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More about Advent
Year A of the three-year lectionary cycle began with the start of the new liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent. In Year A the gospel reading for almost every Sundays is taken from Matthew. The characteristic themes of Matthew’s Gospel appear in the readings for Advent.
On the first Sunday, we heard of Christ’s manifestation in glory at the end of time. On the second Sunday, John the Baptist issued the challenge to bear good fruit. Today we see Jesus beginning to establish God’s kingdom by righting the wrongs addressed in the Beatitudes. On the fourth Sunday we hear the story of the angel naming Jesus as “Emmanuel”, God with us.
The candle that is lit on the wreath on this third Sunday of Advent is sometimes rose coloured while the other three are purple. This practice comes from the time when there was a break from the strong penitential focus of Advent around the middle of the season. The third Sunday was known as Gaudete Sunday, from Gaudete (Rejoice) which was the first word of the entrance antiphon for the day.
With the entrance antiphon now usually replaced by a hymn and the scriptural readings and Mass prayers setting the tone of the liturgy, it is not the third Sunday of Advent that is different from the rest but the fourth Sunday.
The first three weeks of Advent focus on Christ’s second coming at the end of time. Isaiah presents a vision of the day when the Lord will call together all nations in the eternal peace of the kingdom of God, when God will judge the poor with justice, when God will manifest his glory. On the third Sunday, the voice of John the Baptist calls us to prepare the way of the Lord for his coming, a call which is by no means limited to the idea of Christ’s birth.
The first Preface of Advent, which is used from the first Sunday of Advent to 16th December, clearly reflects the fact that the Church's prayer for the first three Sundays of the season focuses on Christ’s coming again at the end of time.
“When he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
may we who watch for that day
inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.” (from Preface I of Advent)
It is next Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, when there is a marked shift in the theme of the readings and prayers of the Mass towards Mary and the events immediately preceding Christ’s birth. From December 17 until the Christmas vigil, the prayers and readings for Mass prepare us more directly to celebrate Christ’s birth.
This is the time for singing Christmas carols, when they will enhance the liturgical themes of the season, and for putting up the nativity scene in the church. There is plenty of time to sing carols and to pray before the crib during the Christmas season, which does not finish until the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday 12th January.