The arrival of Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in the Church. This year our scripture and gospel readings for Mass will be according to Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary. This liturgical year will end on the last Sunday after Pentecost, The Feast of Christ the King-Sunday, November 24th, 2013.
Advent: A Time of Preparation:
In The Episcopal Church, Advent is a period of preparation, extending over four Sundays, before Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin advenio, “to come to” and refers to the coming of Christ. This refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas; but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Eucharist; and finally, to His Second Coming at the end of time. Our preparations, therefore, should have all three comings in mind. We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily.
First We Fast, Then We Feast:
That’s why Advent has traditionally been known as a “little Lent.” As in Lent, Advent should be marked by increased prayer, fasting, and good works. Traditionally, all great feasts have been preceded by a time of fasting, which makes the feast itself more joyful. Sadly, Advent today has supplanted by “the Christmas shopping season,” so that by Christmas Day, many people no longer enjoy the feast.
The Symbols of Advent:
In its symbolism, the Church continues to stress the penitential and preparatory nature of Advent. Royal blue is the liturgical color displayed on the altar, pulpit, and lectern, as well as in the Celebrant’s vestments; services begin with the penitential order (Confession and Recitation of the Ten Commandments) and the Gloria (“Glory to God”) is omitted. The only exception is on the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, when the rose-colored vestments may be seen. This exception is designed to encourage us to continue our prayer and fasting, because we can see that Advent is more than halfway over.
The Advent Wreath:
Perhaps the best-known of all Advent symbols is the Advent wreath, a custom which originated among German Lutherans but was soon adopted by Anglicans. Consisting of four candles (three purple and one pink) arranged in a circle with evergreen boughs (and often a fifth, white candle in the center), the Advent wreath corresponds to the four Sundays of Advent. The purple candles represent the penitential nature of the season, while the pink candle calls to mind the respite of Gaudete Sunday. (The white candle, when used, represents Christ.)
We can better enjoy Christmas—all 12 days of it, from Christmas Day to Epiphany—if we revive Advent as a period of preparation. In our daily ritual, and we can set some time aside for special scripture readings for Advent, which remind us of the threefold coming of Christ. Holding off on putting up the Christmas tree and other decorations is another way to remind ourselves that the feast is not here yet. Traditionally, such decorations were put up on Christmas Eve, but they would not be taken down until after Epiphany, in order to celebrate the Christmas season to its fullest.