Catholic History

Season of Advent

THE period, of between three and four weeks, from Advent Sunday (which is always the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew) to Christmas eve, is named by the Church the season of Advent. During it she desires that her children should practice fasting, works, of penance, meditation, and prayer, in order to prepare themselves for celebrating worthily the coming (adventum) of the Son of God in the flesh, to promote his spiritual advent within their own souls, and to school themselves to look forward with hope and joy to his second advent, when he shall come again to judge mankind.

It is impossible to fix the precise time when the season of Advent began to be observed. A canon of a Council at Saragossa, in 380, forbade the faithful to absent themselves from the Church services during the three weeks from December 17th to the Epiphany;. this is perhaps the earliest trace on record of the observance of Advent. The singing of the "greater antiphons" at Vespers is commenced, according to the Roman ritual, on the very day specified by the Council of Saragossa; this can hardly be a mere coincidence. In the fifth century Advent seems to have been assimilated to Lent, and kept as a time of fasting and abstinence for forty days or even longer i.e. from Martinmas (Nov. 11) to Christmas eve. In the Sacramentary of Gregory the Great there are masses for five Sundays in Advent; but about the ninth century these were reduced to four, and so they have ever since remained. "We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of Advent as having lasted a thousand years at least as far as the Church of Rome is concerned."1

With regard to fasting and abstinence during Advent, the practice has always greatly varied, and still varies, in different parts of the Church. Strictness has been observed, after which came a period of relaxation, followed by a return to strictness. At the present time the Fridays in Advent are observed as fast days in most parts of the United States; but in France and other Continental countries the ancient discipline has long ago died out, except among religious communities.

There is a marvelous beauty in the offices and rites of the Church during this season. The lessons, generally taken from the prophecies of Isaias, remind us how the desire and expectation, not of Israel only, but of all nations, carried forward the thoughts of mankind, before the time of Jesus Christ, to a Redeemer one day to be revealed; they also strike the note of preparation, watchfulness, compunction, hope. In the Gospels we hear of the terrors of the last judgment, that second advent which those who despise the first will not escape, of the witness borne by John the Precursor, and of the mighty works by which the Savior's life supplied a solid foundation and justification for that witness. At Vespers, the seven greater antiphons, or anthems beginning on December 17, the first, of the seven greater Ferias preceding Christmas eve are a noteworthy feature of the liturgical year. They are called the O's of Advent, on account of the manner in which they commence; they are all addressed to Christ; and they are double that is, they are sung entire both before and after the Magnificat. Of the first, 0 Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, etc., a trace still remains in the words 0 Sapientia printed in the calendar of the Anglican Prayer Book opposite December 16 words which probably not one person in ten thousand using the Prayer Book understands. The purple hue of penance is the only color used in the services of Advent, except on the feasts of saints. In many other points Advent resembles Lent: during its continuance, in Masses de Tempore, the Gloria in excelsis is suppressed, the organ is silent, the deacon sings Benedicamus Domino at the end of Mass instead of Ite Missa est, and marriages are not solemnized. On the other hand, the Alleluia, the word of gladness, is only once or twice interrupted during Advent, and the organ finds its voice on the third Sunday; the Church, by these vestiges of joy, signifying that the assured expectation of a Redeemer whose birth she will soon celebrate fills her heart, and chequers the gloom of her mourning with these gleams of brightness. (Fleury, "Hist. Eccles." xvii. 57 ; Guéranger's "Liturgical Year.")

What Heresy is

HERESY (hairesis,. from haireisthai, to choose) is used in a later Greek. (e.g. by Sextus Empiricus) to denote a philosophical sector party. In the Acts of the Apostles (e.g. v. 17, xv. 5) it is applied to the parties of Sadducees and Pharisees, who were divided from each other in religious and political views. But in the New Testament we also find the word employed in a distinctly bad sense. In I Cor. xi. 18, it indicates an aggravated form of division (dichostasia) among Christians _ i.e. of division grown into distinct and organized party. We find St. Paul (Gal. v. 19), placing "heresies" on the same level with the most heinous sins, and St. Peter (2 Ep. ii. I speaks of false teachers among Christians, who will bring in "heresies [or sects] of perdition." St. Ignatius in his epistles also uses the word as a term of bitter reproach, and Tertullian ("Præscript." 5 and 6) accurately draws out the meaning of the term. The name, he says, is given to those who of their own will choose false doctrine, either instituting sects themselves, or receiving the false doctrine of sects already founded. He adds that a heretic is condemned by the very fact of his choosing for himself, since a Christian has no such liberty of choice, but is bound to receive the doctrine which the Apostles received from Christ.

The nature of heresy is further explained by St. Thomas in the Summa," (2 2ndæ, qu. II). Heresy, according to St. Thomas, implies a profession of Christian belief, so that persons who have never been Christians, or who have utterly renounced Christianity, are infidels and apostates, but not heretics. The heretic, he says, is right in the end which he proposes or professes to propose to himself _ viz. the profession of Christian truth _ but he errs in his choice of the means he takes to secure this end, for he refuses to believe one or more of the articles of faith "determined by the authority of the universal Church." St. Thomas adds that this rejection of Catholic dogma must be deliberate and pertinacious, so that his teaching, which is that of all theologians, may be summed up in the following definition. Heresy is error pertinaciously held and manifestly repugnant to the faith, on the part of one who professes the faith of Christ. It is clear from this that such Protestants as are in good faith and sincerely desirous of knowing the truth are not heretics in the formal sense, inasmuch as they do not pertinaciously reject the Church's teaching, Their heresy is material only _ i.e. their tenets are in themselves heretical, but they are not formal heretics: i.e. they do not incur the guilt of heresy, and may belong to the soul of the Church.

Formal heresy is a most grievous sin, for it involves rebellion against God, who requires us to submit our understandings to the doctrine of his Church. This guilt, if externally manifested, is visited by the Church with the greater excommunication, absolution from which, except in the article of death, can only be given by the Pope, although the power of imparting it is communicated to bishops, under certain restrictions, in their quinquennial faculties, and to priests in missionary countries, such as England. Ecclesiastics who fall into heresy are liable to irregularity, perpetual deprivation of their offices and benefices, and to deposition and degradation. The sons of an heretical mother, the sons and grandsons of an heretical father, are incapable of entering the clerical state.2


EREMITA (from the Gr. erëmos, desert), a dweller in the desert. Anchorite (anachörëtës, one who has retired from the world) has the same meaning. On the life of St. Paul, the first hermit, who was born in the Thebaid about 230, and died in 342, after ninety years spent in solitude, see Alban Butler for Jan. 15, and the "Acta Sanctorum." Though the lives of the hermits are not proposed by the Church for the imitation of ordinary Christians, she holds them up for our admiration, as men who, committing themselves to the might of divine love, buoyed up by continual prayer, and chastened by lifelong penance, have vanquished the weakness and the yearning of nature, and found it possible to live for God alone. "They appear to some," says St. Augustine,3 "to have abandoned human things more than is right, but such do not understand how greatly their souls profit us in the way of prayer, and their lives in the way of example, though we are not allowed to see their faces in the flesh." St. Paul fled to the desert during the persecution of Decius, when he was twentytwo years old, and never afterwards left it. He was visited in his cell by St. Anthony shortly before he died (see his Life by St. Jerome). Experience soon proved that it was seldom safe for a man to essay the life of a solitary at the beginning of his religious career. The prudent plan was found to be, to spend some years in a monastery, in rigorous conformity to all the ascetical rules of the cænobitic life, and then, the spiritual strength being tested and the passions subdued, to pass on to the hermit's cell. Thus we read in Surius ("Vita Euthymii abbatis") of an abbot Gerasimus, who presided over a great monastery near the Jordan, round which there was a Laura consisting of seventy separate cells. Gerasimus kept everyone who came to him for some years in the monastery; then, if he thought him fit for solitary life, and the disciple himself aspired to it, he allowed him to occupy one of the cells, where he lived during five days in the week on bread and water, in perfect solitude, but on Saturday and Sunday rejoined his brethren in the monastery and fared as they did.

Among the more famous English hermits were Bartholomew of Farne, St. Godric of Finchale, and St. Wulfric of Haslebury; all these flourished in the twelfth century. St. Cuthbert lived an eremitical life on Farne Island for nine years, from 676 to 685. Hélyot, in his history of the monastic orders, mentions a Spanish order of Hermits of St. John of Penance, and two Italian orders, one called Coloriti, the other, of Monte Senario,


HIERARCHY (hierarches, a president of sacred rites, a hierarch; whence hierarchia, the power or office of a hierarch). The word first occurs in the work of the pseudo Dionysius (a Greek writer of the fifth century) on the Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchies. This author appears to mean by it "administration of sacred things," nearly in accordance with its etymology. The signification was gradually modified until it came to be what it is at present: a hierarchy now signifies a body of officials disposed organically in ranks and orders, each subordinate to the one above it. Thus we speak of the "Judicial hierarchy" and the "administrative hierarchy." However, when the hierarchy is spoken of, what is meant is, the organization of ranks and orders in the Christian Church. In a wide and loose sense, when the whole Catholic Church is considered as existing in the midst of heretics, schismatics, and the heathen, even the laity may be considered as forming a portion of the hierarchy. With this agrees the expression of St. Peter, calling the general body of Christians in the countries to which he is sending his epistle, "a kingly priesthood" and "a holy nation" (I Pet. ii. 9). St. Ignatius, writing to the Smyrnaeans,4 salutes "the bishop worthy of God, and the most religious presbytery, my fellowservants the deacons, and all of you individually and in common." So at the Mass, the priest, turning to the people, bids them pray that "his and their sacrifice" may be acceptable to God; and at the incensing before the Sanctus, the acolyte, after the rite has been performed to all the orders of the clergy within the sanctuary, turns towards and bows to the laity, and incenses them also. But according to its ordinary signification, the word "hierarchy" only applies to the clergy _ with varieties of meaning which must be clearly distinguished. 1. There is a hierarchy of divine right, consisting, under the primacy of St. Peter and his successors, of bishops, priests, and deacons, or, in the language of the Tridentine canon, "ministers." "If any one shall say," defines the council,5 "that there is not in the Catholic Church a hierarchy established by the divine ordination, consisting of bishops, presbyters, and ministers, let him be anathema." The term "ministers" comprehends those minor orders of ecclesiastical institution which, as occasion arose, were, so to speak, carved out of the diaconate. II. There is also a hierarchy by ecclesiastical right, or a hierarchy of order. This consists _ besides the Roman Pontiff and the three original orders of bishops, priests, and deacons _ of the five minor orders (two in the East) of subdeacons, acolytes, exorcists, lectors, and porters (ostiarii), which, as was said above, were in the course of time severed from the diaconate. III. There is also the hierarchy of jurisdiction. This is of ecclesiastical institution, and consists of the administrative and judicial authorities, ordinary and delegated, which, under the supreme pastorate of the Holy See, are charged with the maintenance of the purity of the faith and of union among Christians, with the conservation of discipline, etc. These authorities exercise powers conferred on them by delegation, expressed or implied, from the order above them: thus, the powers of cardinals, patriarchs, exarchs, metropolitans, and archbishops, proceed from the Pope, either expressly or by implication; again, the powers of archpriests, archdeacons, rural deans, vicargeneral, foran, etc., are derived to them from bishops. (Thomassin,6 1. iii. 23; art. by Phillips in Wetzer and Welte.)

Holy Water

HOLY WATER (aqua benedicta). Washing with water is a natural symbol of spiritual purification. "I will pour out upon you," says God by the prophet Ezekiel, xxvi. 25, "clean water, and you shall be clean." In the tabernacle a laver was placed in the court between the altar and the door of the tabernacle for the priests to wash their hands and feet before offering sacrifice; and the later Jews, as maybe inferred from Mark vii. 3, developed the frequent washing of the hands into a matter of ritual observance. If we look into a modern Jewish prayerbook, we find the same importance attached to ritual ablutions, and in particular washing of the hands is prescribed before prayer. The use of the "aqua lustralis" "with which the Romans sprinkled themselves or were sprinkled by the priest, shows that the same symbolism existed among the heathen.

A like custom, beautiful and natural in itself, though of course it may degenerate and often has degenerated into superstition, has been adopted by the Church. Water and salt are exorcised by the priest and so withdrawn from the power of Satan, who since the fall has corrupted and abused even inanimate things; prayers are said, that the water and salt may promote the spiritual and temporal health of those to whom they are applied, and may drive away the devil with his rebel angels; and finally the water and salt are mingled in the name of the Trinity. The water thus blessed becomes a means of grace. Even common water, if devoutly used as a memento of the purity of heart which God requires, might well prove useful for the health of the soul. But as the Church has blessed holy water with solemn prayers, we may be sure that God, who answers the petitions of his Church, will not fail to increase the charity, contrition, etc., of those who use it, and to assist them in their contests with the powers of evil. The reader will observe that we do not attribute to holy water any virtue of its own. It is efficacious simply because the Church's prayers take effect at the time it is used.

Holy water is placed at the door of the church in order that the faithful may sprinkle themselves with it as they enter, accompanying the outward rite with internal acts of sorrow and love. Before the High Mass on Sundays the celebrant sprinkles the people with holy water; and holy water is employed in nearly every blessing which the Church gives. And at all times, on rising and going to bed, leaving the house or returning home, in temptation and in sickness, pious Catholics use holy water.

The use of holy water among Christians must be very ancient, for the Apostolical Constitutions (viii. 28, ed. Lagarde) contain a formula for blessing water that it may have power "to give health, drive away diseases, put the demons to flight," etc. But there does not seem to be any evidence that it was customary for the priest to sprinkle the people with holy water before the ninth century.

1 Guéranger's Liturgical Year, translated by Dom Shepherd. 1867.

2 Provided the heresy was notorious. and that the parents died in it. St. Lig. Theol. Moral. lib. vii. § 363.

3 De Mor. Eccl. Cath. i. 31. quoted by Thomassin.

4 Ad Smyrn. xi i

5 Sess. xxiii. can. 6.

6 Thomassin's Vetus et Neva Eccl. Disciplina is quoted by the part, book, chapter, and paragraph.

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