After Sunday Mass a little boy approached and tugged on my alb. “Father,” he began, “how do we light the candles on our Advent wreath this year?” Seeing my puzzled look, he expanded: “What about our last purple candle?” The penny dropped. “Are you asking because there’s no Fourth Sunday this year? Instead, it’s Christmas Eve?” Vigorous nod. “Go ahead and light the last purple candle on Christmas Eve, for both Christmas Eve and the Fourth Sunday.” And so he departed, informed and satisfied.

If you aren’t tracking perfectly, this year Advent is curtailed. Christmas Eve coincides with the Fourth Sunday. There’s no fourth week. The last time this happened was in 2006.

Our beautiful Advent wreathes usually have three purple candles and one rose, which also match the vestments the priest wears on Sunday. There is often also a white candle in the middle for Christmas.

Shifting gears, every Sunday is a “day of precept” for Holy Mass, a Holy Day of Obligation. This year, we have another Holy Day of Obligation back to back with Sunday: Christmas.

These days, there are “anticipated” Masses on Saturday afternoons that fulfil the Sunday obligation. The 1983 Code of Canon Law (can 1248.1) says: “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.” (The result: many people haven’t been to Sunday Mass for years, but I digress.)

Speaking of vigils and fulfilment, some clever clogs opine that participation at Holy Mass on Christmas Eve (which fulfils the Sunday precept) would also, according to can 1248, fulfil the obligation for Christmas Day. Full disclosure: I used to be one of those clever clogs.

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