condensed doxological “introductions” at the beginning of the Canon. Passiontide gives us this wonderful gem [Preface of the Holy Cross]:
It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation, that we should in all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God. Who didst set the salvation of mankind upon the tree of the Cross, so that whence came death, thence also life might rise again, and that he who overcame by the tree might also be overcome on the tree; through Christ our Lord. Through whom the angels praise Thy majesty, the dominations adore, the powers are in awe, the virtues of highest heaven and the blessed seraphim unite in blissful exultation. With them we praise Thee; grant that our voices too may blend, saying in adoring praise:
If there was one verse that stuck with me from today’s Gospel, it was this – “And you do not know Him, but I know Him“. While there is much to be said about not (fully) knowing God while still in this life, struggling within the Church, this verse brought to my mind memories of where I was spiritually a little over 9 years ago. While the Lord was leading me back to His Mystical Body, little did I know that I was on that path (even less did I know that I had my own passion to undergo before the “final” reconciliation with the Church). I thought I knew God – or better – I thought I knew god (or even that he did not exist). What confusion within, what a mix of ideas, what turmoil; like a boat buffeted by waves in a storm, I was without direction seeking here and there a safe harbour, denying that a harbour existed, doubting that it might exist… I did not know that the Church was a sacrament of Christ, that it was His sacramental presence in this world, nor that He and the Father were one. No, I hated the Church. Perhaps hate is too strong a word – I despised it. And yet, after I returned I discovered that I had never really despised the Church at all; rather I despised my idea of the Church, the caricature of it which I believed to be an accurate representation. How could I ever hate that which I had ever hoped for, which promised even more than I could ever hope for?
And yet this is quite common. I am constantly encountering people who tell me they hate the Church, hate what it represents, and so on and so forth, and yet when it comes down to it, what they hate is a spectre. What they hate simply does not exist. How one comes about such caricatures all depends on one’s personal experience I suppose, but to learn what the Church really is, to want to know Her and love Her as mother, one has to be willing to walk down the via cruxis; one has to respond to the grace for it. Sin keeps us from seeing it as it really is – sin veils our eyes.
This penultimate verse of the Vexilla Regis is my prayer for everyone I know this Passiontide, especially those who have recanted their faith:
Hail Cross, of hopes the most sublime!
Now, in the mournful Passion time;
grant to the just increase of grace,
and every sinner’s crimes efface.
Before taking up for a second time our suggested Lenten reading I thought it might profit us by reading Melito of Sardis’ Peri Pascha (On the Pascha). I had heard about it many years ago, never having gotten around to reading it until now.
Reading this work has reminded me of why I fell in love with the Fathers of the Church when I discovered them all those years ago. The Fathers introduced me to Typology, which helped me to understand the relationship between Old and New Covenants. In the OT one finds types – “models”/prefigurements – of antetypes – realities/full embodiments – in the NT. The Deluge is understood as prefiguring Baptism; the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, the descent of the Holy Spirit in the Cenacle; Isaac, Jesus; the Tree in Eden, the Cross;… Is this approach a proper one to the Scriptures? Is it reading into the text what isn’t actually there? This was how the early Church read the Scriptures. St. Paul interprets them this way. Even Our Lord uses it Himself when He speaks of the sign of Jonah – the three days in the belly of the fish prefiguring the three days He would spend in the “belly of the earth”, the tomb.
The Scriptures suddenly came alive to me, and I relished in finding these types and antetypes. I questioned why had I only been taught the historical-critical approach to the Scriptures? When used properly it is a very helpful tool, but the way I was taught it was dry and only led to putting them into question.
The Fathers showed me that Christianity was so much more than just an ethical philosophy among so many others; that there was a transcendent dimension to it, and that their typological approach was complimented by the Liturgy, with its elaborate rites and symbols.
Opting to read the Peri Pascha outloud was one of the best things we could have done. The words read aloud came alive in a way that they could not if read silently. Coincidentally, the day after we finished the final reading father prior had this to say on his blog, while on the topic of a quote from St. Ambrose:
I have always said that the best school of homiletics is reading the Fathers, and reading them aloud. A mere visual reading dulls the effect of their rhetorical artistry with its brilliant alliterations, repetitions, and plays on words. One must hear the Fathers. This is the whole point of reading the Fathers at Matins every day.
On the Pascha presents us with the Christian interpretation of the Exodus story. It tells us of types and antetypes, of how the new supersedes the old:
Without the model, no work of art arises. Is not that which is to come into existence seen through the model which typifies it? For this reason a pattern of that which is to be is made either out of wax, or out of clay, or out of wood, in order that by the smallness of the model, destined to be destroyed, might be seen that thing which is to arise from it–higher than it in size, and mightier than it in power, and more beautiful than it in appearance, and more elaborate than it in ornamentation.
It goes all the way back to Adam, and how through him man became captive to death. Then, the Lord’s passion is foretold throughout the OT:
Accordingly, if you desire to see the mystery of the Lord, pay close attention to Abel who likewise was put to death, to Isaac who likewise was bound hand and foot, to Joseph who likewise was sold, to Moses who likewise was exposed, to David who likewise was hunted down, to the prophets who likewise suffered because they were the Lord’s anointed.
Christ is seen as the fulfillment of the paschal lamb:
This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.
As we reached the end, there are a series of reproaches (of which I cite just a few) which brought to my mind both the Improperia and Simeron Kremata liturgical chants:
Why, O Israel did you do this strange injustice? You dishonored the one who had honored you. You held in contempt the one who held you in esteem. You denied the one who publicly acknowledged you. You renounced the one who proclaimed you his own. You killed the one who made you to live. Why did you do this, O Israel?
For you brought to him scourges for his body, and the thorns for his head. And you bound those beautiful hands of his, which had formed you from the earth. And that beautiful mouth of his, which had nourished you with life, you filled with gall.
The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.
The text ends with a proclamation of Jesus’ victory, followed by what seems to be a form of the Creed (which I do not cite):
But he arose from the dead and mounted up to the heights of heaven. When the Lord had clothed himself with humanity, and had suffered for the sake of the sufferer, and had been bound for the sake of the imprisoned, and had been judged for the sake of the condemned, and buried for the sake of the one who was buried, he rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with me? Let him stand in opposition to me. I set the condemned man free; I gave the dead man life; I raised up the one who had been entombed.
Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.
Therefore, come, all families of men, you who have been befouled with sins, and receive forgiveness for your sins. I am your forgiveness, I am the passover of your salvation, I am the lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your light, I am your saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your king, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by my right hand.
Do you wish to regain a sense of mystery and wonder about the Christian faith this Lent? Do you want to deepen your understanding of what will take place during the Paschal Triduum? Do you want to learn how to see the Old in light of the New? Read this work with your family. Read it aloud; let the repetitions of the text impress upon your soul. (Re-)discover the Fathers.
After three Sundays of preparation Lent is finally here (or is it upon us? One is never quite certain with the usus antiquior; but then I kind of like the uncertainty). This is the second year that I have actually been able to participate in the older rite on Ash Wednesday and, while I am normally a Solemn Mass man, the silence of the Low Mass celebrated was not without its effects. We were spectators in this seemingly arcane rite which was being performed on our behalf; and yet we were participants in it as well, offering ourselves up with the Lamb who was immolated from eternity, praying that what was happening on that most holy altar would take place within us as well. The hushed voices of the priest and server all the way up in the apse, which floated down as gently as snow to us all the way back practically in the narthex, brought to my mind a series of thoughts that have lately just been floating around in my head on the subject of Lent.
This post will be very fragmented, with no apparent link between any of the parts, and I write it mostly just to order the thoughts in my head, so I ask whoever reads this (and perseveres until the end) to please bear with me.
What is all this “nonsense” of getting one’s forehead “sullied” with ash at the beginning of Lent? Biblically, ashes are generally a sign of mourning, of repentence (cf. 2 Sam 13:19; Jer 6:26; Job 2:8;42:6; Ez 27:30). There are several prayers used in the blessing of the ashes according to the usus antiquior; let us see what the Liturgy has to say:
[…] that they may be a wholesome remedy for all who humbly implore Your holy Name […];
[…] that all who are sprinkled with these ashes for the forgiveness of their sins, may receive health for their bodies and salvation for their souls [reminiscent of the sprinkling of the red heffer’s ashes?];
[…] are to be placed upon our heads as a sign of humility and a pledge of Your forgiveness […];
[…] by the ashes sprinkled upon the heads of Your servants mercifully pour forth upon them the grace of Your blessing, fill them with the spirit of repentance and truly grant what they ask for in the right way […]
While Latins are generally accused of having a legalistic outlook (and these prayers do use a bit of legal jargon), one finds in them constant mentions of a merciful God, who only desires that His children return to Him. The prayers found in the Bragan missal remind us as well of the First Adam’s transgression (All powerful eternal God, who declared to the first man transgressing your commandment, nor confessing his sin, that he was dust and to dust he shall return), and reinforce the idea of a loving Creator (All powerful God who hath mercy on all, and who hates nothing of those things which thou hast made). Adam’s lack of repentence merits the warning that he will return to the dust from which he was made; now, we put on dust [ashes] in sign of repentance so that we will not return to it.
So these ashes are sacramentals. They’re not merely an outward sign of our (supposed) interior state; they are conduits of grace to help us repent, and a “reminder” to God of His mercy.
We processed silently up the aisle to receive the ashes, and as we knelt it would not have been strange to me at all to hear the line from the Dies Irae:
Oro supplex et acclinis; cor contritum quasi cinis.
Low I kneel, with heart’s submission; see, like ashes, my contrition.
For a long time the readings on this day baffled me. “Rend your hearts, not your garments […]; […] when you do fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not be seen fasting by men […]”. “Isn’t it hypocritical to be walking around all day with ash on my forehead when the readings are against this kind of ostentatious behaviour?” I would ask others and they would have the same question; I never received a decent answer from any of the clergy or people in a position to teach. It took a long time to learn that these readings on this day were not paradoxal, nor that we were doing something apparently hypocritical. I had to learn how to read the Scriptures properly. I had to learn what these passages meant in their proper context as well as in the context of the Bible, as well as certain jewish rhetorical styles. The contradiction I perceived between the readings and our actions was only superficial; I had taken things at face value and not really bothered to go beyond the surface. These condemnations were not of what the Law prescribed, but rather of the spirit with which they were done. The exterior signs are necessary, but one should not use them as a source of pride; all must be for God. So much time to learn something so simple…
Later that evening at home we thought it apropriate to pray the Canon of Repentence to Our Lord Jesus Christ (a Byzantine prayer). It was the first time we ever prayed it, and the words struck deep, especially
O woe is me, a sinner! Wretched am I above all men. There is no repentance in me. Give me, O Lord, tears, that I may weep bitterly over my deeds.
We ended the day with a kind of Chapter of Faults/Rite of Forgiveness, in which we both asked for each other’s forgiveness and prayers.
And so began our Lenten journey. The silence of the Mass, as I said, made quite the impression on me, so much so that I’ve wondered if Silence is not to be the staple characteristic of this Lent.
The liturgical year has come full circle and we find ourselves immersed in Advent once again. I thought I would comment a bit on my experience of Advent; it is not my place here to give a profound explanation of what this liturgical season is (there are plenty of sites that have done it far better than I ever could); the aim is simply to share my personal experience.
I still recall the joy of my first Advent after returning to the Church. For the first time I would be celebrating Christmas properly – for the correct reasons – and I set about preparing clumsily for it. I guess you might describe it as the joy of a child awaiting Christmas day, anticipating all the presents they will receive. The short days, growing smaller all the while, seemed to impress upon me the idea of anticipation all the more, as if nature itself was “building up” to that climatic point. Going to midnight Mass for the first time (while not the most reverent of celebrations), the fire blazing outside in the cold night air, kissing the foot of the Infant at the end of Mass – all these things left quite an impression on me.