Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Advent was Spent in Past Years

Recently reported in the news was the generosity of an elderly man who put the equivalent of a hundred thousand dollars in the Salvation Army Red Kettle. The anonymous donor hoped the money would be used for underprivileged senior citizens. It was the single largest gift the Salvation Army has ever received in their Christmas campaigns in Korea since the campaigns began 83 years ago. There are warm lights aglow, a Catholic Times' writer tells us, in our sometimes cold world.

But he reminds us that in the Catholic world the warmth that came with the preparations for the big feasts in Korea has disappeared as older cultural ways have been replaced by newer ways. He goes on to explain that for a time in our Korean Catholic history, there were private meetings with all the Christians of the parish before the big feasts of Easter and Christmas. Priests would interview individual Catholics or entire families during the Advent preparation period to determine how well they knew the catechism; being able to answer correctly was a requirement in order to receive the sacraments on Christmas.
This custom began during the persecution of the Catholics. Fearful of living in large villages with non-Catholics, they gathered together in small hamlets, which in time became mission stations. Because there were few parishes and many mission stations, the priest would make the rounds of these stations to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments for the two big feasts. He would also check to see if they had been faithful in their prayer life, spiritual reading, and in the study of the catechism. 

The visit of the priest at these mission stations would be reason enough for a holiday celebration. All would put on their best clothes and prepare holiday meals, and those who had left the village for work would return to celebrate the visit of the priest and to go to Mass. It was a joyous time even though the catechism exams did create some stress. 

Usually, the family would appear before the priest, knowing before the visit what questions would be asked. If the children did not answer to the priest's satisfaction, their grandfathers and parents would be reprimanded. It would be hard to imagine this happening today, the writer said. The custom no longer exists and he laments the change. He believes that the difference it has made in the life of our Catholics has not been all for the good. 

Taking the place of the oral exams in many parishes are written questions distributed to parishioners who are interested, and prizes are given to those who have the highest marks. All the burdens have been taken away. The parishes are much larger and the priests are busier, which is part of the reason for the change. And yet, there is something lost, he feels, in the disappearance of this tradition: perhaps less community involvement and less serious preparation for the big feasts of the Church.

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