Marking Advent, the weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas, originated in the fourth century AD.
“Most Christian churches observe Advent,” said Fr. Dale Normandeau of St. James Catholic Church. “The preparation season of Advent is equivalent to the preparation season of Lent. There is a penitential quality to it. Historically, it was a time of fasting, confession and increased charity, in contrast with the joyous Christmas feasting.”
The colour of Advent is purple or violet, which is used in church vestments and for the Advent wreath candles. The candles are lit in sequence on the Sundays preceding Christmas with Scripture reading and meditations. The wreath’s shape means there is no beginning or end to God’s love, while the evergreens symbolize everlasting life and the tree they came from the cross where Jesus made the sacrifice for the salvation of those who would believe.
The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday (gaudete means rejoice), a reminder that it is not long until Christmas.
“In anticipation of the feast has to come the fast. For most people this means simple meals or abstaining from one meal a day or sweets. It is representative of one’s desire for renewal of the spiritual life,” said Normandeau, with the reminder that while Christmas is a time of thoughtfulness and rejoicing in the church, Easter is a time of greater solemnity and importance for Christians.
“There is a contrast between the way most people prepare for Christmas and the way the church does. We postpone Christmas season until Dec. 24 and celebrate the 12 days of Christmas until Epiphany Jan. 6. The original focus of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. The days that follow are for feasting.”
The church services during Advent feature Scriptures that prophesy the birth of Jesus Christ and traditional hymns are sung.
“We are trying to get at the heart of Christianity,” said Normandeau.
It is not that he or the church discourage traditions that have become part of the season.
“Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, is the personification of charity. The personal exchange of gifts is a tangible sign of the love and affection you hold for a person. I love giving gifts and I love getting gifts,” he said. “A gift does not always have to be elaborate or expensive, it should be what comes from your heart. Much of our gift giving should focus on meeting the needs of those who are marginalized and most in need.”
This Advent, the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world is using a new translation for mass. The Roman Catholic liturgy is drawn from Latin and the new translation captures the poetry and nuance of the original more closely.
Roman Catholics are encouraged to read the Little Blue Book, which includes Scripture readings, inspirational thoughts, practical acts, prayers and information about Christmas traditions for each day of Advent. For example, the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27, asked readers to reflect Mary, her calling from God, and what their own calling is. Tuesday, Dec. 6, covers the desert, or difficult, times that come to most lives, while Tuesday, Dec. 13, is lighter, with a history of the piñata in Christmas celebrations. Dec. 18, the fourth Sunday, recalls the Irish Christmas blessing, and Dec. 21, tells the background of the menorah and Dec. 30, the Frangelico liqueur. With Christmas Eve comes the encouragement to be obedient to God’s calling and purpose for their lives, as Mary was, because with God’s help, it is possible. The Little Blue Book continues through Jan. 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
The details are interesting but the main point is the deepening of the spiritual life of believers, individually and within their church and larger communities and readers are encouraged to spent some quiet time with the Lord each day, even in this busy season.
“We wish blessed, happy and holy Christmas and new year for everyone,” said Normandeau.