The Holy Season of Advent
Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means coming. During the four weeks before Christmas we look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as king and judge at the end of time and to our Christmas celebration of his coming as our Saviour 2,000 years ago.
During the first weeks of Advent (up to December 16) we reflect on Christ as our coming king and our judge; we wait in joyful hope for his return in glory to complete his work on earth.
Beginning on December 17, we join with the prophets and the people of God who looked forward to the birth of the Messiah. We express our longing for God’s mercy, and grow more aware of our need for this saving help.
A Season of Renewal
During Advent, we express our great longing for God. Who are we without God? Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15.5). We prepare ourselves and wait for God’s coming. We open our hearts to Jesus in prayer, and show by our actions each day that we are his. We try to love other people more, and to be more patient and understanding. We pray for others, especially those who are close to us, and ask God to help them to grow in love.
During Advent we are invited to change our lives and our hearts. God wants us to prepare for his coming by doing good. Each day we should look at our faults and weaknesses and ask our Father to help us to follow Jesus more closely.
A Season of Hope
Advent brings hope, because Jesus is always ready to help us to grow. He has conquered sin and selfishness by his obedient death and by his rising; he can help us to change our lives for the better. If we want to grow closer to him, and pray and work to improve, Jesus will help us to change for him.
A Season of Joy
We are followers of Jesus, who is the king of glory. We are happy because he is our king, and we are his brothers and sisters. We rejoice because God is our dear Father and because the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. We are happy because Jesus wants to give us his peace and let us share his joy now and in heaven forever.
Advent is not a time of penance like Lent. It is a season of renewal, when God invites us to let Jesus come into our hearts and make us more like him. It is a season of quiet expectation; we live it in the expectation of the fullness of joy to come.
Advent Practices & Devotions
Wreath & Candles
The Advent wreath is a prominent symbol of the Advent season and is used in our churches and our homes as a way to prayerfully count the four weeks of the liturgical season. It consists of a wreath made of evergreens into which four candles have been placed.
Beginning on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, the wreath is blessed and one candle is lit to mark the start of the first week of the Advent season. As each week begins, another candle is lit until all four candles are burning brightly by the Fourth Sunday of Advent. According to tradition, three of the candles are purple and one candle is rose. The rose candle is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin word which means “Rejoice!”), as the focus of the season shifts from the Second Coming of Christ to the First Coming of Christ.
In the northern hemisphere, the days grow shorter at this time of the year, and the trees and plants drop their leaves as they prepare for the long winter ahead. The evergreens on the Advent wreath remind us of the everlasting life promised to us by the gift of Jesus Christ, who came among us to save us from sin and death. The lighting of candles banishes the darkness as a reminder of Jesus Christ, the Light who has come into the world through his birth, and who continues to shine brightly through his Church.
The “O Antiphons”
The O Antiphons are more commonly known to us in the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” They are taken from the Bible and are seven titles or names that we use to describe Jesus. Each day starting on December 17, we are asked to reflect on on the title of Jesus in preparation to celebrate Christmas.
“O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and, reaching from beginning to end, you created all things with might and sweetness. Come and teach us the way of prudence.”
Jesus is the Wisdom of God, through which God made everything in creation–even us! Jesus teaches us about God and how to come closer in our relationship with God. Jesus shows us the way to God and gives us the understanding to be good and holy people.
“O Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Mount Sinai. Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.”
We are reminded here of how God made himself known to Moses through the burning bush and to the Jewish people through the Ten Commandments. As Lord, God saved and delivered the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land and taught them how to live as God’s people. Jesus delivers us from our sin and redeems us with his arms outstretched on the cross.
“O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the peoples; before you kings shall keep silent and to you all nations shall pay respect. Come quickly and save us.”
Roots are best left unseen, underground, invisibly drawing nutrients from the soil, feeding the branches which produce leaves and fruit. If the roots become exposed the whole tree dies. But if the tree is cut down to a stump, new shoots will appear, as long as the root is alive.
The Root of Jesse is God’s promise to Israel that the descendants of King David will rule forever with justice, mercy and peace. That promise is the root of Israel; it gives Israel its meaning, purpose, life. Even when Israel was “cut down” by the Romans, God’s promise lived on in its roots; waiting for the time when the promise would be fulfilled.
Jesus, is the descendant of King David and of Jesse his father, and with his birth, brings God’s promise to fulfillment. Jesus becomes the shoot that grows from the Root of Jesse, which brings forth God’s kingdom of peace, justice and mercy for all.
“O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel, you open and no one can close, you close and no one can open. Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.”
The key and scepter are symbols of the power and authority of a king. As the heir to the kingdom of David (symbol for the kingdom of God), Jesus is king. As King, Jesus frees us from our sins and unlocks the chains of sin that bind us. Advent calls us to seek forgiveness and to forgive others; and to thank God for unlocking us from our sins.
“O Rising Sun, splendour of everlasting light. Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
Today is the shortest day of the year and the longest night. Though it is the darkest day, the Advent candles burn brightly giving us light to see through this darkness of night, of sin and death, of sickness and despair. God sent his Son to be the Light of the World. Jesus is God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness. The birth of Jesus signals the day of our redemption, when we will be freed from our sin and death. As the rising sun in the morning, dispels the darkness of night, so to Jesus, as the Light of the World, dispels the darkness of sin in our lives.
“O King of the Gentiles and the desire of all peoples, you are the cornerstone that unites us all together. Come and save us whom you fashioned out of clay.”
Jesus, the Messiah, is coming not only for the Jewish people but for everyone. In Jesus, all people are united and connected to each other; our differences no longer matter. God is the Creator of every person and through Jesus saves us and brings us back to God. We remember today, that we owe God our praise and thanks for creating us.
“O Emmanuel, our King and our Lord, the expected of the nations and their Saviour. Come and save us, O Lord our God.”
Emmanuel literally means “God-with-us.” On this day, we recognize with joyful expectation that soon the Christ child will be born and become one of us. God never abandons us; God is with us every moment of our lives, guiding, loving and forgiving us along the way. The signs of God’s presence is all around us. Where are they for you?
The Nativity Scene
During the last few days before Christmas, you may prepare the nativity scene in a place of honour in your home. It remains empty; the figures are not placed in it until Christmas Eve.
St. Francis of Assisi began the tradition of the nativity scene or crèche. Instead of figurines, St. Francis would use people in the community to play the parts of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the shepherds, as well as live animals. Eight hundred years later, Christians everywhere keep this tradition alive by reconstructing the scene of our Saviour’s birth in their homes, places of work, schools and churches.
A branch (Jeremiah 23.5) or large plant (Isaiah 11.1) is decorated with symbols of Christ’s ancestors. As each is prepared and hung, the story of this person is told. Each member of the family can prepare the symbol and the biography of this person and share it as the symbol is hung upon the tree.
Many centuries ago, Christians would make a calendar to mark the days as we move gradually to the celebration of our Saviour’s coming. Behind each door on the calendar would appear a character or a symbol of Advent. The significance of this person or symbol would then be discussed as a family.
Advent Chain of Good Deeds
Advent is marked by a time of preparing our homes to welcome family and friends for the feast of Christmas, as well as a time of preparing our hearts to receive Jesus. Many centuries ago, children were encouraged to loop pieces of coloured paper together in a circle and link them together. On each loop was written a good deed that the children had performed. This “chain of good deeds” was then used to decorate the home. It reminds us that all people are created in God’s image and to welcome one another is to welcome Jesus.
Special Liturgical Celebrations during the Advent Season
- First Sunday of Advent
- Second Sunday of Advent
- Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
- Fourth Sunday of Advent
- The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas
Advent Blessings for Use at Home
Please download the following document which contains blessings for use at home for an Advent wreath, Christmas tree, and a nativity scene.