November 26, 2021


Advent is a time of joyful anticipation

How is a Christian supposed to observe Advent in our secular society? As soon as Thanksgiving is over (actually, well before that), people are celebrating Christmas. Many of them may not know anything about Advent.

But they know about Christmas, at least society’s Christmas. For many, it’s just a major holiday and time for parties, presents, decorating their homes and perhaps sending holiday greetings to friends. The stores have had their decorations up for a long time and are expecting big sales.

What does all this have to do with “the reason for the season,” to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Earth? Not much.

It’s not that all the secular observances are bad, and Christians may certainly join in them, especially with the emphasis on gift-giving and making charitable contributions to organizations that serve the poor and others in need. The Catholic Church has some of the best of those organizations.

The secular holidays are also a wondrous time for children, and that’s good. Parents and grandparents can let them believe in both Santa Claus and Jesus when they are very young. So, Christians can observe “the holidays” along with other Americans.

But we should do more than that. We must remember the spiritual aspects of this season of Advent. It’s a season meant to prepare us for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is commemorated. But it’s also a season when the Church wants us to direct our minds and hearts toward Christ’s second coming at the end of time. We must keep Christ in Christmas.

There was a time when Christians were expected to live Advent as a time of penance, much like Lent, with an emphasis on fasting and almsgiving. Orthodox Christians still observe Advent in this way. And the period was longer, depending upon where you lived; some places (especially Gaul) began the season on the feast of St. Martin of Tours (Nov. 11).

Unlike Lent, which is 40 days, the number of days in Advent varies from year to year. This year, it’s one day short of four weeks. Depending upon the calendar year, it can be as short as three weeks and one day.

Today, the Church wants us to see Advent as a time of joyful anticipation. That is reflected in the liturgy as we move through the season. If you can’t get to daily Mass during Advent, perhaps you could at least read the scriptural readings for the Masses.

During the first part of Advent, until Dec. 16, the liturgy directs us toward Christ’s anticipated second coming. The first Scripture reading at Masses is often from the prophet Isaiah, while the Gospel readings show how Jesus fulfilled the prophetic promises. Here, too, John the Baptist, with his message of repentance, makes his appearance.

Things change in the liturgy on Dec. 17. Here is when the Old Testament readings proclaim the most important Messianic prophecies, while the Gospel readings describe the events immediately before the birth of Christ. Of course, Mary and Joseph are the most prominent figures.

These are important readings because they show how the Bible’s New Testament continues the story of humankind’s salvation begun in the Old Testament.

There are other ways we can prepare for Christmas. We can, and should, make it a point to go to confession sometime during Advent. Our parishes try to make it as easy as possible for people to go to the sacrament of reconciliation, and we should take advantage of those opportunities. No matter how long it has been since your last confession, you’ll feel much better after you go this Advent.

One of the popular devotions, in homes as well as in churches, is the Advent wreath. It is a circle of evergreens with four candles that are lighted successively in the weeks of Advent to symbolize the approaching celebration of the birth of Christ, the Light of the World. The wreath originated among German Catholics and Lutherans in the 16th century and was brought to the United States by German Catholics.

We pray you have a happy Advent as we prepare to remember Christ’s first coming and look forward to his second coming.

—John F. Fink

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