So what is Advent and why is it important? Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. It has a quasi-penitential theme, and this can be a strong antidote against the consumerism of our nation and time.
I was recently wondering about the origins of Advent and its history. So I did a little research and came up with the Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Advent:
- The first recorded "preparation for Christmas" is found in the acts of the Synod of Saragossa, Spain in A.D. 380. This synod declared that all baptized Christians should be present in Church from December 17 till December 25. If you do the math, that comes out to the eight days before Christmas--not quite a full Advent season, but it's a start.
- Saint Caesarius of Arles (502-542) is recorded to have delivered the first recorded homilies on Advent.
- The Synod of Macon in Gaul (modern day France) in A.D. 581 is our first firm witness of what we might call the season of Advent. It states that the liturgical norms for Lent be kept from November 11 to December 24 (about 40 days). The connection made here between Advent and Lent reflects the reason why the penitential color of purple is common to both Advent and Lent.
- We also have a copy of a sermon given by Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) for the second Sunday of Advent.
- In the seventh century, Advent was celebrated in Spain with five Sundays! The Gelasian Sacramentary also gives liturgical propers for the "five Sundays of Advent."
- The Eastern Churches began celebrating Advent in the eighth century as a time of strict fasting and abstinence--a practice still common Eastern Orthodoxy. This practice also reflects the season's similarity to Lent. Incidentally, red is the most common liturgical color for Advent in the Eastern churches.
- Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-85) apparently reduced the number of Sundays in Advent from five to four--the current practice.
- The third Sunday of Advent is technically called Gaudete Sunday and it is marked by rose vestments (don't ask your priest why he's wearing "pink"!) and hangings. Gaudete means rejoice because the third Sunday marks the over-half-way-point of Advent. This usage corresponds to the rose vestments used on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent (also the over-half-way-point of Lent).
- The Advent wreath, found in many Catholic homes, is a rather modern invention. It derives to a 19th century German custom, apparently Lutheran in origin. The practice was soon adopted by Bavarian Catholics and spread all over the world.
- The liturgical season of Advent anticipates Second Advent (Coming) of Christ while also remembering the First Advent (Coming) of Christ at Christmas. Thus, the season generally celebrates the activity of God in history in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent is the parenthesis in which falls all of Christian history.
Have a Happy and Holy Advent,
PS: Tune in again at Christmas for a special piece on the "Top Ten Things to Know about the Twelve Days of Christmas."