Advent is the liturgical season that precedes Christmas and ushers in the new Church year. Conventionally, it is understood by many to be a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, to which others reply that Christ has already come and dwells among us. He was born, He died and He rose again. Why, then, does Advent merit the attention that is ascribed to it?
The word “advent” signifies the arrival of a notable person. The Church gives us Advent as a time of longing and waiting for the second coming of Jesus at the end of time, just as our forefathers waited for many years for the coming of the Messiah. Advent, therefore, if observed in its entirety, does prepare us to meaningfully celebrate Jesus’ first coming into the world (Christmas) and His presence in our lives through grace and the Eucharist.
It is a time of reflection. We search our minds and hearts as we meditate on the wondrous gift of the Son of God: the gift that keeps on giving; the gift of hope to a hopeless world.
Prayer and good works mark the season. We prepare spiritually for the coming of our Saviour. As we draw closer to the Light of the world, we become aware of our own darkness. Advent thus has a penitential nature, and the liturgical colour of purple is evident.
THE ADVENT WREATH symbolises the eternal love of God. The candles represent the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Mary and ourselves. One candle is lit during the first week and thereafter an additional one each week for the duration of the season. Themes of hope, love, joy, peace are unfolded by the lighting of the candles, one theme per week being used.
THE READINGS for Advent focus on the prophecies concerning the Messiah. They show how these prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. We are exhorted to stay awake and watch so that we will be alert to all the ways of God in our daily lives. The Readings for the last week of Advent recall the events immediately preceding the birth of Jesus and these prepare us to celebrate His birth. O antiphons are prayed during the final week.
There is a clear shift of THE MUSIC during Advent. It alludes to the coming of the Messiah, to the wanting of this season of hope. It again supports the penitential nature of this period with the omission of the Gloria from Masses except on the Third Sunday of Advent, which begins the week of Joy.
We are called to patiently wait and prepare ourselves for the joy of Christ’s coming. As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, there is also the need to prepare for Advent: procuring the necessary resources that will support group (family) and individual prayer such as daily reflections on the Readings; setting aside a place for the Advent wreath in our homes and schools; creating a schedule that will allow time for prayer and reflection so that we would not be distracted by Christmas preparations.
The Jesse Tree is an Advent tree that anticipates the coming of Jesus. It is a means of telling the story of God in the Old Testament, and connects Advent to His faithfulness. Advent calendars, too, are a fun way of instructing children. As a new slot is opened each day, a text for reflection and discussion is uncovered.
It is important that we do not allow the wreaths or other symbols to become mere ornaments or decorations. They are functional and are a means of keeping us focused on Jesus and deepening our relationship with Him as we struggle to live according to His example.
Have a holy and blessed experience of Advent. – Eastlyn Rawlinson for Archdiocesan Catechetical Office