The Christmas season, as celebrated by Jane Austen (part of a middle class Clergyman’s family) would have begun on “Stir up Sunday”– the last Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent (four Sundays before Christmas). Stir Up Sunday, a reminder that now was the time to “Stir Up” your Christmas pudding so that it would have ample time to age before the coming holiday, was actually named for the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Unlike the frenzied holiday rush now experienced during the weeks before Christmas, the less commercialized Georgians used the time of Advent, which actually marked the beginning of the Liturgical year, as a time for reflection, penitence and even fasting. This is not to say that there were no celebrations or festivities to mark the season– far from it– the rest between harvest and planting allowed workers and landowners alike a chance to relax and turn their time to more entertaining pursuits– courtship, weddings, visiting and balls. Still, Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming”) allowed time for the spiritually minded to turn their thoughts towards the first coming of Christ (Christmas) and prepare their hearts and souls for the ever imminent Second Coming, when all Christians would be caught up to Heaven.
A spirit of reflection and repentance can be seen in each of the readings and prayers offered on these four Sundays before Christmas– prayers that Jane Austen, sister and daughter to Clergymen, would have been intimately familiar with. In fact, they closely resemble the prayers Jane, herself, wrote and kept among her personal papers.
The Book of Common Prayer, or more fully, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons was, and remains the handbook for Anglican ministers. Since its completion in 1662 (an edition which was, in itself, an adaptation 100 years in the making, and which underwent several material changes in that time) The Book of Common Prayer has been in continual use in Churches around Great Britain, offering texts and readings for each service of the year, as well as readings for marriage (the very traditional “Dearly Beloved….”) death, visitations of the sick, as well as administrations for the Holy Sacraments.
The following prayers, from this book, provide a glimpse into what might have been the Spiritual side of Jane Austen’s Christmas preparations. Along with these prayers, each service would have included several passages of Scripture relating to the subject at hand, as well as a homily written by the attending clergyman. Advent wreaths and calendars, now so prevalent had not yet been introduced into the services Austen would have been familiar with.
First Sunday of Advent
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the
works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now
in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ
came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when
he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the
quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through
him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Second Sunday of Advent
Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent
Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and
the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by
thy daily visitation, that when thy Son Jesus Christ cometh he
may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the
same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
O God, who makest us glad by the yearly remembrance of
the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we
joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure
confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge;
who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one
God, world without end. Amen.
or the following
O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the
illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech thee,
that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth,
so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with
thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God, in
glory everlasting. Amen.
Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to
take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a
pure virgin: Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy
children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy
Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one
God, world without end. Amen.
The image, Christmas Eve at Steventon is based on an orginal piece by Julie Caprera. Prints and original pieces in a variety of sizes are available from her site, Canvassed Memories. Cards bearing this image can be purchased from Austentation: Regency Accessories.
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