The liturgical year in the Church begins with the first Sunday of Advent. This period of the Season of Advent continues for four Sundays and ends with Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord. The celebration of Advent has evolved in the spiritual life of the Church.
Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning coming. It is hard to give a clear account of how and where advent actually began. But we do have a rough idea of its beginning during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul. It was a time of preparation for the baptism of new Christians. But over time we find a gradual shift in the understanding of the season of advent.
The importance of this season remains to focus on the coming of our Lord. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 524) stresses the two-fold meaning of this coming: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviours first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming.
Therefore, every year during advent, we are called to celebrate the anniversary of our Lord’s first coming, a time of great rejoicing for mankind because our God himself has come to meet us. It also takes us back to the mystery of incarnation, where Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness (Phil 2: 7). On the other hand, we are also invited to reflect on the truth that we profess while we say the Creed – He will come again to judge the living and the dead – and to be prepared to meet him in his second coming.
The whole season of Advent helps us in these two aspects. To balance the two elements of remembrance and anticipation, the first two Sundays in Advent (up to December 16th) look forward to Christ’s second coming, and the last two Sundays (December 17th – 24th) look backward to remember Christ’s first coming. Over the course of the four weeks, Scripture readings move from passages about Christ’s return in judgment to Old Testament passages about the expectation of the coming Messiah to New Testament passages about the announcements of Christ’s arrival by John the Baptist and the Angels.
The whole season of Advent is full of preparation for the great feast of Christmas. The festivities of Christmas begin with the season of advent. While it is difficult to keep in mind the spiritual aspect of advent, in the midst of shopping, lights and decorations, and joyful carols, let us make a sincere effort to prepare ourselves to meet the Lord this Christmas. A good, pious way to help us in our Advent preparation has been the use of the Advent wreathe.
The wreathe is a circle, which has no beginning or end. So, we call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of God’s plan of salvation and how we hope to share eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Three candles are purple, and one is rose. The purple candles symbolize the prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices and good works undertaken at this time. The pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding Our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead. The light signifies Christ, the Light of the world.
Since Advent is a time to stir up and rekindle our faith in the Lord, the wreath and its significance provides us with a way to enhance this special preparation for Christmas. Therefore, as we will decorate the wreath and put it up in the Church, to help us prepare for Christmas, let us also prepare a wreath for our homes, so that along with our family we can prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. A special wreath service for homes has also been printed in this bulletin to help us in this regard. Let us make a sincere effort this advent to get ourselves ready to meet the Lord. Let us remember the reason for this season – Our Lord is coming!
Fr. Movin Menezes