The season of Advent has a long and important liturgical history. It’s purpose is explained in it’s name “Advent”. The word is Latin for “coming” and the season considers the three “comings” of Christ. The first “coming” is reflecting on His birth. The second “coming” reflects on how Jesus comes to us daily by grace; and the third “coming” is what we still await for, His final coming in glory.
So Advent is an important time for spiritual preparation before Christmas. The season begins on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov. 30). Advent is four Sundays covering four weeks of preparation. The liturgical color is blue or violet. They are colors of preparation, penitence and royalty. Each Sunday in Advent the lessons and collect carry a special theme.
- The First Sunday of Advent we pray for God’s grace to “cast away the works of darkness and give us the armor of light”.
- The Second Sunday of Advent is a direct call to prepare our hearts and mind for the final coming of Jesus Christ. The Story of Salvation History as we find in the Bible adequately explains that we must “forsake our sins” and seek absolution if we are to “greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ”.
- The Third Sunday of Advent seeks God’s grace to help us and deliver us from our sins.
- The Fourth Sunday of Advent directs our attention to the power of our conscience where God makes “daily visitations” and how through grace He slowly makes us become a “mansion” prepared for Him to dwell forever! Here the mansion is being compared to the womb of Mary. Just as Mary bore Christ into the world so we are to bring Christ into the world through our Christian life.
Many customs have grown up to support the season of Advent. Often you will see in homes and at Church an Advent Wreath. An evergreen wreath has four Advent candles: three are blue or violet and one is rose. The rose color is for the third Sunday of Advent which is called “Gaudete Sunday” and is taken from Philippians 4:4,5: “Gaudete in Domino semper” (“Rejoice in the Lord always”). On “Gaudete Sunday”, we are at the midpoint of Advent. The change in liturgical color reinforces the Advent message of encouragement to continue in our spiritual preparation, especially in prayer and fasting for the coming of Christmas Day.
There is a fifth candle in the center of the wreath. It is called the “Christ-candle” and it is lit on Christmas Eve. The wreath Is used through the 12 days of Christmas through January 6. There are other useful helps such as an Advent calendar which offers a prayer each day of Advent until Christmas Day.
As a liturgical season Advent has its earliest roots in the Church in France. It developed as a period of preparation for the Feast of the Epiphany which was January 6. On Epiphany converts were baptized and Christians renewed their baptismal vows. Preparation for baptism was preceded with a period of prayer and fasting and this usually lasted three weeks and this time was eventually expanded to 40 days. The Eastern Orthodox Church still observes Advent as a 40 day season which always beginning on November 15 and concludes on December 24th. It is a time of fasting and prayer.
It was around the 9th century that the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.