Advent, which comes from the Latin word for "arrival" or "coming,"
is a period of preparation for the birth of our Lord. Advent begins
four Sundays before Christmas and is the start of the Christmas
season, which lasts through the Baptism of Our Lord. The first Sunday
of Advent also marks the beginning of the liturgical year, the Church's
"New Year's Day," at which time we change the cycle of readings
we are using at Mass.
Advent is a time of joyous anticipation, but also of penance and
preparation for the great Christmas feast. The liturgical color
of the season is purple, a sign of penance, which is also used during
Lent. The Church discourages excessive ornamentation, boisterous
music and even weddings during Advent, in order to foster a sense
of quiet hope.
Thomas J. Talley, in The Origins of the Liturgical Year (Pueblo
Publishing Company), sees the beginning of an advent season in the
Fourth Canon of the Council of Saragosa in 380. In 567, the Synod
of Tours established a December fast. And in 581 the Council of
Macon ordered an advent fast for the laity from the Feast of St.
Martin (November 11) to Christmas. This took the name of St. Martin's
In the seventh and eighth centuries, lectionaries (books containing
the scriptural readings for the Liturgy of the Word) provided for
six Sundays in Advent.
According to the Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,
edited by Richard P. McBrien, Gregory the Great, who died in 604,
was the real architect of the Roman Advent. Gregory fixed the season
at four weeks and composed seasonal prayers and antiphons. Gaul
(France) enriched the season with eschatological elements. And the
fusion of the Roman and Gallican observances returned to Rome by
the 12th century.
is the Advent wreath?
The Advent wreath is one of our most popular Advent traditions.
Its origin is in pre-Christian Germany and Scandinavia where the
people gathered to celebrate the return of the sun after the winter
solstice. The circular wreath made of evergreens with four candles
interspersed represented the circle of the year and the life that
endures through the winter. As the days grew longer, people lit
candles to offer thanks to the "sun god" for the light.
For us, the lighting of the Advent candles represents the promise
of the coming of Jesus, the light of the world.
To make an Advent wreath, begin with a Styrofoam circle, available
at craft shops, and cut four evenly spaced holes into which you
will place the four candles. Traditionally there are three purple
candles and one rose candle (for the third Sunday), but blue candles
can also be used. Purple reminds us to turn our hearts toward God;
rose is a color of joy. Place fresh evergreen branches over the
Styrofoam. Replace them when they dry out in order to preserve the
symbolism of the vitality of God's love. Encourage children to participate
as they are able, by gathering branches, placing the candles and
is the rose-colored candle lit on the third Sunday of Advent?
The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday because in
Latin, the first words of the opening antiphon for that day’s Mass
are "Gaudete in Domino semper" ("Rejoice in
the Lord always"). On this Sunday rose-colored vestments are
permitted and the rose-colored candle is lit as a reminder that
we are called to rejoice.
is a Jesse tree?
An ancient tradition revived in the mid-20th century as an Advent
practice, the Jesse Tree represents the family of Jesse, father
of King David. Out of this family line, God would take flesh and
live among the people of earth. The Gospel of Matthew’s genealogy
of Jesus (Mt 1:1-17) names a person from each generation before
Jesus’ birth. Stories about these people are in the Old Testament.
The Jesse Tree itself can be made from paper, cloth, branches or
a tabletop Christmas tree. Make or add an ornament each day of Advent
to represent the ancestors of Jesus.
The word posada means "shelter" or "lodging."
This Advent custom, popular throughout the Spanish-speaking world,
reenacts Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and
their search for lodging along the way. The ritual lasts for nine
days (December 16-24), representing the months of Mary’s pregnancy.
A group of people travel from house to house on their route, taking
the role of pilgrims seeking lodging. Those inside the homes are
innkeepers who refuse them. At the last home all are invited in
for prayer and refreshments.
holy days of obligation fall during the Advent and Christmas seasons?
In the United States, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December
8, is a holy day of obligation. Mary is the patroness of the U.S.
under this title. The others are Christmas Day, December 25, and
Mary, Mother of God, January 1. In years when January 1 falls on either Saturday (as it does in 2005) or Monday the obligation is lifted.
St. Nicholas real?
St. Nicholas of Myra lived and acquired his reputation for sanctity
long before the Church began its formal process of beatification.
He became recognized as a saint by a kind of popular acceptance.
Historians and hagiographers generally write that much of what is
said about Nicholas is legend. Again, remember that at Nicholas's
time there were no investigation and authentication of claimed miracles
before canonization took place. Attributing miracles and wonders
to a person was an ancient way of expressing people's conviction
about the holiness of the person.
You will still find Nicholas listed in the various dictionaries
of saints, for example, Dictionary of Saints, by John Delaney
(Doubleday). And you will still find Nicholas listed in the Roman
Calendar on December 6. There he is assigned an optional memorial.
In other words, churches and communities on that day may choose
to celebrate either the liturgy in honor of St. Nicholas or the
liturgy for a weekday in Advent.