What is Advent?

The word advent is derived from the Latin adventus, which means "coming" or "arrival."  In the societies of the Roman empire, the word adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power - a king, emperor, or even one of the gods.  For Christians, Advent is the time when the church patiently prepares for the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.

Advent is a 4-week liturgical season that begins the Church year.  The liturgical year is the celebration throughout the year of the mysteries of the Lord's birth, life, death, and Resurrection in such a way that the entire year becomes a year of the Lord's grace.  Scripture readings are based on 3-year cycles of A, B, and C.  On
5 Dec 09, the first Sunday of Advent begins the C cycle.  Click here for more information on the liturgical calendar.

The leaders of Second Vatican Council describe Advent as having, “a twofold character” as a season:  

? To prepare us for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered

? Remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. 

Advent is thus a period for “devout and joyful expectation.” 

Origins of Advent

Advent as we know it today was developed many centuries after Jesus' life on earth.  Because of the number of persons being baptized in the early Church, a practice developed of having another time for baptism in addition to the Eater Vigil.  Christmas was chosen as another baptismal season.  Since Lent served as a time of preparation for the baptisms at the Easter Vigil, the weeks leading up to Christmas became a time of penance and preparation.

Combined with this penitential practice was the preparation for Christmas.  The Sunday and weekday Scriptures during Advent recall the centuries of longing for the coming of the messiah, the conception of John the Baptist, and the family history of Mary and Joseph.  The writings of the prophet Isaiah are featured during Advent because they so eloquently speak of Israel's longing for salvation. 

What is the Church's focus during Advent?

Advent is the first part of a larger liturgical season that includes Christmas and Epiphany and continues until the beginning of Lent.  Even though Advent occurs in the month of December and is usually considered to be a prelude to Christmas, it is not simply about waiting for the birth of Christ.  Advent is as much about preparing for Christ's return on Judgment Day.  Indeed, the Advent season focuses on Christ's threefold coming - past, present, and future.  First, we remember the Lord's humble first coming in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  Second, we give thanks for His present and continual coming to us through Word and Sacrament.  Finally, we look forward with hope and longing to His second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.  

Advent's four Sundays are thematically arranged to concentrate on different aspects of Christ's coming.  The first Sunday in Advent deals with Christ's triumphant arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the event that marked the beginning of His passion (Mark 11:1-10).  The second Sunday introduces the prophetic message of John the Baptist, the one who urged Israel to prepare for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 3:1-6).  The third Sunday focuses on the content of John's preaching, especially his call to the people to repent and his emphasis on the coming Messiah as the One who will baptize "with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:7-18).  The final Sunday in Advent is the bridge to Christmas with the its attention to the miracle of Christ's conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38).

What are the colors of the vestments?

The color of vestments is purple or violet with the option of using rose on the third Sunday (“Gaudete” Sunday) that is a day of joy as Advent is half over and Christmas is nearer.

How to Prepare during Advent

The focus of Christian history is waiting for the coming of Jesus.  We must live with an expectation—living with an inner longing or emptiness.

The Gospels go against the mentality of our success-seeking culture that stresses we should always get what we want.  As Americans we are taught to believe we have a right to happiness.  But the Gospel has a different message—that when we set out to seek forms of created happiness apart from God, we are creating idols.

Many of us fall into a trap of setting up and maintaining private kingdoms of earthly happiness in the midst of a world filled with public suffering.  In order to pursue our goals, we create an illusion about the world around us and we are in danger of blocking ourselves off from our brothers and sisters in Christ.  As Christians, we are called to really say, “Come Lord Jesus.”  Our kingdom must go so that the Lord’s kingdom may come.  When we try to have both of these kingdoms, we are not letting the Lord rule.

Many Christians focus on the coming of the Lord as a baby at Christmas.  But if we focus on this sentimental picture, we are apt not to act as adult Christians in working to establish the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ saving presence in the world is best described in the Sermon on the Mount.  As mature Christians, our focus should be on Easter.

Although the Church is closely related to the Kingdom of God—an instrument of the Kingdom—the Church and the Kingdom are not the same.  The Church can be affected by sin.  It (like the institutional religion that Jesus encountered and often fought during His earthy life) can become self-serving, self-maintaining and unprepared for the conversion demanded to embrace the Kingdom of God.

The Lord is saying that our choices today should be such that our tomorrows are open and not already decided.  Our task is to live with open hands—with emptiness—so there’s room for something more.  Our task is to be self-emptying and not self-fulfilling.  We have to surrender to truth that there is darkness (evil) and that we are part of it.  We must learn how to relate to it.  Our culture makes it easy to accept the lies that are part of our system (e.g., complete success, security, growth or happiness are attainable in this life).  The most dangerous lies are those that everyone agrees upon so they no longer look like lies anymore.



During this season let us pause and ask ourselves,
“Where are you living your life - in your kingdom or on
the threshold of the Kingdom of God?




Asking for the Grace We Desire

Too often we come up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as the days after, with little or no time for formal prayer at all.  Every moment, it seems, is filled with some preparation, some tradition, having people over to our house or going to others' homes.  Even those of us who are home bound or those of us who might be alone these days sometimes have difficulty "getting to" the heart of the Gift offered us these days.

This year, let's ask for the grace or graces we desire.  We may have many desires swirling around inside, or we may feel so fragmented that we don't know what we desire.  Check out our Desires Page, for words that might help us with words to name our own desires.

Keeping Focused in the "Background"

The key to finding intimacy with God in the midst of each of our activities is to go through our day with an awareness of what it all means.  With focus and a conscious attention to our desires, we can maintain an alive "background," even while rushing somewhere, opening packages, eating dinner or avoiding a conflict. 

For example, while driving to a family dinner or while preparing a meal - even though there might be music on or other conversation happening around me - I can take brief moments to "collect" who I am and why I'm here and what I desire for this moment in this day.  In a few simple deep breaths, I can say, "O Lord, as you came into our world to share our lives, please come into this day and give us peace.  Please bless me, my family and friends at this meal with a little more love.  I hand over to you my anxieties and fears, as I ask you for your own peace."  The Christmas Prayers linked in the Resources column offer ways to turn to God through the normal activities of our days.  Our hope is that by reading these prayer suggestions, we might more easily use our own words in similar situations throughout our day.

Letting Rituals and Gestures Be Open to Grace

Hopefully, we will be able to celebrate the Eucharist or some common prayer with our faith community.  Let's let that celebration be richly open to grace, with our attention and prayer.  With focused attention, we can let many very ordinary parts of our days become prayerful and rich with grace.  Imagine how different this Christmas would be if we let every handshake, touch on the arm, every hug, every kiss, be an opportunity - even for a few brief seconds - to turn to God in thanksgiving and with a prayer.  "Thank you so much for Ann; she is such a gift. Please give her your freedom and peace."  "Bill is such a wonderful partner. Please fill our marriage with faith, generosity and self-sacrificing love."  "Lord, you know the struggles I have with Kathy; let me be as compassionate and loving with her as you are."  In these or similar brief prayers, our very ordinary gestures of greeting might be transformed and full of faith.  Any other activity can become a ritual, if I let it have meaning: turning on the Christmas tree lights, ("Lord, let your Light brighten this house this day."), opening the front door to guests, ("Lord, we open our house and our hearts to the gifts you bring us."), sitting down after a big meal, ("Lord, I feel full, in so many ways; thank you.").

And Giving Thanks at the End

At the end of our day, perhaps as we change our clothes, or just as we get into bed, we can give thanks for the wonder of God's gift to us in the coming of Jesus into our world, and for the graces that came to us through his coming to us today.


Advent Prayer

Henri J.M. Nouwen

Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.

To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!"  Amen.



Related Links

Common Advent Prayers  

On-line Resources for Advent

American Catholic:  Celebrating Advent-Christmas

EWTN Advent Devotional

Blessing Rituals for Advent



St. Patrick's Church at Moody Air Force Base