Sister Joan L. Roccasalvo
The season of Advent begins Nov. 27, the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew, the Apostle (Nov. 30). Christmas will follow in four weeks, and it has its proper liturgical place, beginning not on the day after Thanksgiving or before, but at midnight on Christmas Eve. It concludes on the feast of Epiphany. However, the media would have us believe that these weeks before Christmas constitute the holiday season. Then, with the arrival of Christmas Day, the holiday, in the secular mind, is completed except for the post-Christmas sales that rush upon us. Consumerism can preoccupy and stress out families in the face of pre-Christmas sales, and we are already surrounded by trinkets and glut, Hallmark movies, and commercials that tell us what we must have for Christmas. If we’re not buying something, we’re not in the Christmas spirit. This cultural dissonance jars Catholic parents caught between the meaning of Advent and the culture, which is in the wrong time zone. Holiday shopping may run parallel to the Advent season, but there is little resemblance between the two. Advent nourishes the spirit, lifts it up, and prepares for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord. Shopping for trinkets speaks for itself.
What Is Advent?
Advent is not just an anticipation of the Lord’s Nativity; it is the time when the Church commemorates and eagerly awaits with hope the coming of our Emmanuel, God-with-us, expressed in the prayer, “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus” (1Cor 16:22). With Advent, the Church’s new year of grace has come, and come is the key word for the season. The Church commemorates the Lord’s coming in three different but related ways: he came in time as the Light in the darkness, and is the Light of lights; he comes anew as the Light into the hearts of men and women; and he will come in radiant glory at the end time. Though linked to Christmas, the full celebration of Advent as a distinct liturgical season awaits a renaissance, though the liturgical richness of Advent is challenged everywhere. Except for the Advent ceremonies and prayers at Sunday Mass, in practice, Advent is in danger of disappearing unless we ourselves preserve and celebrate it. December 1 to December 16 recalls Christ’s historic coming at the Incarnation and at the Parousia to fulfill the divine plan. December 17 to December 24 celebrates the prophecies of his coming and his birth of the Virgin-Mother.
A Candle in the Darkness
The times are dark in so many ways, externally and within, and it is easy for darkness to overcome us when we give in to it. Christ wishes to share his light and hope with all so that we can be light and hope to others. The candle symbolizes Christ the Light of the world, and its powerful symbol plays an important liturgical role during Advent. During the Advent season, purple and rose vestments are worn, the latter on the Third Sunday (Gaudete [Rejoice] Sunday). The Church lights one purple candle during the first week of Advent, then on succeeding Advent weeks, two, three and four, to symbolize the four thousand years when humankind waited for Emmanuel, God-with-us. On the Third Sunday, the color rose is worn to symbolize the Church’s eager anticipation for the new coming Beauty of all beauties into our lives. The beauty of the Advent liturgical poetry draws us in to the Old Testament prophecies that long for the Messiah. Rich with symbolism and art, poetry and music, Advent beauty directs the soaring spirit toward Christmas.
Beauty of Advent
How can the devout Catholic celebrate Advent in the midst of our frenzied street time? During the day, take a few seconds to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” Although he has already come in history, his coming is not yet complete. Be the color of hope for those who have little or no hope. The vocation of the whole Church is to take on the color of hope—iridescent green, deep, verdant, sturdy, ever-green hope—that emerges from Christ himself.
The family can celebrate in many ways, and children in particular are drawn to Advent customs. The Advent wreath, with accompanying ceremony, symbolizes eternity; the evergreens, eternal life; the purple candles and ribbon, preparation; the rose candle. The Jesse Tree gives the lineage of Jesus: “The shoot shall grow from the root of Jesse” (Is 11:1). In the custom of Kris Kindl, a person’s name is picked out of a hat as one’s “little Christ Child.” Throughout Advent, one prays for his or her Kris and may send Kris a note to say so. Just before Christmas, the pray-er gives his or her Kris Kindl a gift of prayer offerings and a small material gift as a remembrance of that Advent. Numerous and accessible web sites suggesting Advent customs from around the world can delight children and foster liturgical piety in the family.
Advent can be well-spent if, despite external pressures, we resist consumerism. Another way of achieving this is to limit our purchases by shortening our To-Do List, thereby avoiding stress. The fool who hoarded possessions (Lk 12:13-23) is warned that he will face God “this very night.” Sadly, he made three mistakes in his life: that bigger means success, things bring happiness, and that time equals eternity.
The world cannot give lasting peace, but the Prince of peace can help us celebrate Advent, and change the culture.
* Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.