The Season of Advent in the Catholic Church is a time of preparation extending over the four Sundays before Christmas. Advent is derived from the Latin word “advenio” meaning “to come to.” This refers to the coming of Christ. The term “the coming” references the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas, the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and, to His second coming at the end of time.
The preparations of Advent should have all three of them coming in mind, to prepare souls to receive Christ.
We Fast and Then We Feast
Advent has been referred to as a “little Lent” because it is tradition to include a time of increased prayer, fasting, and good works. Although it is not a requirement for the Western Church to fast during Advent, the Eastern Church, both Catholic, and Orthodox, continue to follow what is known as Philip’s Fast, from November 15 until Christmas.
Traditionally, the great feasts have been preceded by a period of fasting, this makes the feast more jubilant. Regrettably, however, nowadays Advent has been overshadowed by the holiday shopping season. When Christmas Day many people are burned out and no longer enjoy the feast or specially mark the next 12 days of the Christmas season, which lasts until Epiphany.
The Symbols of Advent
Keeping with symbols, the church continues to emphasize the penitential and preparatory nature of Advent. As is a custom during Lent, priests wear purple vestments, and the “Gloria” is absent during Mass. The Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, is the only exception. At this time, the priests are permitted to wear rose-colored vestments. This is similar to Laetare Sunday during Lent, the exception is made to encourage the prayers and fasting to continue because it is made visual that Advent is more than halfway over.
The Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is the widely recognized symbol of Advent.
The wreath is made of a circle of evergreen branches laid flat to symbolize eternal life. Four candles stand in the circle and each represents one of the four Sundays of Advent. In the center of the circle is a fifth candle, the Christ candle, which is lit on Christmas Day.
The circle of the wreath reminds Christians of God, His eternity and endless mercy, that has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath represents the hope that Christians have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, and of eternal life.
The Candles on the Advent Wreath
Advent worship is a journey through the Christmas story. Christians use these candles to celebrate this time with one lit every Sunday during Advent so that during the last week before Christmas all of the candles are lit. The last center candle, which represents Christ, is lit on Christmas Day.
All twelve days of Christmas can be better enjoyed if Advent is revived as a revered time of preparation. Abstaining from meat on Fridays or not eating at all between meals is a good way to revive Advent fast. Another way to do this is to refrain from indulging in Christmas cookies or listening to Christmas music.
Postponing putting up the Christmas tree and other decorations is another way to remind ourselves that the feast is not yet here. Traditionally, decorations and such were put up on Christmas Eve, and not taken down until after Epiphany, in order to celebrate the Christmas season to the fullest.