The Season of Advent
Waiting in Joyful Hope
With First Vespers (Evening Prayer I) on November 27, the Season of Advent begins and it goes all the way to the afternoon of December 24. As noted two weeks ago, the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar says, “Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight” (n. 39). We mark the season by preparing our hearts, minds, and souls for the coming of Christ at the end of time and remembering his first coming on Christmas. Our Lord’s Second Coming or the end of the age is the focus until December 17. In fact, we do not hear anything of preparing for Christ’s birth until the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete in Latin comes from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon or Introit which comes from Philippians 4:4-5: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
For many years, there has been an incorrect notion flying around liturgical circles that the Season of Advent is not penitential. In some ways, I can understand how that view could prevail. For instance, if one were to just look at the Code of Canon Law 1250, it says “The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.” Advent is not mentioned. As seen above, the UNLYC says that “Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.” Again, no mention of penance. However, the Church’s traditions and customs cannot be summed up entirely in the Code of Canon Law, the Roman Missal, or any other liturgical book. I noted in my article two weeks ago that Advent did use to be a season which included fasting, though less intense when compared to Lent. Christmas Eve was always a day of fasting and abstinence so that one could truly feast on the Feast of Christmas. While an official Advent fast has not been observed for centuries, the principles of penance in the season remain. The color of the season is violet which has always been a penitential color. The Gloria is omitted on Sundays. Liturgical decorations, art, and environment as well as the use of musical instruments “should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 305 & 313). The relaxation of these rules occurs on solemnities, feasts, and the Third Sunday of Advent, the latter of which is marked with rose vestments.
If most of Advent points to the end of the age, which in today’s Gospel passage seems will be quite terrifying, how can we possibly be “waiting in joyful hope” or in “devout and expectant delight?” The only way that we can “stand erect” knowing our “redemption is at hand” (Luke 21:28) is by preparing our heart and soul for Christ’s return. Christ himself and his Holy Church teach us that the way to do this is through penance. There can be no true preparing for the coming of the Lord without repentance, a metanoia—a transformative change of the heart. In this Advent season, find time to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In addition to our normal schedule each week, there will be at least three priests available at Jesus by Candlelight on December 5 beginning at 6:30. On December 14, Fr. Poggemeyer will be available at 8, 10, noon, 2, and 4. Even if it has been years since your last confession, find some time over the next few weeks and go. Jesus is waiting for you! Give your heart over to him and receive his forgiveness.
Lastly, a few thoughts on how to make it a more fruitful Advent and anticipate the joy of the Lord’s coming. The three pillars of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—can find a home here in Advent too. For prayer: we have the Magnificat Advent Companions available and Bishop Barron’s Advent Gospel Reflections are great too. Maybe when you light your Advent wreath each evening, say a short prayer like “Come, Lord Jesus” or sing the refrain of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” For fasting: if there is one thing that our current culture does not understand, it is delayed gratification, especially in regards to Christmas! Try listening to Advent music only and delay the Christmas music to Gaudete Sunday. Advent music is some of the richest in our tradition. Wait for the Christmas treats until closer to Christmas. Small sacrifices go a big way! For almsgiving: participate in the many opportunities around town to give to those less fortunate. All these small penances have an effect; and, when Christmas comes, we will have prepared our souls for the coming of our Lord and Savior.