(Lat. ad-venio, to come to).
According to present usage, Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embracing four Sundays. The first Sunday may be as early as 27 November, and then Advent has twenty-eight days, or as late as 3 December, giving the season only twenty-one days. With Advent the ecclesiastical year begins in the Western churches. During this time the faithful are admonished to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world. Symbolism
To attain this object the Church has arranged the Liturgy for this season. In the official prayer, the Breviary, she calls upon her ministers, in the Invitatory for Matins, to adore "the Lord the King that is to come," "the Lord already near", "Him Whose glory will be seen on the morrow". As Lessons for the first Nocturne she prescribes chapters from the prophet Isaiah, who speaks in scathing terms of the ingratitude of the house of Israel, the chosen children who had forsaken and forgotten their Father; who tells of the Man of Sorrows stricken for the sins of His people; who describes accurately the passion and death of the coming Savior and His final glory; who announces the gathering of the Gentiles to the Holy Hill. In the second Nocturne the Lessons on three Sundays are taken from the eighth homily of Pope St. Leo (440-461) on fasting and alms deeds as a preparation for the advent of the Lord, and on one Sunday (the second) from St. Jerome's commentary on Isaiah, XI, 1, which text he interprets of the Blessed Virgin Mary as "the rod out of the root of Jesse". In the hymns of the season we find praise for the coming of Christ, the Creator of the universe, as Redeemer, combined with prayer to the coming judge of the world to protect us from the enemy. Similar ideas are expressed in the antiphons for the Magnificat on the last seven days before the Vigil of the Nativity. In them, the Church calls on the Divine Wisdom to teach us the way of prudence; on the Key of David to free us from bondage; on the Rising Sun to illuminate us sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, etc. In the Masses the intention of the Church is shown in the choice of the Epistles and Gospels. In the Epistle she exhorts the faithful that, since the Redeemer is nearer, they should cast aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; should walk honestly, as in the day, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ; she shows that the nations are called to praise the name of the Lord; she asks them to rejoice in the nearness of the Lord, so that the price of God, which surpasses all understanding, may keep their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus; she admonishes them not to pass judgment, for the Lord, when He comes, will manifest the secrets hidden in hearts. In the Gospels the Church speaks of the Lord coming in glory; of Him in, and through, Whom the prophecies are being fulfilled; of the Eternal walking in the midst of the Jews; of the voice in the desert, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord". The Church in her Liturgy takes us in spirit back to the time before the incarnation of the Son of God, as though it were really yet to take place. Cardinal Wiseman says:
We are not dryly exhorted to profit by that blessed event, but we are daily made to sigh with the Fathers of old, "Send down the dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One: let the earth be opened, and bud forth the Redeemer." The Collects on three of the four Sundays of that season begin with the words, "Lord, raise up thy power and come" -- as though we feared our iniquities would prevent His being born.
Duration and Ritual
On every day of Advent the Office and Mass of the Sunday or Feria must be said, or at least a Commemoration must be made of them, no matter what grade of feast occurs. In the Divine Office the Te Deum, the joyful hymn of praise and thanksgiving, is omitted; in the Mass the Gloria in excelsis is not said. The Alleluia, however, is retained. During this time the solemnization of matrimony (Nuptial Mass and Benediction) cannot take place; which prohibition binds to the feast of Epiphany inclusively. The celebrant and sacred ministers use violet vestments. The deacon and sub deacon at Mass, in place of the dalmatics commonly used, wear folded chasubles. The sub deacon removes his during the reading of the Epistle, and the deacon exchanges his for another, or for a wider stole, worn over the left shoulder during the time between the singing of the Gospel and the Communion. An exception is made for the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday), on which the vestments may be rose-colored, or richer violet ones; the sacred ministers may on this Sunday wear dalmatics, which may also be used on the Vigil of the Nativity, even if it be the fourth Sunday of Advent. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) states that black was the color to be used during Advent, but violet had already come into use for this season at the end of the thirteenth century. Binterim says that there was also a law that pictures should be covered during Advent. Flowers and relics of Saints are not to be placed on the altars during the Office and Masses of this time, except on the third Sunday; and the same prohibition and exception exist in regard to the use of the organ. The popular idea that the four weeks of Advent symbolize the four thousand years of darkness in which the world was enveloped before the coming of Christ finds no confirmation in the Liturgy. Origin of Date
Concerning the date of Christ's birth the Gospels give no help; upon their data contradictory arguments are based. The census would have been impossible in winter: a whole population could not then be put in motion. Again, in winter it must have been; then only field labor was suspended. But Rome was not thus considerate. Authorities moreover differ as to whether shepherds could or would keep flocks exposed during the nights of the rainy season. Arguments based on Zachary's temple ministry are unreliable, though the calculations of antiquity (see above) have been revived in yet more complicated form, e.g. by Friedlieb (Leben J. Christi des Erlösers, Münster, 1887, p. 312). The twenty-four classes of Jewish priests, it is urged, served each a week in the Temple; Zachary was in the eighth class, Abia. The Temple was destroyed 9 Ab, A.D. 70; late rabbinical tradition says that class 1, Jojarib, was then serving. From these untrustworthy data, assuming that Christ was born A.U.C. 749, and that never in seventy turbulent years the weekly succession failed, it is calculated that the eighth class was serving 2-9 October, A.U.C. 748, whence Christ's conception falls in March, and birth presumably in December. Kellner (op. cit., pp. 106,107) shows how hopeless is the calculation of Zachary's week from any point before or after it. It seems impossible, on analogy of the relation of Passover and Pentecost to Easter and Whitsuntide, to connect the Nativity with the feast of Tabernacles, as did, e.g., Lightfoot (Horæ Hebr, et Talm., II, 32), arguing from Old Testament prophecy, e.g. Zach., xiv, 16 sqq,; combining, too, the fact of Christ's death in Nisan with Daniel's prophecy of a three and one-half years' ministry (ix, 27), he puts the birth in Tisri, i.e. September. As undesirable is it to connect 25 December with the Eastern (December) feast of Dedication (Jos. Ant. Jud., XII, vii, 6). The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date. For the history of the solar cult, its position in the Roman Empire, and syncretism with Mithraism, see Cumont's epoch-making "Textes et Monuments" etc., I, ii, 4, 6, p. 355. Mommsen (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, 1², p. 338) has collected the evidence for the feast, which reached its climax of popularity under Aurelian in 274. Filippo del Torre in 1700 first saw its importance; it is marked, as has been said, without addition in Philocalus' Calendar. It would be impossible here even to outline the history of solar symbolism and language as applied to God, the Messiah, and Christ in Jewish or Chrisian canonical, patristic, or devotional works. Hymns and Christmas offices abound in instances; the texts are well arranged by Cumont (op. cit., addit. Note C, p. 355).
The earliest rapprochement of the births of Christ and the sun is in Cypr. , "De pasch. Comp.", xix, "O quam præclare providentia ut illo die quo natus est Sol . . . nasceretur Christus." - "O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born." - In the fourth century, Chrysostom, "del Solst. Et Æquin." (II, p. 118, ed. 1588), says: "Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et Invicti Natalem appelant. Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster? . . . Vel quod dicant Solis esse natalem, ipse est Sol iustitiæ." - "But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice." Already Tertullian (Apol., 16; cf. Ad. Nat., I, 13; Orig. c. Cels., VIII, 67, etc) had to assert that Sol was not the Christians' God; Augustine (Tract xxxiv, in Joan. In P. L., XXXV, 1652) denounces the heretical identification of Christ with Sol. Pope Leo I (Serm. XXXVII in nat. dom., VII, 4; XXII, II, 6 in P. L., LIV, 218 and 198) bitterly reproves solar survivals - Christians, on the very doorstep of the Apostles' basilica, turn to adore the rising sun. Sun-worship has bequeathed features to modern popular worship in Armenia, where Christians had once temporarily and externally conformed to the cult of the material sun (Cumont, op. cit.., p. 356). But even should a deliberate and legitimate "baptism" of a pagan feast be seen here no more than the transference of the date need be supposed. The "mountain-birth" of Mithra and Christ's in the "grotto" have nothing in common: Mithra's adoring shepherds (Cumont, op. cit., I, ii, 4, p. 304 sqq.) are rather borrowed from Christian sources than vice versa.
The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia (1-23 December) nor even in the midnight holy birth at Eleusis (see J.E. Harrison, Prolegom., p. 549) with its probable connection through Phrygian with the Naasene heretics, or even with the Alexandrian ceremony quoted above; nor yet in rites analogous to the midwinter cult at Delphi of the cradled Dionysus, with his revocation from the sea to a new birth (Harrison, op. cit., 402 sqq.). Duchesne (Les origines du culte chrétien, Paris, 1902, 262 sqq.) advances the "astronomical" theory that, given 25 March as Christ's death-day [historically impossible, but a tradition old as Tertullian (Adv. Jud., 8)], the popular instinct, demanding an exact number of years in a Divine life, would place His conception on the same date, His birth 25 December. This theory is best supported by the fact that certain Montanists (Sozomen, Hist. Eccl., VII, 18) kept Easter on 6 April; both 25 December and 6 January are thus simultaneously explained. The reckoning, moreover, is wholly in keeping with the arguments based on number and astronomy and "convenience", then so popular. Unfortunately, there is no contemporary evidence for the celebration in the fourth century of Christ's conception on 25 March. The present writer in inclined to think that, be the origin of the feast in East or West, and though the abundance of analogous midwinter festivals may indefinitely have helped the choice of the December date, the same instinct which set Natalis Invicti at the winter solstice will have sufficed, apart from deliberate adaptation or curious calculation, to set the Christian feast there too.
The Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath is the widely recognized symbol of Advent. The wreath is made of a circle of evergreen branches laid flat to symbolize the endless nature of God's love for his people. Four candles stand in the circle. Traditionally, three of the candles are purple and the fourth, the "Joy" candle is pink. Blue candles may also be used to emphasize our hope in God's promise fulfilled in the Nativity. One candle is lit during the first week of Advent, two during the second week, three during the third and four during the fourth week. The candles remind us of the light of God coming into the world, and the light from the candles grows brighter as each week comes closer to Christmas.
Sweet Child of Bethlehem, allow us to penetrate with all our souls this profound mystery of the Nativity. Put in all our hearts that peace we are searching, sometimes even with violence, and that only you can give us. Help us to know each other better and to live like brothers as children of the same Father. Show us your beauty, your holiness and your purity. Wake up in our hearts the love and gratitude for your infinite goodness. Let us join you in your love. And give us your heavenly peace. Amen.