Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 21, 2005
O come, Divine Messiah
Advent prepares us for Christ's Second Coming
By GLEN ARGAN
Christians next Sunday will begin the annual celebration of Advent, a time of preparation for the memorial of the Incarnation and also of joyful anticipation of Christ's Second Coming.
This year, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, will be a rare opportunity to mark four full weeks of Advent. Advent this year begins on the earliest possible date - Nov. 27.
Preparation for Epiphany
The first origins of the season of Advent were found in parts of the Western Church which had an ascetical period of preparation for Epiphany, a major baptismal feast like Easter.
Three weeks of fasting and prayer were later lengthened to 40 days.
Advent came to Rome in the late sixth century and began to change its form. There, it became a preparation for Christmas, not Epiphany, and its focus shifted to the liturgy from the more individualistic asceticism.
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Pope Gregory the Great shortened Advent from six weeks to four, wrote texts for the liturgy, and arranged the Lectionary for both the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours.
Advent today is focused around two related themes. Until Dec. 16 Advent centres on our anticipation of Christ's return in glory. The second theme - the memorial of the Incarnation - is central in the octave before Christmas.
In Advent, we hear the great Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, urging us "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord" (Isaiah 40). We listen to John the Baptist and see him as Christ's precursor. We also meet Mary, the perfect disciple, who gently commits herself to doing the Father's will.
Christians use the Advent wreath to symbolize the expansion of God's light in our midst. The tradition has been for the wreath to contain one rose-coloured and three purple candles - one for each week of Advent. A fifth, white candle may be lit on Christmas Eve.
The purple candles stem from a time when Advent had a more penitential character. The rose candle for the Third Sunday symbolized joy and a lessening of the penitential discipline.
An alternative is to use all white candles to mark the whole season as one of devout and joyful expectation.
Pope John Paul II
Advent itself was a theme for the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. In his first encyclical in 1979, The Redeemer of Mankind, Pope John Paul wrote that humanity and the Church are in "a new Advent, a time of expectation."
This new Advent was not only a time of expectation, but also one of renewed human dignity. "Through the Incarnation God gave human life the dimension that he intended man to have from the first beginning," the pope wrote.