Advent is the season that begins the Liturgical Year. It originated in the early Church as a short period of intense preparation for the celebration of the nativity of the Lord on December 25. Advent slowly came to be structured into four Sundays with proper readings and prayers. This season is marked by devout and joyful expectation as we recall the first humble coming of the Lord at Bethlehem. At the same time, we are invited to direct our mind and heart towards Christ’s final coming in glory at the end of time. This is well expressed both in the Scripture readings, in the prayers as well as in the two parts into which Advent is divided. During the first part of Advent, from the beginning until 16 December, the focus of the liturgy is on the second coming of the Lord, while during the second part, from 17 to 24 December, the emphasis is on the immediate preparation for Christmas.
At the beginning of the new Liturgical Year, we join the people of Israel who longed for the coming of the Messiah with great expectancy. By listening to the message of the prophets foretelling the birth of the Saviour, we are renewed in our desire to see him at his glorious coming at the end of time as our Lord and universal Judge. These two ‘comings’ of the Lord are connected by the daily coming of the Lord in our life through his Word, Sacraments, other people and events. Recalling the ways in which the people of Israel prepared themselves to welcome the Lord must throw light on the ways in which we make ready to welcome the Lord today, as he comes to us. Our welcoming of the Lord in our daily life is the best way for us to prepare for his coming in glory at the end of time.
Our Inner Attitudes in This Season
Our listening to the Word of God leads us to develop some inner attitudes during the season of Advent.
First, there is an insistent call to watchfulness. In our daily life we can allow so many things to take the whole of our attention and energy. Slowly we can lose sight of what is really important, of the things that really matter, and we end up drifting along, living our Christian life in a superficial way. Through the prophets and many parables of Jesus, we are called to be watchful, to open our eyes and to see the many ways in which the Lord wants to touch our life.
This leads us to the second attitude, namely, the capacity to recognise the Lord who comes to us. The Lord is already present in our life, but, as it happens, there are times when it is not easy for us to recognise him. During this time of Advent we are challenged to see how the Lord makes his presence felt in our daily life, not only when we are at prayer or in church, but also in our families, at work and wherever we are.
Recognising the presence of the Lord leads us to welcome him with joy. Our welcoming of the Lord takes concrete shape in the holiness of our life. In fact, the coming of the Lord transforms and renews us, leading us to be shaped more and more into his image thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit. This calls for conversion and for a life of communion with the Lord and with our sisters and brothers. It is also a powerful invitation to see the signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God among us, in spite of the many problems that affect the world, such as wars, famine, diseases, pollution, etc. There, in the midst of negativity, we are called to believe in God who showers his mercy and compassion on all humankind, a God who gives us strength and energy to build his Kingdom and who, one day, will make all things new.
John the Baptist and Our Mother Mary
Two biblical figures accompany us during this time of Advent namely, John the Baptist and Mary. John the Baptist is the prophet who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, the one who went off to the desert near the river Jordan in order to lead the people of Israel to recognise the Saviour, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Mary holds a special place in the History of Salvation. She is the ‘fully graced;’ the chosen daughter of Israel who undid the sin of Adam and Eve by her innocence; she is the woman of faith, true daughter of Abraham; she is the beautiful branch from the root of Jesse; she is the virgin mother who gave mankind the Saviour Jesus Christ. In her we contemplate the wonders of God’s grace and we ask her intercession so that we too may accept God’s will wholeheartedly and bring life to those we meet.
The Celebration of the Sunday Eucharist in Advent
During Advent, the playing of musical instruments as well as the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation that reflects the character of this season. In the same line, liturgical dances should be omitted. This restraint conveys the character of Advent and prepares us for the joy of the nativity of the Lord at Christmas.
The liturgical colour of Advent is violet or purple. The same colour could be used for the altar frontal, the lectern, and some church banners. In some parishes the altar servers and other ministers wear purple albs or tunics.
The Advent Wreath is a circle of evergreen branches with four candles on it. In the parish church the wreath should be large enough and placed in such a position that it can be seen by everyone. Each Sunday of Advent one candle is lit, either before the Mass or at the beginning of the celebration of the Mass.
The Tree of Jesse can be prepared in various ways, depending on the availability of material. The first option is that of using a real shoot that springs forth from the stem of a tree, in line with the biblical image given by the prophet Isaiah.
The second option is that of drawing a large tree with many branches and placing it in the sanctuary or in a place where it can be seen by everyone. On the branches some pictures highlighting the history of salvation can be placed. Beginning with Adam and Eve, these pictures will show how the people of Israel prepared themselves for the coming of the Messiah. This tree will also remind us of our ancestors and their longing to see the proto-ancestor, Jesus Christ.