st. martin’s lent

st. martin’s lent

Detail from “Charité de saint Martin” by Caroline Sorg (1864)

Spiritual intuition has always preserved a clear consciousness of all that waits upon this Birth: the sudden passionate exultation of the angelic world, all its charitable desires fulfilled, all the sacramental manifestation of created things, leading, pointing, to the Crib. Heaven and earth embracing one another: the very being of humanity, its manhood, crowned by this incarnation, and snatched up to a correspondence with the Real. Solemnly announced and long prepared, yet when the hour strikes, when that new life, veritably our own, is seen before us, and “Man stands in the New Birth”: then all that had gone before is obliterated, all gives place to this, to “the wonder of wonders, the human made Divine.”

—from The Spiral Way by Evelyn Underhill

Most of us in the Christian world have come to expect a four week-long Advent each year, starting sometime near the end of November and ending on Christmas Day. In the past, however, Advent was observed during a seven week period in much the same manner as Lent, though with slightly less emphasis on penance. This longer Advent season earned the name “St. Martin’s Lent” because it historically began on the Feast of St. Martin of Tours (November 11th) and ended, just like today, on Christmas Day. It was also called, variously, “St. Martin’s Fast” and “The Forty Days of St. Martin.”1

In an eighteenth century book entitled The Moveable Feasts, Fasts, and Other Annual Observances of the Catholic Church, author Rev. Alban Butler discusses the ancient practice of St. Martin’s Lent, writing,

“[St. Martin’s Lent] was formerly observed, even by the Laity, with Abstinence from Flesh, and with a rigorous Fast, in some Places, by Precept, in others of Devotion, and without any positive Obligation, though universal. The first Council of Maçon, in 581, ordered Advent from St. Martin’s to Christmas-day three Fasting Days a Week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; but the whole Term of forty Days, was observed with a strict Abstinence from Flesh Meat.”2

Wouldn’t it be interesting if we were to take up, again, St. Martin’s Lent as a spiritual practice? In recent years I’ve heard of people embracing the concept of an “extended” Advent, but I feel there’s something missing in that gesture if all we’re doing is just adding extra time or extra candles. Advent—like many other Christian feasts, festivals, and holy days—has been almost completely secularized. Many people, even some Christians, think that Advent starts on December 1st, instead of the variable dates of the Church calendar. Perhaps reclaiming a bit of the penitential aspect of Advent would lead to a deeper engagement with the mystery of the Incarnation—Emmanuel, God with us.

st. martin’s example

Advent is about waiting for the birth of Christ, but it is also about waiting for the return of Christ. While we celebrate the first arrival, we turn our eyes toward the second. I plan to observe St. Martin’s Lent this year to try and brush away a bit of the superficial film that the Advent season seems to have accumulated from the secular world. I will take St. Martin’s own life as my lead, and attempt to follow the example of his legendary charity, as we move through the Advent season toward Christmas.

what about the candles?

Truthfully, I am still contemplating how best to approach this aspect of a longer Advent season, but I am leaning toward observing the first three weeks sans (without) candles, and then following the normal four-candle schedule (purple, purple, pink, purple) for the rest of Advent. So, I will eat my fill on Martinmas, and then move into a more penitential space—prayer, almsgiving, and fasting (Monday-Wednesday-Friday)—until Christmas.Note 1

It won’t be easy with all of the Advent-season goodies everywhere, but I suppose that’s part of the point, isn’t it?

I’ll be posting a new meditation each day of St. Martin’s Lent (excluding Sundays). You can follow along on my Facebook page, or here on the site: St. Martin’s Lent Meditations

recommended reading

If you’re looking for some contemplative reading material to get you through a longer Advent season, I would highly recommend for adults:

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, from Plough Publishing House (2014)
Goodness and Light, from Ordis Books (2015)
Run, Shepherds, Run: Poems for Advent and Christmas, by L. William Countryman (2005)
Christmas: An Introductory Reader, (especially Ch. 15) from Rudolf Steiner Press (2007) Note 2

And, for children, you might consider:

Advent and Christmas Stories: A Treasury of Stories, Verses, and Songs, by Estelle Bryer and Jonni Nicol (2012)
Advent Storybook, by Antonie Schneider (2005)
Christmas Roses: Legends for Advent, from Asnan (out of print, but used copies are available on the web)
The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice, by Carolyn McVickar Edwards (2005)


Note 1 I am a vegetarian, so I abstain from flesh every day of the year. Those who regularly eat meat may wish to abstain during St. Martin’s Lent, as was common practice in prior ages.

Note 2 I don’t subscribe to Anthroposophy in its totality, nor do I agree with everything stated in this book, but this volume contains some of Steiner’s most brilliant insights on the Christmas festival—it’s worth wading into the weeds.


Sources:

2 George, Maya, Faith and Philosophy of Christianity (Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2009), p 284
2 Butler, Alban, The Moveable Feasts, Fasts, and Other Annual Observances of the Catholic Church (London: C. Kiernan, 1774), p 98

lenten season

lenten season

For years and years I struggled just to love my life. And then the butterfly rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life too much,” it said, and vanished into the world.

—Mary Oliver

Lent—that penitential season of the Church year that precedes Easter— has arrived, and I thought it might be nice to offer some ideas for observing this special time with children. Below you’ll find two crafts focused on the concept of metamorphosis, which I feel works really well as a metaphor for the Easter story, that is, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also serves to illustrate the central tenet of our faith: Like the mystery of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, the mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection makes it possible for all of us to be transformed into something magnificent and beautiful, too.

Lent & Easter Garden

Creating an Easter garden with children is a wonderful way to experience the miracle of the Resurrection. At the beginning of Lent, or anytime before Holy Week, fill a shallow planting dish with garden soil, then add rocks, a twig for a “tree,” and a small clay cave to the scene. On Maundy Thursday, sprinkle some wheatgrass seeds on the soil, cover with another layer of soil, and water generously (keep moist by watering daily). On Good Friday have children make a caterpillar from clay, wrap it in gauze, and place it in the cave. On Easter morning, parents can replace the caterpillar with a beautiful tissue paper butterfly. The wheatgrass seeds should pop up right on time—the dead and empty garden will burst into life overnight.

lent garden collage
lent garden 3
lent garden 4
lent garden 5
lent garden 6
lent garden 7
lent garden 8
easter garden collage
easter garden 4

Lent Vine Table Runner

To construct this table runner, you will need a piece of thick, white fabric (I used a small linen table runner I bought at a discount store), a few colors of green plus some black acrylic paint, a paintbrush, and a smooth, flat rock of some kind. Paint a green vine with green leaves, sweeping back and forth from side to side, with one leaf for each of the forty days of Lent. The last three leaves are painted black, to represent Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The rock is painted the same color as the green leaves on just one side, and once that first layer is dry, a caterpillar is painted on top of the green background. If you’re not artistically inclined, you can just use a sticker. The other side of the rock will remain unpainted.

Throughout Lent the caterpillar will travel to a new leaf each day. On Maundy Thursday, the rock will be turned over to the dark, unpainted side and will remain that way as it moves through the next two days. On Easter Sunday, parents can remove the rock and leave in its place a beautiful butterfly. This could be a picture of a butterfly, a paper cutout, or even some sort of decorative object (available at most craft stores).

lent vine 1
lent vine 2
lent vine collage

advent season

advent season

The First Sunday of Advent is fast approaching, and I wanted to share with you a few ideas for celebrating this beautiful season in the Christian year. Advent calendars are big business these days, and there are so many creative and unique ways that people choose to count down to Christmas. But, one thing I’ve noticed is that most Advent calendars, even Christian-themed ones, don’t have the right number of days! Advent very rarely begins on December 1st, and yet most Advent calendars begin their countdown, I assume to ease production costs, on that day. Here are a few ideas for celebrating Advent with children that are adaptable to allow for the right number of days.

advent spiral

This little angel will travel around on the stars (completely adaptable for Advent seasons with up to 28 days — the maximum amount) until she reaches the center on the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus, Christmas Day. To create this, I used an 18″ square piece of blue flannel, onto which I needle-felted a spiral of green wool roving. I cut out the stars from yellow felt, and crafted the little angel from a 3.5″ tall peg doll. It sits on a little side table, just the right height for little eyes and hands. Each day my children can take turns moving the angel along the path toward the arrival of Jesus in the world.

This could just as easily be made of paper, or felt, or whatever materials you have around the house. The goal of around the year is to provide inspiration, not frustration! And, I always want to emphasize that it’s not about spending money–engaging in the task is what’s important.

advent crafts 1
advent crafts 2
advent crafts 3

cardboard advent wreath

We have this little Advent wreath set up in my son’s play kitchen area, and I made it so that he can “play” along as we light our own Advent candles throughout the season. The “candles” were made of none other than humble toilet paper tubes painted purple, pink, and white with craft paint. The “flames” are painted popsicle sticks with construction paper fire glued on to them. I happened to have the small grapevine wreath and green playsilk already, but they’re not necessary. The candles do stand up pretty well on their own, but you might want to wrap a piece of yarn or string around them to make sure they’re not toppling over constantly. You could also wrap a long, thin piece of green cloth around the base of the whole structure to imitate greenery–or use real boughs if you have them!

advent crafts 4
advent crafts collage
advent crafts 5

glass jar advent candles

Last year I realized that it was the First Sunday of Advent and I hadn’t ordered any candles! So, I decided to create my own Advent candle wreath using glass jars, tissue paper, Mod Podge, and some small white candles I already had. I think, in some ways, it’s even more beautiful than the traditional wreath.

corners of my home // advent 1
corners of my home // advent 2

Follow around the year’s board Liturgical Seasons // Advent on Pinterest.