Friday, November 30, 2018 - Updated: 10:58 am
QUESTION: In general, I understand the seasons of the church year, but Advent has always been confusing to me. I am not sure what we are supposed to be doing or what it really means. It is compressed into a few short weeks where most of the world is already celebrating Christmas, so I wonder if Advent really matters anymore?
ANSWER: The season of Advent is the product of a complex history. It seems to be a western observance that is not found in most of the ancient (or modern) liturgies of the Eastern churches.
Originally, the season of Advent was related to a time of preparation for the feast of Epiphany. In some local churches in the West, baptism was conferred on Epiphany. Thus, from prevailing customs related to Easter baptism, there needed to be some time of preparation for those to be baptized. Generally, where this practice existed, Advent was a period of six weeks and had many of the characteristics of Lent (fasting, penance, etc.).
In the ancient Roman liturgy, however, baptisms were not conferred at Epiphany. Therefore, in Rome the character of Advent was that of a liturgical season preparing for the feast of the birth of Christ. It had none of the penitential character of Lent. Thus, the Gloria continued to be sung and, as late as the 12th century, white vestments were worn during Advent.
Gradually, the customs of various churches fused, and by modern times Advent had taken on much of the same penitential tone (and color) as Lent.
Our contemporary understanding of the season emerges from the vision of the Second Vatican Council as enunciated in a document issued March 21, 1969, titled “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the New General Roman Calendar.” Within that document we find the following description of Advent:
“The season of Advent has a twofold character. It is a time of preparation for Christmas when the first coming of God’s Son is recalled. It is also a season when minds are directed by this memorial to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is thus a season of joyful and spiritual expectation” (39). In this context, we might better understand the real meaning of Advent.
However, it is clear that our secular world does not celebrate Advent. We are likely not going to change the culture. Our task is to try to keep the culture from invading our homes until we have celebrated at least some of Advent and are prepared for the meaning of Christmas.
That does not mean we must banish all decoration and talk of Christmas until Dec. 24. It does mean that we must focus on Christ as the center of everything we do, especially in these days before Christmas. Advent also is about Christ, his coming into our world and his return when we end life on earth, as well as when all creation is brought before him as the judge of it all. That focus, even in times of “holiday” distraction, can save the season of Advent if it is only for ourselves and our families.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.