Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Advent: Things to keep in mind

Some things to keep in mind during Advent, extracted from Fr. Guy Sylvester’s excellent reflection.

It’s a penitential season, hence purple. Just as anyone will clean their house in preparation for hosting a party or other large celebration so, too, should we spiritually clean house as we prepare to renew our celebration of the Incarnation.

It’s a preparation, not only for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, but also a period of prayer in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ in Power at the Parousia, hence the emphasis on apocalyptic readings.

In the Western Church it is separated into two stages. The first runs from December 3rd through December 16th. The second, from December 17th-24th focuses attention more on the feast of Christmas. The two prefaces of Advent used in the mass highlight each of the two stages.

Further evidence of the penitential character of the season may be found in the liturgy. The Gloria is omitted throughout Advent.

In addition, as in Lent, the use of the organ and other musical instruments should be severely restricted and primarily for the purposes of sustaining the congregational singing. Exceptions to this would occur during extra-liturgical celebrations, exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, mass on feasts and solemnities (such as the Immaculate Conception) and on Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent).

Likewise, altars and sanctuaries should NOT be decorated with flowers during Advent. Another exception to the custom concerning flowers takes place, again, on Gaudete Sunday.

Another well known but misunderstood feature in Advent is, of course, the Advent wreath. It is always a wreath, preferably of REAL greens, with four candles representing each of the weeks of Advent. While all four candles may be white, or red decorated with colored ribbons it has pretty much become the custom to use three purple and one rose colored candle.

There seems to be a tendency to make more of the Advent wreath than is necessary. It is not the Christmas equivalent of the Paschal Candle. As such it does not need to be placed near the ambo (as in the case of the Paschal candle) nor, indeed does it even need to be in or near the sanctuary at all. In many places the wreath is suspended from the ceiling. Likewise, it is also perfectly appropriate to place the wreath in the narthex or gathering space of the church. Keep in mind that it is not truly a liturgical item. It is an item intended for use in the home which has been transferred to liturgical use. Therefore, it need not receive an undue amount of prominence.

In addition, the Advent wreath should be blessed only ONCE. The custom of blessing it at all the masses on the first Sunday of Advent or of re-blessing it on each Sunday of Advent should be avoided. What does this say about the blessing which is given? Once something has been blessed it has been blessed. What purpose is served by blessing a wreath that has already been blessed? If we do not feel it necessary to remove the Eucharist from the tabernacle and re-consecrate it at a successive liturgy then, likewise, we do not need to bless the Advent wreath repeatedly.

Advent is such a short season and its limited time is infringed upon mercilessly by the ever-encroaching commercialism and materialism of what the world outside the Church generically refers to as the holiday season. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful time rich in symbolism and overflowing with themes of anticipation, watchfulness and joy at the Incarnation of our loving God. In the first part of Advent we celebrate the two comings of Christ; His once and future advent. In the second part of the season we fully celebrate Him whose coming was foretold by the prophets and heralded by John the Baptist and who was borne by the Virgin in her womb. We should make every effort, at least in our liturgical lives, if not in the entirety of our lives to see to it that it never falls by the wayside as the forgotten season.

Read the entire piece here.

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