Liturgical Catechesis:  Advent

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The season really begins on Thanksgiving.  No, not Advent.  The official holiday shopping season.  Local merchants have already spent months getting us ready for Thanksgiving.  But sometimes I wonder if we should start Advent on the same day.  It might render sacred and secular worlds more parallel.

As it is, the official start of Advent (according to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar) is "the Sunday falling on or closest to 30 November."  So now you know.

If you're getting your Advent thinking cap on these days, here are some thoughts you might consider:

The Advent Lectionary

The Advent lectionary presents a beautiful catechesis for the season.  The season opens with a Gospel preparing us for the second coming of Christ, and ends with a Gospel preparing us to celebrate the first coming as the Word made flesh.  Along the way we meet John the Baptist.

The first readings bathe us in glorious prophecies anticipating an era of renewal.  They could form the backbone for a stirring reflection on the promise that is ours in Christ.

The second readings are drawn from New Testament letters revealing an early church filled with hope in the midst of persecutions.

For additional reflection, the weekday readings are well worth a visit.  Think of them in three blocks:

bulletAt the beginning of Advent we hear sequential readings from the prophecy of Isaiah.  Each is paired with a Gospel text showing its fulfillment in the life of Jesus.
bulletThen on Thursday of week two we start hearing a series of Gospel stories concerning John the Baptist, with first readings that prepare us to understand his role.
bulletFinally, beginning on December 17, the octave preceding Christmas offers us Gospel stories that tell the events prior to the birth of Jesus, and more prophecies that prepare us for Christmas Day.

It's during these final days that the church opens for us the "O Antiphons."  These are antiphons for the Magnificat at evening prayer.  Each evening throughout the year the Magnificat text remains the same, but the antiphon that introduces and closes it changes to lend interest to the piece and color for the liturgical season.  During the week before Christmas each antiphon addresses Christ under a new title: O Wisdom, O King of the Nations, O Rising Sun, etc. -- all leading up to the great title proclaimed on Christmas Eve: O Emmanuel.  The liturgy now offers these antiphons as the verses to the Gospel acclamation so that those who go to Mass but do not celebrate evening prayer may also reflect on these titles of Christ.

The Gloria, Alleluia, and Creed

Since Advent vestments are purple like Lent's, many assume we treat the seasons in a similar way.  Yes and no.

Should we include the Gloria during Advent?  No.  Like Lent, the opening rites tone down a bit to prepare us for the big holyday.  Omitting the Gloria during Advent also lets it ring out fresh in the season it was written for: Christmas.  (Remember what the angels sing flying over Bethlehem?)

Should we keep singing alleluia?  Absolutely.  We don't tone down that much.  As Gloria is the song of Christmas, alleluia is the song of Easter, so we change it during Lent.  But Advent continues to bubble up with joyful prophetic utterance, so we do not stifle the acclamation.

Do we drop the Creed?  No.  The liturgy calls for it every Sunday of the year.  It says who we are, and we don't change or hide our identity with the seasons.


Keeping decorations under control presents one of the stickiest problems of the season.  Advent should be Advent, not Christmas.  Be cautious about putting up the trees, the crib, and the poinsettias too early.  Advent has its own feel, so resist taking our cue from the local mall.  Remember, they're celebrating a different season.

The wreath may have a dominant place, somewhere visible and accessible to those what want to approach it.  A blessing for the wreath on the first Sunday of Advent is found in the Book of Blessings.  It'll help you distinguish what you do on the first Sunday from what you do on the others.


This presents a similar problem.  Many people don't understand why they hear Christmas carols all Advent long in stores, elevators, and car radios -- everywhere but in church!  The reason is we're celebrating Advent, not Christmas.  We may sing beautiful Advent hymns, but let's hold off coming away to the manger with all ye faithful till Christmas is here.

Anointing the Sick

Some parishes anoint the sick at Sunday Masses once during Advent and once During Lent.  I've never been very fond of it. It's a great idea to celebrate this sacrament at Sunday liturgy a couple times a year, but surely there will be better occasions.  Advent is filled with enough symbolism of its own and shouldn't need something extra to add confusion to the scene.


Several saints dot the Advent calendar, and their days provide the opportunity for another look at the season: Ambrose, whose hymns inspired Advent songs; Lucy, whose name means "light," and whose feast comes when the light of day struggles to be seen; John of the Cross, whose mysticism invites us to a deeper spiritual life; our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness for the Americas: and, of course, St. Nicholas, the generous bestower of gifts immortalized in our Christmas celebrations.

There are many ways to reflect upon the season besides sampling the Thanksgiving turkey.  Advent, fully explored, will prepare us to welcome Christ to our hearts and homes.

This article first appeared in Modern Liturgy 28/7 (September 1993):22-23.

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