Dr Maureen A Farrell (Senior Lecturer, Programme Leader MEd Children’s Literature and Literacies, UoG)
Descriptions of Christmas 2020 usually seem to include words like unusual, challenging or unprecedented. One I would add is absence. The absence of contact, the absence of touch, the absence of gathering – social and religious. And for me one of the biggest absences is the absence of singing, particularly choral singing and even more specifically singing at weekly mass and the annual carol concert.
As the Christmas holiday draws to a close, and the festivities die down, often it can feel like a disappointment. We return back to ‘normal’, to work, or to school, albeit this year somewhat differently. As our Christmas holiday ends and we enter into the last few months of winter, it can seem quite bleak. There is no holiday to look forward to, no star to follow. However, within the Church’s liturgical calendar Christmas is very much still with us. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate the hopefulness and promise that is found within the Incarnation. This is the message of hope and light that Christmas celebrates, and it is also the message that is at the heart of the teaching mission of the Church. This is also a message that we live out and witness to in our daily lives as Christians the whole year round.
James McDevitt (Head Teacher, Holy Cross Primary School, Edinburgh)
Over the past few years I have got into the habit of going to Mass on most days during the school holidays. One of the great benefits is that such regular attendance at Mass helps one to see how the liturgical calendar works. Nowhere has this been brought home to me more clearly than in my discovery of the significance and the beauty of the Octave of Christmas.
The Octave begins on Christmas Day on the Feast of the Nativity and concludes on New Year’s Day, The Feast of Mary, Mother of God. The period of eight days is a period of celebration. The Incarnation is such a joyous event that one day of celebration is not enough!
In addition to the feasts which start and end the Octave, there are a number of important feast days to note. The principal of these is the Feast of the Holy Family, which is celebrated on the Sunday of the Octave, or on 30 December when Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. The others are the feast days of St Stephen on 26 December and of the Holy Innocents on 28 December.
Bob Davis (Professor of Religious and Cultural Education, University of Glasgow)
The hashtag #covidchristmas has gathered fresh momentum in recent days as new government restrictions have taken hold across most the United Kingdom in the closing period of Advent. The ethos of expectation so integral to this season of the Church’s year seems hijacked and parodied by forces that obstruct our every hope for, and anticipation of, the Christmas period. These feelings seem salient whether we observe Christmas as a major sacred festival of the Christian calendar, or as a secular holiday and gathering-point for family celebration and solidarity––or indeed as both.
As a mother of two girls aged seven and nine, the build up to Christmas at home is magical. Over the last few weeks, the anticipation of Christmas has been quite something. Don’t get me wrong, we always ensure that we observe Advent in our house and contextualise the waiting for Christmas in the Advent narrative. While we cannot escape—nor do we entirely want to—the Christmas music; the premature decorations; the early gift exchanging; chocolate money and mince pie eating; and all of the usual associated Christmas activities, I’m pretty confident that my girls know that Advent is a very special season marking the start of the new Church year and that this important time has its own liturgical focus, colours, feel, message, scriptural figures and so on. The girls are fortunate that their grandparents ensured that Advent was appropriately observed, and that this tradition has passed from generation to generation—a testimony to the faith commitment of the girls’ ancestors (although I can’t imagine that dancing around the house singing ‘Gaudete’at full volume on the third Sunday of Advent is part of that legacy—yes, that does actually happen!) December is a particularly special time in our household, and we are thankful for that.
The Student Pastoral Planning Team challenged School of Education students and staff to walk 10 km (at least) in a week so that, together, we could walk the 2,350 km to the Vatican (virtually!). The walk took place during the week of 4th-11th November, which was Just and Green Recovery for Scotland Week of Action. Just and Green Recovery for Scotland is a coalition of 80 organisations calling for Scotland’s recovery from Coronavirus to put people and the planet before profit such as tackling climate change, restoring Scotland’s nature and creating green jobs. The team decided to organise an awareness-raising event because in Catholic Teacher Formation class, they have been reflecting on Pope Francis’s teaching on the environment in his letter Laudato Si’ – a letter addressed to every person on the planet, asking us all to protect our common home.
Of all the things seven years at the Scots College in Rome taught me, it certainly taught me to think on my feet. In particular, the twin lion’s dens of oral exams and weekly sermon class forced me to express myself succinctly and, I think, to teach under pressure.
Many years later, undergoing studies as a beginning Education lecturer, I was challenged to ask myself: what have been my most formative experiences of teaching and being taught, and how am I incorporating them into my practice? The weekly oral proclamation of the homily in the parish came quickly to the fore. Yet had the Sunday homily been a truly educational endeavour? How do I know that my parishioners learned anything? Was it enough to try to be interesting, erudite, concise? Could I learn from the discipline of teaching? In return could I now allow the craft of preaching to inform and enrich my teaching?
Last week the St Andrew’s Foundation held its annual Advent Retreat, which this year was led by the wonderful Fr Ed Hone CSsR, Dean of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. Fr Ed invited us to reflect on Advent as a time of ‘Watching, Waiting and Hoping – together in Faith’ in which we await the coming of Our Lord. Though Advent is often seen as a time to prepare for Christmas, Fr Ed reminded us that Advent is also a time to look towards the future; indeed, the very word ‘Advent’ is derived from the Lord’s Prayer in which we proclaim ‘Adveniat regnum tuum’, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. It is a time in which we prepare ourselves for the coming of God’s Kingdom, and trust in the promises that God has made to us that all will be restored to Him.
At the heart of University of Glasgow lies the Cloisters.
They evoke the monastic cloister in their form and regularity, but also the cathedral in their gothic arches and ribbed vaulting, which sprouts from the columns like a forest canopy. They are a place of shelter, protection, and refuge, from the sun, the rain, and from the wind. They embody the “pleasant coolness in the heat, solace in the midst of woe” in which the Pentecost sequence celebrates the Holy Spirit. They form a place of contemplation; their stillness is an invitation to pray, to look inward. But so too are they an open space, a place of encounter, an empty canvas in which ideas can be born and tested, a place for the meeting of minds. Their enviable acoustic transmits and amplifies centuries of conversation between scholar and student, sounding the very pulse of the university. And here too are the sounds of celebration, a place where each year the restrained pride of the Bute Hall graduations spill forth into informality; the hug of family and peers, the flash of colourful gowns, the sparkling Bucks Fizz mirroring the effervescence of youthfulness and hope.