When speaking of the season of Advent in his classic The Liturgical Year, the nineteenth century French Benedictine liturgist Dom Prosper Guéranger wrote:
The name Advent (from the Latin word Adventus, which signifies a coming) is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance…
Amidst a highly secular and overly materialistic culture, which began preparing for Christmas immediately following Halloween, Catholics are called to delay holiday celebrations, entering instead into a season of penitential preparation. Addressing this cultural and liturgical disconnect, the Fisheaters website explains:
The focus of Advent is preparation for the coming of the Lord — both in commemoration of His Nativity and His coming again at the end of time. Though most Protestants — and far too many Catholics — see this time of year as a part of the “Christmas Season,” it isn’t; the Christmas season does not begin until the first Mass at Christmas Eve, and doesn’t end liturgically until the Octave of the Epiphany on January 14…
They continue by discussing the reason for the season (of Advent):
The mood of this season is one of somber spiritual preparation that increases in joy with each day, and the gaudy “Christmas” commercialism that surrounds it in the Western world should be overcome as much as possible. The singing of Christmas carols (which comes earlier and earlier each year), the talk of “Christmas” as a present reality, the decorated trees and the parties — these things are “out of season” for Catholics; we should strive to keep the Seasons of Advent holy and penitential, always remembering, as they say, that “He is the reason for the Season.”
Recalling that the liturgical color is purple, and the mood more restrained, we do well to give up something during Advent, much as we would during Lent. Identifying something to eliminate from our diet, or from our daily habits, can help us to ‘fast’ from the world as we anticipate He who entered the world over two thousand years ago.
The darkness of the confessional should also be sought out during Advent. Father Francis Fernandez (In Conversation with God) , speaking of the Sacrament of Penance, connects the arrival of Christ at Christmas with our preparation for His second coming:
“Since God is coming to us, we have to get ready for Him, to prepare ourselves. When Christmas arrives, Our Lord should find us with everything in order and our soul fit to receive Him, just as He ought to find us in our final encounter with Him.”
Finally, the faithful should seek opportunities to assist at Holy Mass more frequently during Advent. Once again, Dom Guéranger:
“There is no exercise which is more pleasing to God, or more meritorious, or which has greater influence in infusing solid piety into the soul, than the assisting at the holy sacrifice of the Mass. If this be true at all the various seasons of the Christian year, it is so, in a very special manner, during the holy time of Advent. The faithful, therefore, should make every effort in order to enjoy this precious blessing, even on those days when they are not obliged to it by the precept of the Church.”
To that end, and where available, Catholics should seek out and assist at Rorate Caeli masses during Advent. As I have written about before, the Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) explains the powerful symbolism of this traditional Mass:
In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.
Ultimately the season of Advent invites us to better prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival through prayer and works of penance. Pray that more Catholics choose to frequent Mass and Confession during this time of year, bypassing many of the premature celebrations offered by our secular culture. And may the joy of Christmas be greater realized because of an Advent more fully entered.
Photo Credit: John Cosmas