Sunday, December 04, 2011

What Is Advent?

The Modern Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon provides the following definition:
  • A period of prayer in preparation for Christmas, including four Sundays, the first nearest the feast of St. Andrew, November 30. It is the beginning of the Church's liturgical year. The use of the organ and other musical instruments is restricted in liturgical functions. However, it is allowed 1. in extraliturgical functions, 2. for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, 3. to support singing, and 4. on Gaudete Sunday, feasts and solemnities, and in any extraordinary celebration. Altars may not be decorated with flowers. In the celebration of matrimony, the nuptial blessing is always imparted. But the spouses are advised to take into account the special character of the liturgical season. Masses for various needs and votive Masses for the dead are not allowed unless there is a special need. (Etym. Latin adventus, a coming, approach, arrival.)

Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the Church’s liturgical calendar. It is a time of preparation for and anticipation of the coming of the Lord that we celebrate on Christmas Day. It is an opportunity to place ourselves in the shoes of the Jewish people who waited so long for the coming of the Messiah. It is an opportunity to renew our appreciation for the Incarnation, the moment when the Son of God became man, one like us in all things but sin.

Advent takes on a somber tone, similar to Lent, because our minds are focused on what life is like without Christ, without God’s entrance into our world. Of course, in waiting for this coming of the Lord, Advent takes on an eschatological tone as well since, as Christians, we also await the Second Coming, when Jesus will come again and make all things new.

Unfortunately, the same world that God so desired to save can often squelch the spirit of Advent that we are called to embrace. If we are somber it is not because we anxiously await the coming of the Lord, it is because traffic to the mall is backed up, Wal-Mart is all out of Nintendo Wii’s, and the kids are yelling in the back seat because they want to go see Santa Claus. It’s easy in times like this to forget what Christmas is really all about.

This is where Advent comes in. Once we understand Advent for what it is truly meant to be, it can be the antidote to the stress that often accompanies the holiday season. Advent calls us to refocus are minds back to what is important and to remember again the true reason for the season.

Over 2,000 years ago, God asked a virgin a simple question: “Will you let me use you to bring my Son to the world? Will you give me your flesh, your life, your time, your entire being?” In a sense, this is the same question that God asks us today, and Advent is a time to prepare ourselves so that when God wishes to come through us, we like Mary, will be able to say “Yes” to Him.

Let's also remember that with Advent's past significance (in the Incarnation) and future significance (in the Parousia) is also a present reality. Jesus comes, here and now, wherever the Eucharist is celebrated. In a sense, every Mass is a new Advent, and it only makes sense that, during this time of preparation, we should remain close to Christ in the Eucharist. It is in that advent that He is preparing us for the advent that awaits the end of time.

Pax Christi,


  1. My pastor explained to me the other day that Advent is really only about the second coming but we focus on Christmas because we can't grasp the second coming... or something like that... what do you make of this? Have you ever heard this reasoning before?

  2. he also said the Incarnation is meaningless without the second coming... then he gave me a bunch of crap about me not listening to him, or something, I don't know, I wasn't really paying attention. (dumb and dumber reference)

  3. In his article "Advent Dynamism", Fr. Roger Landry says that Advent is that season in which we prepare for Christ's coming in the past (in Bethlehem), his coming in the future (on the clouds of heaven to judge the living and the dead) and His coming in the present (in so many ways, but especially in the Eucharist). That seems to me to be the best way to look at it.

  4. Btw, I cracked up at the Dumb and Dumber reference :D

  5. I am a Christian but not of the Catholic faith. Recently I had the pleasure to attend daily mass on an Atlantic cruise. The priest remarked in several of his Homilies that Advent refers only to the second coming of Christ at the end of time. This was new to me as I always connected it to the four Sundays before Christmas. Is the Priest comments the official view of the Catholic Church. Sincerely

  6. Russ .... if you read The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, nos. 96-105, it definitely verifies what I wrote in my post: that Advent is in a sense a time of anticipation of two comings, the Incarnation and the Parousia, or Second Coming. I think that's the closest you'll get to an "official view of the Catholic Church" regarding Advent.

    To read the Directory, go here:


    I think this goes with your blog entry. =)

  8. I have heard that advent has both an eschatological sense but that it is grounded in the remembrance of the incarnation. The better we are able to enter into the one, the more we will have a taste of the other.

    I think anyway.

    I am not sure I buy the "incarnation is meaningless without the second coming" bit. It is one of those questions that does not matter, but it is sitting wrong with me.

  9. I didn't really know Advent had anything to do with the Second Coming....

    Thought it was just a way to sell purple and pink candles. ;)


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