Last Sunday our Parish Center was abuzz with activity as the children in our Religious Education program were busy putting together their advent wreaths and candles. With the advent wreaths in their homes, the families will be reminded during these next three weeks that Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which believers make themselves ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy. The word "Advent" comes from the Latin "adventus", meaning arrival or coming to, particularly of something having great importance. Advent, as a season of celebration and preparation for Christmas, began sometime after the 4th century as a time of preparation for Epiphany—not in anticipation of Christmas.
Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ by remembering the visit of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus. Even today Epiphany is celebrated by some cultures as ‘Little Christmas". At Epiphany new Christians were baptized and received into the faith, and so the early church instituted a 40 day period of fasting and repentance.
Later, in the 6th century, St. Gregory the Great was the first to associate the season of Advent with the coming of Christ. Originally it was not the coming of the Christ child that was anticipated, but rather the Second Coming of Christ. By the Middle Ages the Church had established the celebration of Advent as we know it today. The prophecies of Isaiah in the Advent scripture readings remind us to wait and prepare.
By the 17th of December the pace quickens and we focus more directly on the events leading up to Jesus’ birth. At that time the Church, in the Liturgy of the Hours (the Breviary) introduces the "O" antiphons coming from the hymn that was sung last Sunday "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". The "O" antiphons are said in the afternoon prayer of the Church during the octave of Christmas. The preparation themes for Christmas are O Wisdom, O Sacred Lord, O Flower of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O King of all nations and O Emmanuel. These form the basis of the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel which was first put to music in 15th century France.
Fr John R. Mulvehill