The History and Meaning of Advent

 

What is Advent?

The word 'Advent' is from the Latin 'Adventus,' which means 'coming.' Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year (in the Western churches), and encompasses the span of time from the fourth Sunday before Christmas, until the Nativity of Our Lord is celebrated. The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (which is November 30th), and so it will always fall somewhere between November 27th at the earliest and December 3rd at the latest. The liturgical color for this season is purple (Usually a deep purple as opposed to the lighter, red-violet shade of purple associated with Lent).

Like Lent, Advent is a preparatory season. It has significance because it is a season of looking forward and waiting for something greater; both for the annual celebration of the event of Christ's birth, and for the time when Christ will come again. 

As noted in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, during Advent, the faithful are asked:
  • to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,

  • thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and

  • thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.


Origin and History of Advent

The exact time when the season of Advent came to be celebrated is not precisely known. Of course, it was not in practice before the celebration of the Nativity and Christmastide began; the earliest evidence shows that the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord was established within the later part of the 4th century. There are homilies from the 5th century that discuss preparation in a general sense, but do not indicate an official liturgical season. A Synod held in 590 established that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from November 11th until the Nativity would be offered according to the Lenten rite. This and other traditions, such as fasting, show that the period of time now established as the Advent season was more penitential (similar to Lent) than the liturgical season as we know it today.

A collection of homilies from Pope St. Gregory the Great (whose papacy was from 590-604) included a sermon for the second Sunday of Advent, and by 650 Spain was celebrating the Sundays (five at the time) of Advent. So it seems the liturgical season was established around the latter part of the 6th century and first half of the 7th century. For the next couple of centuries, Advent was celebrated for five Sundays; Pope Gregory VII, who was pope from 1073-85, reduced the number to four Sundays.
 

Advent Today

The themes and traditions of the Advent season have evolved throughout the history of the liturgical season. As mentioned, the early Advent season was mainly penitential, close to the theme of the Lenten season. Today a penitential theme still exists, but it is not as intense as in 7th century. Also, it is blended with the theme of prayerful, spiritual preparation for the second and final coming of the Lord, as well as the joyful preparation for the annual festive remembrance of the Incarnation and Christ's birth.

In recent decades, a trend of wearing blue vestments rather than purple during Advent has emerged. However, purple is the appropriate vestment color, as noted in paragraph 346 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in the section which discusses the prescribed colors for liturgical vestments:
  • Violet or purple is used in Advent and Lent. It may also be worn in Offices and Masses for the Dead.

  • Rose may be used, where it is the practice, on Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent).

 

Advent Traditions

Advent celebration and traditions can vary from place to place, influenced by culture. However, some traditions have come to be common throughout the Catholic Church.

The Advent wreath is likely the most popular tradition, and wreaths are typically present in both the parish church and in the home. It is a more recent tradition, with the modern Advent wreath emerging in Germany and spreading throughout Europe and beyond in the 1930's. It is often circular, representing God's eternity, and it includes 4 candles - one for each Sunday of Advent. Many families have a wreath in the home, and will light the candles each Sunday and say Advent prayers together. A great guide for this practice is the book Season of Light.

The Jesse Tree is also a popular Advent tradition. A Jesse Tree, named for the father of David, is a tree that is decorated gradually throughout Advent with symbols or pictures of biblical persons associated with the gradual coming of the Messiah, Christ. This includes, among others, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Joseph and Mary. The Jesse Tree tradition provides a wonderful teaching opportunity; it is a perfect way to teach and remind children about the preparatory nature of Advent. Aquinas and More carries Jesse Tree kits, which can be viewed by clicking here.

Advent calendars are another popular tradition, although they most often follow the calendar month of December, not the four Sundays which can begin in November. While many popular Advent calendars use purely secular images, Aquinas and More is proud to offer a selection of several Catholic themed Advent Calendars.

For other Advent activities and ideas on celebrating Advent in the home, also check out Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in the domestic Church: Activities to Celebrate Catholic Liturgical Seasons. For more information on Advent, Advent prayer books and other Advent supplies, check out our Advent and Christmas Specialty Store.
 

- This article adapted information from The New Catholic Encyclopedia and Catholic Customs and Traditions.

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Four Weeks of Advent Pewter Advent Wreath The Four Weeks Of Advent Pewter Advent Wreath

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This Advent Wreath measures 7 in. across and comes with four 10 in. Advent candles.  Pewter wreath features high-quality detail and American manufacturing.  


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Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Francis of As
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It's easy to get lost in the bustle of Christmas shopping and holiday parties, losing sight of God. Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Francis of Assisi gives readers a momentary cease in the chaos, allowing daily meditation. It is essential in today's postmodern culture to remember the true purpose of Advent--the preparation for and celebration of the coming of Jesus. Each day's …


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Advent Slim Pillar Set 51% Beeswax Advent Slim Pillar Set 51% Beeswax

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  This 51% beeswax Advent candle set is a striking way to commemorate the weeks in December when Christians look forward with anticipation to the birth of Christ. Churches and homes alike honor the true meaning of Christmas in the successive lighting of Advent Candles. Brass bases, as shown in the photo, are not included. Set of 4 candles - 3 Purple, 1 Pink. Made in the U.S.A.  


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Advent of the Heart Advent of the Heart
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Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings
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Fr. Alfred Delp was a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned in Berlin. At the time of his arrest, he was the Rector of St. Georg Church in Munich, and had a reputation for being a gripping, dynamic preacher, and one who was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime. He was an important figure in the Resistance movement against Nazism.   Accused of conspiring against the Nazi government, he …


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Hope Peace Love Mini Advent Wreath Hope Peace Love Mini Advent Wreath

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This mini Advent Wreath measures 4 in. across and comes with four 4 in. Advent candles.  Pewter wreath text reads, "Hope ... Peace ... Love ... Joy" Made in the USA.  


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Brass Finish Advent Wreath Brass Finish Advent Wreath

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Advent Wreath This is a simple, elegant Advent Wreath crafted in brass and available with your choice of satin or bright  finish and featuring a weighted base,. The four Advent candle sockets are 1 1/2in. sockets and the center spikes can be adjusted for any size candle. Candles not included. Dimensions: Height: 3 in. Width: 15 in. Base: 5 in. Quality made in the USA.


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Wrought Iron Standing Advent Wreath Wrought Iron Standing Advent Wreath

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Standing Advent Wreath This elegant Advent Wreath is beautifully crafted in classic wrought iron with a durable powder coat finish. Candle sockets are 1 1/2 in. and the center candle size is adaptable to any size. Available with your choice of black or white powder coat finish, making this elegant Advent wreath suitable for any parish or school. Accents are crafted in brass. Quality made in …


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Advent and Christmas Wisdom From Pope John Paul II Advent and Christmas Wisdom From Pope John Paul II
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Daily Scripture and Prayers Together with Pope
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Book description:   Pope John Paul II continues to be remembered and loved for his closeness to all people around the world. In this book his own words lead readers to the holy season of Christmas. Reflections for each day--from the First Sunday of Advent until the end of the Christmas season--begin with selections from talks and statements of the late Holy Father, followed by …


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Advent and Christmas Wisdom From G. K. Chesterton Advent and Christmas Wisdom From G. K. Chesterton
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Book description:   As one of the few relatively recent Christian writers who are admired and quoted by Christians at all ends of the spectrum, G.K Chesterton, the great English convert to the Catholic faith, was known as a remarkable and diverse but extremely influential English writer. His inexhaustible and wide ranging portfolio of works includes journalistic writing, poetry, …


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Wrought Iron Advent Wreath Wrought Iron Advent Wreath
Designed For Pillar Candles
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Item Number: 10143
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This simple, elegant advent wreath is made of sturdy wrought iron, with spikes for pillar candles and brass bobeches. Designed to hold 4 Advent candles as well as a Christmas candle in the center. The diameter of the base is 10 inches, the overall diameter of the wreath is 20 inches; height is 3 inches. Candles not included. Quality made in the USA.


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Wrought Iron Advent Wreath Wrought Iron and Brass Advent Wreath
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This classy, simple Advent wreath is crafted in sturdy wrought iron with brass sockets and bobeches. The base measures 5 1/2 inches in diameter and the overall diameter of the wreath is 18 in.ches. The height is 3 inches and the candle sockets are 1 1/2 inches. Candles not included. Quality made in the USA.


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Solid Brass Advent Wreath Solid Brass Advent Wreath
Two-Tone Finish
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Item Number: 10145
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A simple yet truly beautiful Advent wreath, suitable for any parish or school. This wreath is made of solid brass, with an elegant two-tone finish. The inside ring diameter is 21 in. and the outside diameter is 25 in. Features 1 1/2 in. sockets for the four Advent candles, and the center has spikes, making it adaptable to any size candle. Candles not included. Quality made in the USA.  


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