From Sunday 3rd December (beginning, liturgically speaking, with the Vigil Mass on Saturday evening) we enter the season of Advent.
Vestments and cloths (such as the cover of the tabernacle, the altar frontage, and the "fall" hanging from the lectern) are purple or violet - the colour of penitence.
Advent marks the start of a new year in the life of the Church, and covers the four weeks leading to Christmas.
Advent is simple and reflective in tone. It has little of the rich symbolism of Christmas. It is easily overshadowed and overlooked. Yet Advent expresses a universal human desire.
No matter how content we may be with life there is always going to be some wrong, somewhere, that needs to be corrected and eliminated; some good that needs to be done.
Jewish piety laid the foundations of Advent. So often the Jews were victims of oppression, exile and slavery. They longed and yearned for the Messiah, who would come to restore Israel to its former glory, transforming injustice and creating God’s promised new world. And so the Messiah came. But Jesus of Nazareth left the task unfinished, entrusting to his followers the continuation of the work he had begun.
So the Christian Church, like the Jewish nation before it, embraced the present, but looked with hope to the future. Christians in the west, but not in the east, created their own season of Advent; four weeks of penitential preparation for the celebration of Christmas. It was a time when they recalled the blessing of the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem and a time of watching and waiting for the second coming of Christ, in which he would bring the work of re-creation to completion.
Out of that tension between past, present and future grow the themes on which we reflect in Advent. Aided by the prophetic words of Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets, we re-live the joy of the First Coming so that we may joyfully anticipate the Second Coming. We ask two questions: what did Christ do then, and, what do we want Christ to do now?
We both ask those questions and answer them. The coming of Christ goes on continually. It is always he who is to come in the world and in the Church – there is always an Advent going on, through us. We become the Advent, the people in and though whom Christ comes now. And if Christ’s constant coming through us is to have its full impact the challenge to us is to look at the commercialisation of the weeks before Christmas. Without condemning it, we must invite people to explore the deeper meaning of ‘wanting more’.
We need first to apply Advent faith to ourselves. We long for redemption. From which personal characteristics would you like to be released: intolerance, impatience, ingratitude? In prayer ask Jesus to be re-formed in you.
Then, what do we do about the ‘commercialism’? Understand that, for some, Christmas cheer is a temporary flight from the sad reality of daily life. From what are they trying to deliver themselves? Look for gentle ways of showing that Advent celebrates the conquest of evil and the hope of God’s goodness for the future.
Generally, don’t be negative. Seasons of peace, festive banquets and friendly gatherings of strangers are promises made by the Advent prophets. Recognise them when you see them, and see in them God’s blessing. Wonder aloud why they can’t be permanent features, and show in your own life that they can be.
Contributed by Fr Paul Hardy
Click here for information on, and prayers that can be used in conjunction with, the Advent Wreath. And click here for Advent resources compiled for the Year of Prayer and Vocation