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The Season of Advent

The Church begins a new Liturgical Year on the First Sunday of Advent – and so we are now in Year B of the Church’s Liturgical Calendar. During the four weeks of Advent, we prepare with mounting expectation for the coming of Christ in a spirit of waiting, conversion and hope.

The word ‘Advent’ means ‘The Coming’ - the coming of the Lord. There are always four Sundays in Advent, though not necessarily four full weeks. The liturgical colour of the season is violet, except on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday (from the opening words of the Introit at Mass – Gaudete in Domino semper - “Rejoice in the Lord always”) when rose vestments are worn. Violet symbolises the prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices and good works undertaken throughout Advent. The rose vestments of Gaudete Sunday show that we have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when our preparation is now half over and we are close to Christmas. An alternative colour to violet, sometimes used during Advent is blue. Blue is a colour which traditionally symbolises hope – and is also the colour for Our Lady and therefore particularly appropriate for the fourth week of Advent.


The first Sunday of Advent focuses on the Second Coming of Christ in which we address a particular theme of Eschatology, traditionally called by the Church The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. The theme of this First Sunday is the Second Coming of Christ called the Parousia. The following three Sundays of Advent deal with Christ’s First Coming at Bethlehem. So the prophesies of Isaiah are read often during the Advent season, but all of the readings of Advent focus on the key figures of the Old and New Testaments who were prepared and chosen by God to make the Incarnation possible. The expectancy heightens from December 17 to December 24 when the Liturgy resounds with the seven magnificent Messianic titles of the “O Antiphons”.

The Advent Wreath:

During Mass in Advent, the candles of the Advent wreath are lit, as we sing the hymn “The Holly and the Ivy”.

The Advent wreath has five candles on a circular base. Three candles are violet, one is rose and there is a white one in the centre for Christmas Day itself! The base is decorated with evergreen, signifying eternal life. Various evergreens can be used and each has a particular symbolism associated with it: Laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly and yew symbolise immortality; cedar represents strength and healing; hollys prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly. Ivy symbolises faithfulness and eternal life.

The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolises the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life found in Christ. And so the fully decorated wreath depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death and resurrection.

The four candles around the outside of the wreath represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents 1,000 years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the birth of the Saviour. Three candles are violet and one is rose. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolises the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.

The light again signifies Christ, the Light of the World. The white candle placed in the middle of the wreath represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve.

In the home:

In the family home, a very easy way to mark our progress through Advent is to buy an Advent calendar. Children love opening the door each day to see the picture behind it and Advent calendars are easy to find in the shops. Take time to choose your Advent calendar carefully. Avoid buying one which contains chocolates – Advent is a time of waiting and looking forward to the celebration of the Feast of Christmas Day; not feasting on chocolate beforehand! See if you can find a calendar that has a scripture verse inside each window, along with the picture. Look up the verse in your bible, with your child(ren) and talk about how this fits in with the story of Christmas. If you cannot find a “religious” Advent calendar in the shops, try the repository at either Church.

Something else you could have in your home is an Advent wreath which is most appropriately lit at dinnertime after the blessing of the food. A traditional prayer service using the Advent wreath proceeds as follows:

On the First Sunday of Advent, the father of the family blesses the wreath, praying: O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen. He then continues for each of the days of the first week of Advent, O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen. The youngest child then lights one violet candle.

During the second week of Advent, the father prays: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen. The oldest child then lights the violet candle from the first week plus one more violet candle.

During the third week of Advent, the father prays: O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen. The mother then lights the two previously lit violet candles plus the rose candle.

Finally, the father prays during the fourth week of Advent, O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen. The father then lights all of the candles of the wreath.

Of course, you can adapt this prayer service to meet the particular needs and circumstances of your own family!

Don’t let the consumer culture spoil the season of Advent for you!

In the parish newsletter on the First Sunday of Advent, you were given a booklet on how to celebrate the Season of Advent properly in your families! Copies are available from the parish office if you did not receive one. The bookstands at the back of the churches are stocked with inexpensive Advent and Christmas booklets which will help you to prepare spiritually throughout Advent for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord on 25th December.