An Advent journey
Redeemed Online Advent Series featuring daily nun video reflections
Advent with the Saints (book)
Are you ready for the New Year? Liturgically speaking, it begins with the first Sunday of Advent. This year, that falls on Dec. 3. The four-week season of Advent — from “Adventus” in Latin or “to come to” — leads Catholics into the Christmas season by serving as a time of preparation.
Since the fifth or sixth century when there were homily references of preparation and reference of the “second Sunday of Advent” in a papal homily, Advent has helped Catholic hearts and minds prepare for the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas and for Christ’s second coming at the end of time.
The Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the General Roman Calendar call Advent “a period of devout and expectant delight.”
The purple linens and vestments during the first, second and fourth weeks help prepare us for a great feast day and feature an element of penance within that. Church and altar decorations, including flowers, are restrained and the use of the organ and other musical instruments are in moderation. The rose linens and vestments during the third week further heighten expectations as Christmas nears.
Despite the longevity of the Advent season, its most common symbol, the Advent wreath, isn’t even a century old. It’s a symbol that is often replicated in communal and domestic churches worldwide.
Its green, circular design calls to mind both God’s eternity and His eternal love for His people. The four candles around it each represent 1,000 years, totaling the time humanity waited for the world’s Savior, according to CatholicCompany.com. Lit one week at a time, the candles also help contrast darkness with Jesus, the “Light of the World.” An optional fifth candle is white and placed in the middle to symbolize the purity of Christ.
Pointed holly leaves and berries are other décor options. They represent the crown of thorns and Jesus’ Precious blood. Pinecones symbolize Christ’s Resurrection.
The secular world often plays Christmas music almost exclusively during Advent, only some of which is rooted in Scripture. But step inside a Catholic church during one of the four Sundays of Advent — including the morning of Christmas Eve — and the lyrics will be rightly rooted in the anxious awaiting of our Savior’s birth. It’s important to remember that the waiting period mirrors the feeling the Church’s ancestors experienced throughout salvation history, explained Jojo Concepcion, director of music and religious education at the Holy Spirit Newman Center at Grand Canyon University.
“The music that we play portray that longing,” he told The Catholic Sun on his way to a parish meeting.
For him and many music directors, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is his “go-to” Advent song.
“It’s almost like the anthem of Advent,” Concepcion said. He noted that Israel, whom the singer prays is ransomed, could just as easily be anyone today. People often feel trapped emotionally, psychologically and socially. Since music touches the soul and a person’s emotions, Advent music serves a particular mission in reminding the faithful, especially those struggling, that “Emmanuel” means “God is with us” and they should fully surrender to Him.
“When we anticipate Christ, do we really want Him to be the Lord of our heart?” Concepcion questioned.
Top 10 Advent songs
Songs to remind you it’s not yet Christmas (from FOCUS on Campus)
The music will then better prepare hearts to not just celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ first coming at Christmastime, but His physical second coming at an unknown time.
“If today is when God calls us to face our Savior, are we ready?” Concepcion asked. It’s important to prepare daily to receive Christ into our hearts as king of it, he said.
The founder of Simple Praise, a ministry that trains worship leaders among other efforts, advised Advent music, whether it’s at church, at home or on the go, to be simple and repetitive. That’s how Jaime Cortez’s “Adviento” album sounds. The 15-track bilingual album turned 10 this year and it’s listed in an alphabetical compilation of contemporary Advent songs and albums at catholic-resources.org. The posting also cites, and largely links, traditional hymn, chants and full Advent albums.
When the sounds and lyrics are simple, there’s a greater likelihood of the average person in the pew singing along. Concepcion often backs away from the mic during parts of a song to hear how much the congregation is engaged. The music will then better prepare hearts to not just celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ first coming at Christmastime, but His physical second coming at an unknown time.
One tradition, especially families with young kids might have, is marking off an Advent calendar. Numbered one through 24 or from the first day of Advent through Dec. 24, the calendar is often designed to open or break through one numbered square each day until Christmas Eve. It can be a typical rectangle or bear the shape of a wreath or Christmas tree. An Advent or Christmas symbol might wait inside physical calendars and perhaps some words or Scripture that gradually leads up to the birth of Christ. Others have chocolate or other goodies inside to heighten a young one’s anticipation. Some calendars might suggest a light call to action each day.
Online Advent calendars offer short readings, multimedia reflections and prayers geared toward youth and adults and might suggest a more complex call to action. Loyola Press offers a printable calendar for children in English or Spanish, with each day featuring a simple, but meaningful “I will…” statement.
Also for children and the kids at heart, this Build Your Own Lego Advent calendar.
Jesse is the father of King David and is cited in Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” According to Loyola Press, the Church encourages Catholics to hang “illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus.”
There is one to add each day of Advent. The first three weeks depict Old Testament figures, symbols and prophesies that further connect the Advent season with God’s faithfulness through the centuries. The Fourth Week of Advent moves to key New Testament figures, particularly the Holy Family and that of their cousin, Elizabeth.
Special note: Since the Fourth Week of Advent is only one day this year, feel free to double up on the symbols during the third week.