Q. WHAT IS THE ORIGIN AND MEANING OF THE SEASON OF ADVENT?”
A. The word Advent is taken from the Latin and means “arrival” or “coming.” Like all Christian festivals the season of Advent is best understood in the context of the entire liturgical year. The precise origin of Advent is linked to an understanding of sacred time and how to commemorate the experience of God in time. Advent was modeled after the season of Lent. Originally, in Gaul (France) and northwest Italy Advent was 6 weeks long. In Spain it was a period of 5 weeks. Eventually at Rome it was reduced to four weeks.
Advent was considered a time of fasting and abstinence in preparation for baptism, which occurred in some parts of the Eastern Church on Epiphany. In the East Epiphany was a celebration of both the birth and baptism of Jesus. This was because in the lunar calendar, the winter solstice occurred on January 6th. Later in the 4th century the Eastern Church adapted December 25th as the celebration of the birth date of Jesus. No doubt this was a copying of the Western date of Christmas established earlier in the 4th century.
Today, Advent has a two-fold purpose. One is to prepare for the celebration of the incarnation of God marked by the Christmas festival. The other purpose is to prepare for the second coming of Christ, a mysterious time, when the fullness of God’s presence on our planet is completely realized and apparent.
We should not forget that this season is also the time for other important dates in our liturgical year. On December 8th we celebrate the Immaculate Conception – the patroness of the United States and of our diocese. On December 12th the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is the patroness of the Americas is celebrated. For some, the feats of St. Nicholas (December 6) and St. Lucy (December 13) are also important.