From the Pastor's Desk
What is Advent?
Father Michael answers this question:
What is Advent: Advent is the season of the year leading up to Christmas. It is observed with various traditions and rituals by Catholics and other Christians.
The word advent itself means “arrival” or “an appearing or coming into place.” Christians often speak of Christ’s “first advent” and “second advent”; that is, His first and second comings to earth. His first advent would be the Incarnation—Christmastime.
The Advent season lasts for four Sundays. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, or the nearest Sunday to November 30. Advent ends on Christmas Eve and thus is not considered part of the Christmas season. The Advent celebration is both a commemoration of Christ’s first coming and an anticipation of His second coming
Despite the sketchy history behind Advent, the importance of this season remains to focus on the coming of our Lord. The coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. (CCC No.522) St. John the Baptist is the Lord's immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. (CCC No.523) The Catechism stresses the two-fold meaning of this coming: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviors first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (No. 524). . As, Israel longed for their Messiah to come, so Christians long for their Savior to come again.
Advent wreath: One of the primary traditions of Advent is the lighting of the Advent wreath. Three purple candles and one rose candle are placed on the wreath. Each candle lit represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The first purple candle is the candle of “hope” or “expectation.” The three remaining candles on the perimeter are given various meanings namely love, joy, and peace. The rose candle symbolizes joy but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished. On that Sunday the priests may wear rose vestments. The circle of branches of the wreath symbolizes the eternal cycle of the seasons while the evergreens and lighted candles signify the persistence of life in the midst of winter.
The light represents Christ, who entered this world to scatter the darkness of evil and show us the way of righteousness. The progression of lighting candles shows our increasing readiness to meet our Lord. Each family ought to have an Advent wreath, light it at dinner time, and say the special prayers. This tradition will help each family keep its focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
Colors of Advent: The color of Advent is purple. You’ll see purple used quite often in banners around the church or in the vestments of the clergy. Purple is used at Advent as it is at Lent to represent the penitential nature of the season. In fact, Advent used to be known as “little Lent.” The color is a symbolic reminder for us to be preparing ourselves for the coming of our Lord.
The Jesse Tree: The Jesse Tree is one of those long-standing Christmas traditions that sometimes doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it is one that has the potential to teach people about the story of the Bible, and also bring families together. The Jesse Tree was named after the Biblical figure Jesse, father of King David, and the tree is a reference to the passage from Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse, from the Bible, is known to be one of the ancestors of Jesus. So, using a picture of a tree each day leading up to Christmas an ornament is placed on the tree in reference to a story in the Bible. So, using these stories you trace the story of Jesus and his ancestors from the first day of creation to the birth of Jesus.
Advent calendars, what are they? I think the idea is to build up anticipation for the arrival of Christ.
When should we put up our Christmas tree? Look, when to put up the tree is a decision that families should decide on their own? Some people put up their tree and decorate it on the first Sunday of Advent, to make a big transformation in their home and get them into “preparing for Christmas mode.”
Some people put up the tree on the first Sunday of Advent, put on lights the next Sunday, ornaments the next, and decorate it more and more as they get closer to Christmas.
Some people put up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, as a kind of rejoicing, and decorate it in the weeks between Gaudate and Christmas.
In all, during Advent, we strive to fulfill the opening prayer for the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent: Father in Heaven, ... increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of His coming may find us rejoicing in His presence and welcoming the light of His truth.
The Saint Andrew Christmas Novena
Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to November 30th, the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Is this just a nice coincidence, or is there deeper significance?
There is indeed a deeper significance. St. Andrew was the very first disciple called by Our Lord—that is why, in the Orthodox tradition, he is known by the name "First-Called." Andrew is the one who convinced his brother, Simon, to become Jesus' disciple. "We have found the Messiah!" Andrew said to him. Now we know Simon as Peter, the first pope. In keeping with his role as "the first-called," the feast of St. Andrew is found at the beginning of our new liturgical year.
But the most popular St. Andrew's feast day tradition is for everyone. This tradition is a Christmas novena that begins on St. Andrew's feast day. It's called the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, or more simply, The Christmas Novena. It's a wonderful way to enter into the Advent season which is marked by a time of anticipation, penance, and prayer.
If the St. Andrew novena was prayed as a regular nine-day novena, it would end on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. However, this novena prayer is actually prayed much longer than nine days—it is prayed throughout all four weeks of Advent. It is piously believed that whoever recites the St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer 15 times each day from the feast of St. Andrew (November 30th) until Christmas Eve will obtain the favor requested.
Prayer is an essential part of Advent. Reciting this special novena prayer each day is a simple yet beautiful way to celebrate the spiritual significance of the Advent season and to experience a deeper conversion to the heart of Jesus. And since Andrew helped his brother find the Messiah, and he can do the same for us as our spiritual brother. He can lead us, in spirit, to the Christmas crib, saying, "Here is the Messiah." Here is the beautiful prayer:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born
of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother.
It might not be easy to pray this novena fifteen times a day for twenty-five days, but if you are able to, it will undoubtedly leave your heart well-prepared to welcome the coming of Christ. The beauty and sweetness of this prayer will unfold for you through its daily recitation, allowing you to meditate more fully on the profound mystery of the Incarnation. It's actually not very hard to memorize. In the meantime, you can copy it, save it to your phone or computer, print it out, or tape it to your car dashboard. Whatever you need to do to help you remember to pray it each day until Christmas Eve.