The Meanings and Traditions of Advent
“That deep purple that you see in Advent, that very rich color, is the color of repentance,” Father Briscoe explained. “It reminds us of the sober and somber character of the season and tells us that we should be preparing not just our homes, not just our surroundings, but our souls.”
Advent is a time of preparation. We prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, and welcome his presence into our lives.
During a time of Christmas shopping, holiday parties, and family gatherings, it can be hard to find the time to prepare properly for this faith-filled season. However, the Catholic Church has a rich history of traditions to help keep our minds focused on the true meaning of the season.
In an interview with EWTN News In Depth, Dominican Father Patrick Mary Briscoe, host of the Godsplaining podcast, discussed the history of Advent and how it began in the fourth century.
“It was originally a kind of time of preparation for people that were preparing for baptism,” he said. “The feast of the epiphany was a great day in the old calendar, it used to be alighted with the feast of the baptism of the Lord.”
Since it was a time of preparation for those soon-to-be baptized, Father Patrick pointed out that “It had more of a feel of Lent to it.”
“There was a kind of rigor again, looking forward to the coming mysteries that were celebrated by the sacraments,” he said.
Jumping forward to the present day, the meaning of Advent is different. It now focuses on the birth of Jesus, and families place an Advent wreath in their home. The Catholic Church also uses different colors to represent the season.
“That deep purple that you see in Advent, that very rich color, is the color of repentance,” Father Patrick explained. “It reminds us of the sober and somber character of the season and tells us that we should be preparing not just our homes, not just our surroundings, but our souls.”
The Advent season is not one entirely characterized by somberness, however. Gaudete Sunday represents the midway point of the Advent season and is a Sunday of rejoicing. On Gaudete Sunday, which is the third Sunday of Advent, a rose colored candle is illuminated.
“Christmas and the Advent season, I think, are so different from Lent principally because they have this note of hope,” Father Patrick said. “Advent is a season ultimately of light and we see that in the candles of the Advent wreath.”
While many think primarily of the outward signs of Advent, this time of year is deeply rooted in the inward preparation we are called to as we draw closer to the birth of Jesus.
During the interview, Father Patrick recalled a homily given by Saint Bernard Clairvaux, which is read by the Church in the liturgy of the hours. In the homily, the saint describes three comings of Christ.
“Christ came once as a child in Bethlehem, and the Lord Jesus is going to come again to judge the living and the dead, so this is the second principle meaning of Advent,” he said. “But, the third coming of Christ is that Christ is coming into our hearts.”
“The spirit of Advent, then, is to be ready each Christmas to receive Christ in my life, in the here and now, in a new and deeper way,” he said.