Even before the last pieces of meat are picked clean from the leftover Thanksgiving turkey, many Americans are already listening to Christmas carols on the radio and cramming into stores to buy holiday gifts.
For Catholics, however, it’s not yet Christmas. Advent, a period of spiritual preparation, comes first.
The first Sunday of Advent is Nov. 30, and parishes from Oakland to Owensville will light the first candles of their Advent wreaths. The first Sunday of Advent also marks the beginning of a new liturgical year and a time for believers to reflect on their relationship with God.
“It’s a separate period of waiting as we look to celebrate the Incarnation – God’s love taking on human form in Jesus Christ,” said Monsignor Robert Jaskot, director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.
The first two weeks of Advent focus on Christ’s future coming in glory, Monsignor Jaskot said. The second two weeks are more attentive to his coming as a human being 2,000 years ago, he said.
The candles of the Advent wreath symbolize Christ as the light of the world, Monsignor Jaskot said. Three royal purple candles represent faith, hope and charity while a rose-colored candle is a symbol of joy and is lit on the third Sunday of the season – “Gaudete Sunday“ or “Rejoice Sunday.” Guadete Sunday takes its name from the opening antiphon for that day’s Mass, “Gaudete in Domino sempe,” “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Advent’s liturgical color is royal purple, Monsignor Jaskot said, representing the king to come. Priests wear rose-colored vestments on Gaudete Sunday as a symbol of rejoicing that the mid-point of the season has arrived.
Advent also has a penitential quality, Monsignor Jaskot said.
“We must be ready to receive the Lord,” he explained. “We have to find a place for him not in a manger in Bethlehem, but now in our hearts. That comes through prayer and the sacrament of reconciliation.”
Many parishes will be offering regional penance services or extended hours to go to confession. They will also encourage parishioners to participate in outreach efforts through Jesse trees, food drives and other campaigns.
“Advent always calls to mind the ones Christ held dear,” Monsignor Jaskot said. That includes the poor and vulnerable, as well as immigrants to a new land, he said.
“Christ emptied himself for us,” he said. “We need to do the same for others in a spirit of generosity.”
Monsignor Jaskot called Advent a “wonderful opportunity to be aware of the needs of the body of Christ and also our communal needs.”
“God reaches out to his people through us,” he said. “Just as he came 2,000 years ago, he seeks to be with us now.”