Advent – History
Jennifer Gregory Miller
Reprinted with permission of www.catholicculture.org, Copyright © 2004 Trinity Communications 2004. All rights reserved.
The Coming of the Lord
Happy New Year! While a month yet remains in the civil year, the Church is celebrating the beginning of a new Liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. Advent — from the Latin ad venio, “to come” — is the liturgical season anticipating the Adventus Domini, the “coming of the Lord.” While the days grow shorter and colder, we prepare for the “Sun of Justice” who comes to kindle our hearts with his light and his love.
The Eternal Word, who is outside of time, became Incarnate in time, thereby making all time sacred. In the season of Advent, we await the coming of Christ on all the levels which we experience time: in the past – as a baby in the stable of Bethlehem; in the present – as grace in our souls; and in the future – as the Judge at the end of time.
The Advent season is filled with preparation and expectation. Everyone is getting ready for Christmas – shopping and decorating, baking and cleaning. Too often, however, we are so busy with the material preparations that we lose sight of the real reason for our activity: the Word made flesh coming to dwell among us. Christians are urged to preserve the spiritual focus of Christmas amidst the prevailingly secular and consumer-driven society.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, let us strive to keep Advent a season of waiting and longing, of conversion and hope, meditating often on the incredible love and humility of our God in taking on flesh of the Virgin Mary. In our shopping and baking, let us remember to purchase and prepare something for the poor. When we clean our homes, let us distribute some of our possessions to those who lack many necessities. While we are decking the halls of our homes, let us not forget to prepare a peaceful place in our hearts wherein our Savior may come to dwell.
Focus on the Liturgy
There are always four Sundays in Advent, though not necessarily four full weeks. The liturgical color of the season is violet or purple, except on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday, when optional rose vestments may be worn. The Gloria is not recited during Advent liturgies, but the Alleluia is retained.
The prophesies of Isaiah are read often during the Advent season, but all of the readings of Advent focus on the key figures of the Old and New Testaments who were prepared and chosen by God to make the Incarnation possible: the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph, Sts. Elizabeth and Zechariah. The expectancy heightens from December 17 to December 24 when the Liturgy resounds with the seven magnificent Messianic titles of the O Antiphons.
The Advent season also has a Marian and pro-life focus. We meditate on this wonderful mystery of the Word Made Flesh with as much eagerness as his Mother, Mary prepared and awaited the birth of her son.
The History of Advent
In 490, Bishop Perpetuus of Tours officially declared Advent a penitential season in the Frankish Church of Western Europe, ordering a fast on three days of every week from November 11 (the feast of St. Martin of Tours) till Christmas. This forty days’ fast, similar to Lent, was originally called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Forty Days’ Fast of Saint Martin’s). The Readings for the Eucharistic Liturgies were taken from the Masses of Lent.
By contrast, the Advent season of the Roman liturgy, developing a century after that of the Frankish Church, was a non-penitential, festive and joyful time of preparation for Christmas. When the Church unified the liturgical season, the non-penitential nature of the Roman Advent conflicted with the longer and penitential Gallic Advent. By the thirteenth century a compromise was reached, which combined the fasting and penitential character of the Gallic observance with the Mass texts and shorter four-week cycle of the Roman Advent liturgy. The liturgy of Advent remained substantially unaltered until Vatican II mandated a few minor changes to more clearly delineate the spirit of the Lenten and Advent seasons.
Jennifer Gregory Miller is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville with a background in history and music. Jennifer specializes in Catholic topics, particularly the Liturgical Year. She is the concept leader and chief coordinator of the related section of www.catholicculture.org. She is now a mother of one and lives in Manassas, VA, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Veritas, 1 December 2003