The other day I was hoping to prepare for the feast of Christ the King by reading homilies of the saints. I went to the bookshelf and pulled off the homilies of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Jose Maria Escriva. I searched the table of contents, to discover no homilies on Christ the King. To those who know something about the feast, you probably know already why I didn’t find any.
The feast of Christ the King was not instituted until 1925 by Pope Pius XI, after many of our saintly preachers graced the pulpit. What I did find while thumbing through the homilies of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, was a real gem, a homily preached on the Vigil of St. Andrew, titled “How We Should Prepare for the Solemnities of Saints with Fasting.”
It was a great find. After all, I must preach on the feast of St. Andrew on November 30th and now I could prepare and find inspiration by reflecting on the thoughts of St. Bernard. Even more apropos, the feast of St. Andrew marks the beginning of what is called the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, a prayer recited fifteen times a day as preparation for the solemnity of Christmas.
The Church celebrates the saints, feasts of Mary, and solemnities of the Lord on a monthly basis. Some feasts have built-in periods of preparation, like Christmas and Easter with our observance of Advent and Lent respectively. But what about the other solemnities and feasts throughout the year? Why and how should we prepare?
Identify Special Feasts
Do you know the special feasts throughout the year? Are any of them your favorite? Even if you are not a daily Mass goer, is there one feast you try to get to Mass when it crosses the calendar? These are important questions to ask when considering what feasts you might intentionally prepare to celebrate with greater solemnity. They could be feasts of Christ, such as Christmas, Easter, Sacred Heart, Corpus Christi, or the Transfiguration. Or of His Blessed Mother—Immaculate Conception, Nativity, Divine Motherhood, Visitation, the Assumption, or any other litany of her feasts.
Or even of the saints—your patron saint, the feast of your parish or diocese, St. John Vianney, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, among any other popular or obscure saints. Do some research, locate a Church calendar with all the solemnities, feasts, and saints’ days. Identify the feasts important to you begin to live liturgically.
Identify How to Prepare
There are many different ways a person could prepare to celebrate a feast. For one Marian feast day each year (typically January 1), I go through a process of 33 days of preparation by way of Marian Consecration. There are many resources available on Marian consecration: St. Louis de Montfort, Fr. Michael Gaitley, or Fr. Hugh Gilespie’s book. Some people have used my book A Heart Like Mary’s to anticipate a Marian feast day.
Another method of preparation for a feast day would be a novena. Pick the feast day, and count back nine days, and begin praying the novena prayers. Not sure where to begin? Let the people at the beautiful online apostolate, Pray More Novenas, send novena prayers to your inbox for significant feasts and those of the saints like St. Anne and St. Jude.
A third method of preparation would be similar to our Lenten practices—penance and fasting. When I go through the process of Marian consecration, I take up a small penance, renouncing a pleasure of this world, food or drink. St. Bernard believed this to be one of the most essential aspects of preparing for the feasts of the saints. He began by saying, “The authority of the Fathers has ordained that the feasts of the saints be preceded by prayerful fasting.” He says that fasting enables us to be open to spiritual consolations and aids in the purification of our minds, hearts, and souls. Preparation for a liturgical celebration by fasting becomes transformed into a time of feasting and delighting in the joy of the Church’s liturgical life.
What to Do Next?
There is no need to wait; the month of December provides several opportunities for us to prepare. Of course there are the chocolate advent calendars for children, or the recent beer-a-day Advent calendars for adults, as a means to prepare for Christmas. Of course, that throws out the notion of fasting, penance or abstinence, but instills a sense of awareness that there is something coming to celebrate.
There is the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, which would be preceded by a novena of prayer. You could pray the St. Andrew Novena beginning on his feast and through the celebration of Christmas. During the season of Advent, you could place a creche in your home and put a piece of straw in the creche each time you do an act of charity or pray. In so doing, you will prepare the manger for Christ on Christmas day.
Advent is a wonderful season to prepare for the feast of the incarnation. It can become the beginning of discovering the importance of the Church calendar and will help us live liturgically throughout the year by anticipating the wonderful celebrations of Christ, Mary, and the saints.