The Season of Advent

Next Sunday the violet of Advent will replace the green of Ordinary Time in our churches.
According to the official liturgy documents, the season of Advent is a period for “devout and joyful expectation”. Advent is not primarily a penitential season as it has sometimes been considered in the past.
The season of Advent in fact serves a dual purpose. From the first Sunday of Advent until December 16, the liturgy focuses on Christ’s second coming at the end of time. The period from December 17 until Christmas eve is the time when we prepare more directly to celebrate Christ’s birth 2000 years ago. Advent is a season of preparation for Christmas – it is not the Christmas season. The integrity of Advent is respected by reserving Christmas customs such as carols and nativity plays until Christmas, or at least until after December 16, and not allowing them to take over the distinctive character of Advent.
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 “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ”. 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.
In all three years of the lectionary cycle, the focus of each Sunday is clearly identifiable: 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.
The alternative Opening Prayer for the third Sunday of Advent encapsulates the twofold nature of Advent and its mood of “devout and joyful expectation”:
“..the earth rejoices in the hope of the Saviour’s coming and looks forward with longing to its return at the end of time”.This year, Advent is the shortest it can possibly be – just 22 days! (Advent is actually four Sundays, not four weeks as we sometimes think.) On Sunday 24th December we mark the fourth Sunday of Advent and that same evening begin our Christmas Masses – two holy days of obligation in a row! This unusual occurrence will present challenges for parishes when it comes to scheduling Masses, preparing the worship space and so on. As we celebrate Advent and begin a new liturgical year at the dawn of a new millennium, “may the dawn of his coming find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth”. (Alternative Opening Prayer, 1st Sunday of Adven


Elizabeth Harrington