The Arrival of Advent

Today, December 2nd, is the first Sunday of the Season of Advent and violet vestments and hangings will be used instead of the green of Ordinary Time (actually, white replaced green last Sunday for the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe).

Advent is a period of four Sundays, not four weeks as we sometimes think, and this year Advent is just 23 days long. On Sunday 23rd December we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Vigil Masses begin the next evening.

There was a tendency in the past to consider Advent to a penitential season like Lent, but the document “General Norms of the Liturgical Year and the Calendar” describes Advent as “a period for devout and joyful expectation” (GNLYC # 39, emphasis added).

Watching in joyful hope is what the Season of Advent is all about. We are “in-between” people: we live in the time between Christ’s incarnation at Bethlehem and his return “in glorious majesty” at the end of time.

In this interim age we have much cause for rejoicing.  Salvation, redemption, the hope of eternity is ours.  If we focus on reliving history, on baby Jesus in the manger, we may miss Christ speaking to us today in our everyday lives.

The texts of Advent – the scripture readings, prefaces and prayers – are some of the richest treasures of the Church’s liturgy and can draw us into the true spirit and purpose of the Advent season.

During Advent, as in every liturgy, we offer thanks and praise for the saving actions of God in the past, we celebrate the presence of the risen Christ with us today and we look for the day when Christ will return in glory. 

This is the core of the first Preface of Advent:

“For he assumed at his first coming

the lowliness of human flesh,

and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,

and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,

that, when he comes again in glory and majesty

and all is at last made manifest,

we who watch for that day

may inherit the great promise

in which now we dare to hope.”

In all three years of the lectionary cycle, the  Sunday readings for Advent follow the same pattern: on the first Sunday, the return of the Lord; on the second, John the Baptist’s call to conversion; on the third, the relationship of John to Jesus; on the fourth, Mary and the events immediately preceding Christ’s birth.

As these readings show, the first three weeks of Advent focus on Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is only from December 17th that the readings and prayers of the Mass start to refer directly to the birth of Christ.

As Advent begins we pray:

“Keep us alert, O Lord our God,

as we await the advent of Christ your Son,

so that, when he comes and knocks,

he may find us watchful in prayer

and exultant in his praise.”  (Collect, Monday of 1st week of Advent)

Elizabeth Harrington