Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Meaning of Advent

Advent (n) - The Church season before Christmas, a time of expectation and penitance.  From the Latin adventus "a coming, approach, arrival", ad-venio "to come to" (ad - "to" + venire "to come").

The roots of the observance of Advent run deep into the past. While mentions of a season of preparation prior to the observance of "The Feast of the Nativity" (ie - Christmas) is mentioned in several old texts, with homilies extant from the 500s, the observance seems to have crystallized into a form that we would recognize during the time of Pope St. Gregory (1073-85). 

Advent wreaths are a more recent tradition, starting in Germany - and then spreading through-out the world since the early 20th century. The evergreen circle of the wreath represents eternal God, and the four candles represent the four Sundays of Advent.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholics are to use Advent as a time to:
  • prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
  • thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
  • thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.
There are many traditions as to the meanings of each week and its candles. 

The first week is universally HOPE - and the readings tend to focus on Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. The Church's lesson focuses on the children who have forgotten their Father, and the Promise of the coming Saviour. We celebrate the HOPE in the Promises of God, our Father.

The second week is in some traditions FAITH, in others is is PEACE, and in others it is THE WAY, with the candle called the Bethlehem candle. The Church's lesson focuses on fasting and acts of charity as part of our preparation for the coming of the Saviour. 

The second week also often falls within the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and so the lessons will show how Mary points to the Saviour - within the writings of the prophets and within the Christmas Story itself - and honors her example of perfect obedience to God's Will.

The third week is Gaudete Sunday - the Sunday of JOY. Some call the rose candle the Shepherd's candle, honoring their JOY at the birth of the Redeemer. The Church's lessons for this week focus on John the Baptist, on preparing the Way of the Lord. We celebrate the JOY of the impending arrival of Our Saviour.

The fourth week is commonly LOVE, and this candle often called the Angel's candle. The Church's lesson tends to focus on the Magnificat. We ask for Divine Wisdom to teach us, for the Key of David to free us from the bondage of sin, for the Light of the World to release us from the darkness and shadows of sin and death. 

We celebrate the LOVE that God had for us, that He would give his Son as a sacrifice for our Salvation.

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