Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning "coming") is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi. The Eastern churches' equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs both in length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on 1 September .
The progression of the season may be marked with an Advent calendar, a practice introduced by German Lutherans. At least in the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, the Sunday between November 27 and December 3 inclusive.
Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming. Christians believe that the season of Advent serves a reminder both of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of their Messiah as well as the waiting of Christians for the second coming of Christ.
The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often to prepare for the Second Coming while commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. With the view of directing the thoughts of Christians to the first coming of Jesus Christ as savior and to his second coming as judge, special readings are prescribed for each of the four Sundays in Advent.
The usual liturgical colour in Western Christianity for Advent is purple or blue. The purple colour is often used for hangings around the church, on the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle. On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent. In some Christian denominations, blue, a colour representing hopefulness, is an alternative liturgical colour for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite in England. In addition, the colour blue is also used in the Mozarabic Rite (Catholic & Anglican), which dates to the eighth century. This color is often referred to as "Sarum blue". The Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred colour for Advent while the Methodist Book of Worship identifies purple or blue as being appropriate for Advent. There has been an increasing trend to supplant purple with blue during Advent as it is an hopeful season of preparation that anticipates both Bethlehem and the consummation of history in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Proponents of this new liturgical trend argue that purple is traditionally associated with solemnity and somberness, which is fitting to the repentant character of Lent. During the Nativity Fast, red is used among the denominations of Eastern Christianity, although gold is an alternative colour.
In Advent, the Advent Prose, an antiphonal plainsong, may be sung. The "Late Advent Weekdays", December 17-24, mark the singing of the Great Advent 'O antiphons'. These are the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, or Evening Prayer (in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) and Evensong in Anglican churches each day and mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel".
From the 4th century the season was kept as a period of fasting as strict as that of Lent (commencing in some localities on 11 November; this being the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, the fast became known as "St. Martin's Lent", "St. Martin's Fast" or the "forty days of St. Martin"). The feast day was in many countries a time of frolic and heavy eating, since the 40-day fast began the next day. In the Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed, with the Roman Catholic Church doing likewise later, but still keeping Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions. The third Sunday in Lent was a Rose Sunday, when the color of the vestments was changed and a relaxation of the fast was permitted. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before the Nativity Feast.
In many countries Advent was long marked by diverse popular observances, some of which still survive. In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the "Advent images", two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.
In Normandy, farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it is believed driving out such vermin as are likely to damage the crops. In Italy, among other Advent celebrations, is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Italian tradition being that the shepherds played these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus. It is the second most important tradition behind Easter for Roman Catholics.
In recent times the commonest observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an advent calendar or advent candle, with one door being opened in the calendar, or one section of the candle being burned, on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve.
End of the liturgical year
In Anglican churches the Sunday before Advent is sometimes nicknamed Stir-up Sunday after the opening lines of the Book of Common Prayer collect for that day. In the Roman Catholic Church since 1969, and in most Anglican churches since at least 2000, the final Sunday of the liturgical year before Advent has been celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King. This feast is now also widely observed in many Protestant churches, sometimes as the Reign of Christ. In consequence, the collect for the first Sunday of Advent in the Episcopal Church USA is no longer "stir up". Since the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer that collect is read on the third Sunday of the season.
- Advent calendar
- Advent candle
- Advent wreath
- Apostles' Fast
- Fasting and abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church
- Great Lent
- Mortification of the flesh in Christianity
- Kallistos (Ware), Bishop (1969), "The Five Cycles", The Festal Menaion, London: Faber and Faber, p. 40
- "The Color Blue in Advent". The United Methodist Church GBOD. http://www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=1828&loc_id=9,32,44. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
- "The Season of Advent - Anticipation and Hope". CRI/Voice, Institute. http://www.cresourcei.org/cyadvent.html. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
- "Liturgical Vestment Colors of the Orthodox Church". aggreen.net. http://aggreen.net/vestment/liturgical_colors.html. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
- Book of Common Prayer, 1979 according to the usage of The Episcopal Church
- Christian Season of Advent at the Christian Resource Institute
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Advent
- American Catholic: Advent to Epiphany Prayers, calendar and activities
- Liturgical Resources for Advent
- Advent Online Devotional site
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