By Elena Macias
“You do not know when the time will come… Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37)
On December 3, Catholics will reflect on this Gospel as they begin the first week of the Advent Season. Advent derives from the Latin word, “ad-venire,” which translates to “to come to,” therefore, the Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s coming. Not only is the Advent season a time to prepare for the anniversary of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, but it should be a time to prepare our hearts for His second coming at the end of time.
“As Advent is a time of preparation, we are waiting with joyful expectations for the coming of our Lord Jesus,” said Father Duong Nguyen, SVD, Diocesan Mission Office Director. “We know that Jesus Christ will come again one day. We long with excitement for Jesus’ arrival while we anticipate celebrating the anniversary of his first coming at Christmas.”
On this day, Catholics also begin the lighting of the first violet candle of the Advent wreath. Wreaths are a known Christmas decoration and have the tradition of being hung outside the front door of a home. However, the Catholic Advent wreath is more than a decoration, it is a symbol of anticipation and hope of the coming of Jesus.
“We should focus our hearts and minds on activities and prayers that bring hope, joy, peace and love into our world,” Fr. Nguyen said. “These spirits can be awakened by doing simple things, such as lighting the Advent wreath [candle] each week with our family, decorating our home, doing a random act of kindness, or just sitting silently in Adoration at the feet of the Lord.”
Traditionally, Advent wreaths have four candles that represent the four weeks of the season. Three of the candles are violet, symbolizing prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices as well as the charitable works performed during Advent. The rose/pink candle is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, Latin for “rejoice,” Sunday, marks the halfway point until Jesus’ birth at Christmas.
In addition to lighting the rose candle on Gaudete Sunday, Catholics also begin to sing the “O Antiphons,” short musical chants that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23 and proclaim the coming of Christ. A simple “O Antiphons” for Advent that can be sung is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This “O Antiphon,” with its message of longing for the coming of the Savior, exemplifies the meaning of Advent.
The use of a Nativity Scene is another way to prepare for the birth of Christ. In its present form, the custom of displaying figures depicting the birth of Jesus Christ owes its origin to St. Francis of Assisi, who made the Christmas crèche or manger for Christmas Eve in 1223, according to the United States Conference of Bishops (USCCB). At the start of the Advent season, display a Nativity Scene with the manger empty, signifying the waiting for the arrival of Christ, and place the baby Jesus figurine in the manger on the anniversary of His birth on Christmas day. In addition, the USCCB recommends us to pray and ask God to bless all who look upon the Nativity Scene, that it may also remind us of the humble birth of Jesus.
“As John the Baptist was crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight his paths,’ we make our lives ready today to welcome Jesus into our home and into our world,” Fr. Nguyen said. “We make conscientious efforts to personally change our lives so that Jesus easily finds more rooms to dwell within us.”
Read below some ideas of how to take part in the Advent Season and prepare for the coming of Christ:
12/3: The First Sunday of Advent, begin your Advent journey by blessing your Advent Wreath. Light the first violet candle and sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
12/4: Reflect on, what can you do this Advent to prepare your heart and life for the coming of Christ?
12/8: The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States of America. It is a holy day of obligation. Offer your Mass intention for the needs of the nation.
12/9: Make plans to receive the gift of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance during this Advent season.
12/10: The Second Sunday of Advent, light two violet candles on your Advent wreath and ask God for the strength to be like John the Baptist, preparing the “way of the Lord.”
12/12: The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to Juan Diego as a pregnant indigenous woman. Pray for all pregnant women and mothers and look for ways that you can walk with moms in need.
12/16: Las Posadas, a reenactment of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter before the birth of Jesus, traditionally begins on this day. Pray for migrants seeking shelter around the world.
12/17: The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. At this halfway point in the season of Advent, light two violet and the rose candles on your Advent wreath and Rejoice! For the Lord is near!
12/23: Reach out to those in your community who may be alone this Christmas and invite them to Mass and to share part of your celebration.
12/24: The Fourth Sunday of Advent This year, the Fourth Week of Advent lasts only one day. Light all three violet candles and the rose candle on your Advent wreath and prepare to celebrate the birth of the Lord.
Elena Macias is the Managing Editor of the Inland Catholic BYTE.