- The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important: the advent of the computer.
- The liturgical period preceding Christmas, beginning in Western churches on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and in Eastern churches in mid-November, and observed by many Christians as a season of prayer, fasting, and penitence.
Within the Catholic faith the season of Advent is second only to Lent and Holy Week. Every year since our fifth child joined our family, I have learned a little more about this beautiful tradition of my faith. As I have grown in understanding, I have learned that Tradition is considered by Catholics to be one of the means through which God reveals Himself to us. The other two are scripture and the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the church).
In the case of Tradition we are not just referring to the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation as we find within a family, but we are also referring to the liturgy of the Church (as in it's Mass), and the sacraments.
In addition to this more formal meaning of Tradition, Catholics have a beautiful culture that encompasses many traditions as in the more commonly understood meaning of this word. One of them is the Advent wreath, which I had promised to explain so many weeks ago!
The Advent wreath is an ancient Germanic idea we have adopted. The wreath of evergreen boughs offers us many symbols for this time of spiritual preparation we are participating in. The evergreens symbolize God's everlastingness, and the colour green reminds us of the new life brought to us through the birth of Christ. As a circle, the wreath emphasizes for us God's eternity and mercy.
To this we add four candles to the body of the wreath (although some will place their candles separate from the wreath simply from personal taste.) Three candles are purple which is the liturgical colour of Advent and represents our feelings of penance and sorrow, as well as our longing for the birth of Christ. One of the four candles is pink or rose and is lit on the third Sunday of Advent - Gaudette Sunday. This is the Sunday of joy when our excitement at the nearing birth of Christ overflows and overtakes the silent penitential preparation of our hearts for the coming of our Saviour. Finally there is a fifth candle that is lit Christmas Morning (or in some families on Christmas Eve following the Midnight Mass). At that time the four original candles are replaced by white candles, and the wreath continues in use as a Christmas season decoration.
During the 4 to 5 weeks of Advent one candle is lit each Sunday, again nicely representing how the light of God grows each week as we come closer and closer to the birth of Christ. In the beginning of Advent we are four weeks or more till Christmas. The single lit candle, with its weak flame, seems rather lonely much as the faithful Jewish population was while they waited in the (spiritual) darkness for the coming of their Saviour.
By the time the fourth is lit - there is much light. Enough that if you choose to, you can read your evening prayers by it. Again, an apt reminder of how much closer we are to the coming of Christ.
There are many prayers available, as well as activities that families can incorporate into their own traditions to do each night or perhaps only on each Sunday as fits their schedule. Over the next few weeks I will be adding prayers, activities and celebrations that we do as a family, as well as some new ones we will be trying this year. Each year we attempt to try something new- sometimes discovering one to add to our traditions. My goal is to share these early enough so that anyone who might wish to try them with their family will have time to get any needed items for the activity.
We are now only 16 days left until the first Sunday in Advent. I have my candles, but not my wreath yet! Once it is ready - I will share a picture of it with you.