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More about Advent
More about Advent
The first Sunday of Advent is also the first day of a new liturgical year. In some respects the church’s way of keeping time conflicts with the secular calendar. The new liturgical year is beginning just as many other things are coming to an end – the academic year is finishing, industries and organisations are winding down for the Christmas-New Year break, end-of-year parties are being held, etc. On the other hand, the symbols, readings and prayers of Advent emphasise that this time of year is for Christians not an ending, but a new beginning, a chance to start again with hope in the future.
We are now in year A of the three-year lectionary cycle. The Gospel that is read on the Sundays of year A is 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 4th 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 3rd 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 3rd 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 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 and final Sunday.
The first three weeks of Advent focus on Christ’s second coming at the end of time. The readings on the first two Sundays quite explicitly situate Advent within a much larger context. 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.
It is next Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, when there is a marked shift in the focus 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 9th January.