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"Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time to look inward. It is a time to get ready and to see how ready we really are. You could say figuratively that every one of us has a beeper that could go off at any time. None of us knows when. " — Bishop Anthony B. Taylor
The word "advent" originated from the Latin "adventus," which means coming. The season of Advent, therefore, is the preparation for the coming of Jesus, first through the incarnation and ultimately, his coming again in glory at the end of time. This year it runs from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24. Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church. Like Lent, the Gloria is not recited in Advent liturgies, but unlike Lent, the Alleluia is retained. In this season, we are invited to reflect on the wondrous mystery of Jesus' birth as well as look with joy and hope to his return. We are called to repent of our sins, pray and draw ourselves closer to God. The liturgical color of Advent is violet or purple, except on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday, when rose vestments may be worn. "Gaudete" is Latin for "rejoice," which is the first word of the entrance antiphon. The color rose signifies anticipatory joy that the waiting is half over and Christmas is near. The Christmas season begins on Dec. 25, Christmas Day and runs through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
According to Simply Catholic, the educational website maintained by Our Sunday Visitor, since Easter is the principal feast of the Church's liturgical year, celebration of this feast became the model for all other feasts during the year. It is not clear exactly when the Church began to celebrate Advent but we have evidence of the season that goes back at least 14 centuries. | Go to Advent Traditions
"We have Advent sermons from Gregory the Great (who died in 604) and evidence shows the Church in Spain celebrated the Advent season by the middle of the seventh century. Fifty years earlier, a Church synod (a meeting of Church leaders to discuss questions of Church discipline, faith or morals) determined that during the days from Nov. 11 to Dec. 25 should be observed like the days of Lent. When Nov. 11 came to be observed as the feast of St. Martin of Tours, this preparatory time became known as 'St. Martin’s Lent.'"
It is easy to see this connection to Lent with the Advent liturgical color being purple and the fact that we don't sing the Gloria at Mass. The penitential nature of Advent changed after the Second Vatican Council when the season became more about spiritual preparation for Jesus’ birth than penance. To learn more, visit the Catholic Education Resource Center.
The following online resources offer ways to help you spiritually prepare yourself and your family for the celebration of Christmas.
Create an Advent wreath and light it each night of the season while you pray a reflection specific to that day. Begin with this prayer to bless your Advent wreath from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Traditionally, an Advent calendar offers daily Scriptures, activities and prayer suggestions to help you spiritually prepare for the birth of Jesus. The content of an Advent calendar may vary depending on your needs. Make your own or use one of the many already available, such as the USCCB's, offered in English and Spanish, or this one from Busted Halo.
Learn about Jesus' ancestors and how he descended from King David in this Advent tradition. Ornaments that illustrate the events leading up to Christ's birth adorn the Jesse Tree, connecting this Advent custom with decorating a Christmas tree. They are also offer Advent reflections to go with them. Or take part in other traditions, such as leaving your shoes out for St. Nicholas on Dec. 6.
Rather than just set up your nativity, use it as a teaching tool to help prepare your children for Christmas. Each night during Advent, ask your children to place one piece of straw in the manger for each good deed done that day. This Advent tradition combines the spirit of conversion and the coming of Jesus. Don't forget to bless your nativity as well.
This ancient Advent tradition can help develop your longing for the coming of the Lord. It refers to the seven antiphons that are recited/chanted before the Magnificat (Canticle of Mary) in the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours Dec. 17-23. Novenas, such as the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, and Advent songs can also foster anticipation for Christmas. And don't forget the beautiful Festival of Lessons and Carols.
Reading the daily Scriptures and reflections can be very helpful in building your relation with God. There are several online options to choose from including: USCCB video and audio reflections; "Advent Gospel Reflections" from Bishop Robert Barron; and "Best Advent Ever Daily Reflections" from Dynamic Catholic.
With the busyness of the season, it can very hard to get away for a retreat, but maybe you can squeeze in an online retreat. Consider "A Lesson in Waiting: An Advent Retreat" from Busted Halo, the "Sacred Advent Retreat" or "Small Simple Ways to Open Mind, Heart and Spirit Retreat" from Loyola Press.
Consider taking part in this Hispanic tradition that challenges us to reflect on what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary to be turned away when they desperating needed shelter on the night Jesus was born. This novena begins on Dec. 16 and continues through Christmas Eve.
If you love to read or read to your kids, there are lots of good options during Advent including: Welcome the Strangers Among Us Advent Guide from Bishop Anthony B. Taylor; his Homily Library; the Infancy Narratives of Jesus and Spirituality of the Gospels from Little Rock Scripture Study; or these recommended lists from Word on Fire or one that includes kids and adults from Loyola Press.