Advent: History, Mystery and Meaning
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
We recently celebrated the “end” of the liturgical Church year in the Western Church with the Feast of Christ the King. It is a triumphant Feast of expectation wherein the faithful are invited to examine our lives in light of the coming return of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church proclaims to the entire world the truth that Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the One through whom the world was created, and in whom the world is being re-created, will come again in Glory!
Now, with the First Sunday of Advent, we begin, as a Church, to walk through the liturgical year again. The cycle is a constant reminder to us that every end is a beginning. In and through our liturgical seasons we mark our journey with the great events that constitute the Christian Mystery. As Christians, we know that all time is a gift, given by God. There is no profane time for a Christian because time has been transformed by the Paschal mystery; the Incarnation, Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Coming Return of Jesus Christ. The eternal entered into history and it, and we, are forever changed through His coming. He has come, He comes and He will come!
Beginning the liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent has not always been the custom. Human history reveals an inability to even agree on the beginning of a civil year. As for a liturgical year, it is the product of an evolution that has undergone many reforms.In fact, the entire notion of seasons and a liturgical year was not a part of the nascent Church’s lived experience. In the very early Church, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was the hermeneutic, the lens, through which Christians viewed not only the entire year, but their entire lives. It was only as the Church began to spread - and the imminent return of the Lord Jesus began to be understood in a different way – that liturgical seasons of participation in the unified Mystery that is the Christian faith began to evolve. Even then, there was a wide variance based upon local customs.
By the second half of the fourth century we find the earliest record of a protracted and specific period of a liturgical preparation for Christmas. Its length, emphasis and the practices related to its observance still underwent development. Indeed, they continue to undergo development in our own day as the Church exhorts and guides the faithful to live out the full implications of the Christian Mystery in their personal lives and to carry forward in time the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, the Head, as His Body on earth.
Jesus Christ is not dead. He is alive! He has been raised! He is seated at the right hand of the Father in His Resurrected Body and we participate in the eternal now that is the fullness of the resurrection. Jesus is not a memory to the Christian or to the Christian Church. The liturgical life of His Body on earth must always proclaim, in both word and deed, the truth of the Resurrection. This kind of profound experience of, and belief in, the Resurrection, was at the heart of the early Church’s life, witness and worship. It must also be the hallmark of our own participation in the Liturgical year. “Maranatha” was the heart cry of the early Christians. It must also become our own.
Today Advent begins. In a western culture where the influences of Christian traditions are waning, many ask why? It is helpful to know our Liturgical history in order to explain what we do to those who may inquire. But even more importantly, it can help us to enter more fully into the seasonal participation. The very word “Advent” is derived from the Latin words, ad-venio or adventus, which both signify a “coming”. This liturgical season in the Church has birthed many customs in Catholic practice and life. These customs, if understood and properly embraced, can help to form a framework for our daily life that can help to bring faith to life.
The celebration of Advent has become a significant part of the pattern of faith, culture and worship that is Catholic Christianity. It is also practiced within many of the Communities, confessions and churches that sprung from the Protestant Reformation. Interestingly, it is now being re-embraced in some of the communities that had once rejected it. Over the next four weeks preceding the great celebration of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, ("Christ-Mass"), Christians (Catholics and others) are invited to prepare, to "get ready", to make a place for the Lord in our lives and in our homes and to anticipate His coming.
The "liturgical air" will soon be filled with the beautiful "O Antiphons", which are taken from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures, in the Prophetic and Wisdom Books. They will be sung as a part of the formal "Liturgy of the Hours" beginning seven days before the Vigil of ...
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