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Next Sunday, December 3rd, is the first Sunday of the Season of Advent and violet vestments will replace the green of Ordinary Time.
Advent is actually four Sundays, not four weeks as we sometimes think, and this year Advent is the shortest it can possibly be – just 22 days. On Sunday 24th December we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Vigil Masses begin on that same evening. Two holy days of obligation on two consecutive days! This unusual occurrence will present challenges for parishes when it comes to scheduling Masses, preparing the worship space and so on.
There is a phrase we hear at every Mass that sums up beautifully the mood and meaning of the Advent season. That phrase is ‘as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ’ from the embolism, or insertion, in the text of the Lord’s Prayer before the doxology (For the kingdom, the power, …).
Waiting 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’
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 expressed beautifully in the first Preface of Advent:
“When he humbled himself to come among us as a man,
he fulfilled the plan you formed long ago
and opened for us the way to salvation.
Now we watch for the day,
hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours
when Christ our Lord will comeagain in his glory.”
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.
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.
In the past, Advent took on penitential characteristics, but the Roman document ‘General Norms of the Liturgical Year and the Calendar’ describes Advent as ‘a period for devout and joyful expectation’ (GNLYC # 39, my emphasis). Many parishes use a lighter shade of violet for Advent vestments to emphasise that it is different from Lent. The Gloria is omitted during Advent, not because it is a season of penance and abstinence, but so that we might sing this hymn, which echoes of the song of the angels heralding the birth of Christ, with renewed joy and vigour on Christmas night.