Advent is a period of waiting. It comes from the word “Adventus” which means “arrival” or “coming”. It is a period of preparation where we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus.
Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends with the Christmas vigil. The first Sunday of Advent begins the Church’s liturgical year and all the readings during this period remind us of the long years of waiting by the people of Israel for a Saviour, the hope given by the prophets, and the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph to God’s plan.
There are similarities between Advent and Lent but it is not Lent and the difference must be noted. The liturgical colour is purple and the “Gloria” is omitted at Mass, just like in Lent, but the colour purple does not signify repentance as in Lent but preparation. We can see Lent as spring cleaning when we throw old things away. During Lent we fast and try to change negative behaviours and habits. However, during Advent we are preparing for a special guest and the mood is that of joy and preparation. We clean to make the place comfortable for our guest. We spend time remembering and so ornaments recalling times of old come out. The “Gloria” is omitted to help us sing it more lustily at Christmas, as when the angels sang it in celebration of the newborn king.
One of the traditions of our Church during Advent is the Advent wreath. The wreath is a garland of green that signifies eternity, and holds three purple candles, one pink and one white candle in the centre. These candles generally represent the light of Christ that is coming into the world. One candle is lit each Sunday of Advent as part of the service and represents an aspect of spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ.
On the first Sunday of Advent a purple candle called the “Prophecy Candle” is lit. It remembers the prophet of Isaiah who foretold the coming of Jesus. On the second Sunday another purple candle is lit, the “Bethlehem Candle”, and it signifies the love that has come into the world. On the third Sunday of Advent a pink candle called the “Shepherd’s Candle” is lit. This candle is symbolic of joy and reminds us of the difference between Lent and Advent. We wait and prepare in joy. On the fourth Sunday of Advent a purple candle called the “Angels’ Candle” is lit. On Christmas Eve at the Vigil Mass the white candle at the centre, the “Christ Candle”, is lit, signifying the purity and light that has come into our world.
In Advent, we celebrate three comings of Christ. We remember His first coming into our world, prepare for His second coming at the end of time, and reflect on His coming through the lives we live. As we make material preparations for Christmas let us also make spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ in our hearts, in our families, in our workplaces, in our churches and in our society.
– Crystal Babwah, RCIA Catechist