The season of Advent marks the beginning of the Church’s liturgical calendar, anticipating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of course, the advent of our Lord began with the Annunciation. St. Louis de Montfort says in True Devotion to Mary:
“God the Holy Spirit formed Jesus Christ in Mary, but only after having asked her consent by means of one of the highest ministers in His court.
God the Father communicated His fecundity to Mary as far as a pure creature is capable of it, in order to give Her the power to produce His son and all the members of His mystical body.”
And so, as the Holy family heads to Bethlehem, we await the coming of our Savior.
Many confuse the Advent Season with the Christmas Season. The Christmas Season actually begins on Christmas Eve and ends after the octave of the Epiphany. One of the sad things about our modern world is that we have replaced the quiet, penitent season of Advent with the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping. Commercialism has introduced the disgraceful practice of starting the Christmas celebration the day after Thanksgiving, displaying all the symbols and music a whole month ahead of the feast. Such untimely observances not only deprives us of the true spirit of Christmas, but also tends to rob Christmas itself of a joyful celebration, for we become exhausted from all the premature Christmas festivities.
Advent is supposed to be a quite time of reflection and preparation of the coming of our Lord – both of his Nativity and his coming at the end of time. The season is penitential, and in many ways, similar to Lent (purple vestments, no Gloria at the Sunday Mass). On the other hand, the Alleluia is retained in the Mass and the obligation of fasting is generally not imposed. Thus, Advent is a time of joyful penance. In days past, many did fast from St. Martin’s Day (November 11th) until Christmas.
In the good ole days, people did not put up their Christmas tree until Christmas Eve – an idea I really like. It’s a good way to mark the end of the Advent Season and the beginning of the Christmas Season. However, let’s face it, for most of us, it is impractical, especially if you have guests coming over on Christmas Eve. A comprise is to put the tree up sometime during Advent and wait to light the tree until Christmas Eve. What better way to celebrate the occasion of the Light entering into the world. Gather your family and friends around the tree, say a prayer, and then turn the lights on.
Trying to keep up with the frantic pace of Christmas parties, shopping, school plays and concerts can be draining. Every year, I find it more and more difficult to really prepare in my heart the coming of our Lord. A good idea would be to shop early. Try to buy gifts and cards prior to Advent, so you can spiritually prepare for the joy of Christmas. If possible during Advent, attend daily mass. If that is not possible, say a Rosary or the Divine Office. Do some spiritual reading every night. Do something that will take your focus away from the gaudy commercialism around you and help you concentrate on the “reason for the season”.
On the first Sunday of Advent, most Catholics set up an Advent wreath. This is a wreath of greenery, adorned by a set of four candles. Three of the candles are violet, and one is rose colored, which match the vestments the priests wear during mass on each Sunday the candles are lit. The circular wreath represents eternity, and the candles represent penitence (violet) and rejoicing (rose). Each week a new candle is lit. The rose-colored candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) and is similar to Laetare Sunday during Lent. It comes from the Latin word gaude, which means rejoice. Gaudete Sunday comes midway through Advent to give us a moment of joy and hope that Christmas is near. It is traditional to light the candles before dinner and keep them burning throughout the meal. Some will use white candles during the week (since purple and pink candles are hard to find) and only light the colored ones on Sunday. Prayers are often said each Sunday that a new candle is lit. The prayers can be found on various websites online.
For some, at midnight on Christmas Eve, the advent wreath is replaced with a holly wreath adorned with a single white candle – a Christ candle, and it is lit every night until Epiphany.
A Jesse Tree is a depiction of the genealogy of Jesus designed in such a way as to show that Jesus springs from the “root of Jesse”. The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1 “A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots”. All throughout Advent, we will hear references to Christ’s lineage in the Mass readings. The artistic depiction of Christ’s royal genealogical heritage is very old. For instance, the west facade of Chartres Cathedral, dated 1150 A.D. has a window that depicts the Jesse Tree.
For many Catholics, creating a Jesse Tree is a treasured tradition. It is a vehicle to tell our children the Story of Salvation from the Old Testament, and to connect the Advent Season with the faithfulness of God across 4,000 years of history. The tree can be either a banner or a poster on the wall, with the ornaments fastened to it; or a tree, with the ornaments hung from the branches. The ornaments represent Jesus’ ancestors and usually have a symbol that represents them. For instance, Noah is represented as a rainbow or an ark, Moses as a burning bush, David as a shepherds crook or harp, etc. Each day of Advent, an ornament is added to the tree.
Advent calendars come from a 19th century German tradition. They are made mostly for children to count down the days until Christmas. For each of the twenty four days on the calendar, there is a window that reveals something when opened. Usually, it is a trinket, a piece of candy, or a bible verse. The children are only allowed to open one window each day. These are usually store bought, however, many people like to make their own.
And so we await our Lord. O Come O Come Emmanuel!
This article, Celebrating Advent is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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