It might seem strange to be talking about Advent a week before, but it is good to be prepared and not caught unaware: exactly what Advent is all about! Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus meaning arrive, approach, appearance. It was taken by the Church from the middle ages to signify the coming of Christ. It reminds us that the birth of the Saviour is an event that we need to prepare for and be reminded of.
Advent is not just about remembering the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem just over 2,000 year ago, but being prepared for the return of The Saviour. As the Catechism says: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviours first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (No. 524).
The Advent Wreath usually consist of five candles, three purple and one rose and one white. The purple and rose candles are set in a circular wreath (usually made of evergreen branches) with the white candle in the middle of the wreath. One candle is lit for each Sunday of Advent, with the rose candle being lit on the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”) and the white candle is lit once Christmas liturgies begin. The purple candles represent the penance and sacrifice we undertake to help us prepare for the Lord’s coming at Christmas; the rose candle represents the rejoicing of the faithful at the mid-point of Advent and the white candle represents the birth the Saviour.
Advent is not as strict as Lent, and there are no rules for fasting, but it is meant to be a period of self-preparation. The purple colour associated with Advent and it is also the colour of penance. The faithful should fast during the first two weeks in particular and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The first reading at Eucharist, both weekday and Sunday, is taken from the Prophet Isaiah and talk of the coming of the Saviour. We are to be prepared for the return of our Saviour.
The colour of the Third Sunday of Advent is rose. This colour symbolizes joy and represents the happiness we will experience when Jesus comes again. The Third Sunday is a day of anticipatory celebration. It is formerly called “Gaudete” Sunday; from gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin.
Finally, Sundays during Advent, just as during Lent, should not be given to fasting, but instead to celebration because we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord every Sunday. It is important to remember, however, there are no particular rules for how the laity should observe Advent.
From December 17th the tone of the liturgy changes. This time is often known as “O” time. This is because the “O” Antiphons are sung or recited during the last seven days of Advent (from December 17 through December 23) as part of the Liturgy of Hours. Each hymn begins with the interjection “O” followed by a title for Christ, e.g., O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Dayspring, O King of Nations, O God-with-Us.
Another way to count down to Christmas is the Advent Calendar that begins on December 1st. Again it is a visible way to focus our attention on the coming Solemnity of Christmas. Many families will also have a nativity scene that can both teach us about the birth of the Saviour, when Jesus was incarnate as human (God becomes human) and remind us of the Gospel narratives. It was St. Francis of Assisi who arranged the first nativity scene!
These are some of the many ways that we can get ready from Christmas, but what about ourselves? What can I do not to be caught in the consumer Christmas? As stated earlier we can make a commitment to fast (and not just to make space for the huge Christmas feast!) to remind ourselves of the coming celebration. The daily readings for Advent are a huge help in getting ready for both the birth of our Saviour and for the return of our Saviour. Given current restrictions there will be fewer opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but that does not mean that we cannot review our lives and make positive changes. The same goes for Advent retreats, but there will be some on-line resources (I’ll compile some for next week!). What will I be doing? As always, I will try and find some time and space to “feeding” myself; reflecting on the daily readings, learning more about the saints of Advent and spending time with the narratives of Jesus’ birth in Gospels Matthew and Luke.
Next week, I will have some on-line Advent resources that can be shared, used and adapted to what I need and what you need. If you have any resources for Advent that you wish to share, pass them along!