I’m not one for Tradition, much, but today is Advent Sunday, in which a large portion of those who claim Christ ecclesiastically begin the Christmas season. For those of us with the Mosaic, they have readings for Advent as well. (here and here)
It cannot be determined with any degree of certainty when the celebration of Advent was first introduced into the Church. The preparation for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord was not held before the feast itself existed, and of this we find no evidence before the end of the fourth century, when, according to Duchesne , it was celebrated throughout the whole Church, by some on 25 December, by others on 6 January. Of such a preparation we read in the Acts of a synod held at Saragossa in 380, whose fourth canon prescribes that from the seventeenth of December to the feast of the Epiphany no one should be permitted to absent himself from church. We have two homilies of Saint Maximus, Bishop of Turin (415-466), entitled “In adventu Domini,” but he makes no reference to a special time. The title may be the addition of a copyist. There are some homilies extant, most likely of Saint Caesarius, Bishop of Arles (502-542), in which we find mention of a preparation before the birthday of Christ; still, to judge from the context, no general law on the matter seems then to have been in existence. A synod held (581) at Mâcon, in Gaul, by its ninth canon, orders that from the eleventh of November to the Nativity the Sacrifice be offered according to the Lenten rite on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the week. The Gelasian Sacramentary notes five Sundays for the season; these five were reduced to four by Pope Saint Gregory VII (1073-85). The collection of homilies of Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) begins with a sermon for the second Sunday of Advent. In 650 Advent was celebrated in Spain with five Sundays. Several synods had made laws about fasting to be observed during this time, some beginning with the eleventh of November, others the fifteenth, and others as early as the autumnal equinox. Other synods forbade the celebration of matrimony. In the Greek Church we find no documents for the observance of Advent earlier than the eighth century. Saint Theodore the Studite (d. 826), who speaks of the feasts and fasts commonly celebrated by the Greeks, makes no mention of this season. In the eighth century we find it observed not as a liturgical celebration, but as a time of fast and abstinence, from 15 November to the Nativity, which, according to Goar, was later reduced to seven days. But a council of the Ruthenians (1720) ordered the fast according to the old rule from the fifteenth of November. This is the rule with at least some of the Greeks. Similarly, the Ambrosian and the Mozarabic rites have no special liturgy for Advent, but only the fast.
Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Advent:
- The first recorded “preparation for Christmas” is found in the acts of the Synod of Saragossa, Spain in A.D. 380. This synod declared that all baptized Christians should be present in Church from December 17 till December 25. If you do the math, that comes out to the eight days before Christmas–not quite a full Advent season, but it’s a start.
- Saint Caesarius of Arles (502-542) is recorded to have delivered the first recorded homilies on Advent.
- The Synod of Mâcon in Gaul (modern day France) in A.D. 581 is our first firm witness of what we might call the season of Advent. It states that the liturgical norms for Lent be kept from November 11 to December 24. The connection made here between Advent and Lent reflects the reason why the penitential color of purple is common to both Advent and Lent.
- We also have a copy of a sermon given by Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) for the second Sunday of Advent.
- In the seventh century, Advent was celebrated in Spain with five Sundays! The Gelasian Sacramentary also gives liturgical propers for the “five Sundays of Advent.”
- The Eastern Churches began celebrating Advent in the eighth century as a time of strict fasting and abstinence–a practice still common Eastern Orthodoxy. This practice also reflects the season’s similarity to Lent. Incidentally, red is the most common liturgical color for Advent in the Eastern churches.
- Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-85) apparently reduced the number of Sundays in Advent from five to four–the current practice.
- The third Sunday of Advent is technically called Gaudete Sunday and it is marked by rose vestments (don’t ask your priest why he’s wearing “pink”!) and hangings. Gaudete means rejoice because the third Sunday marks the over-half-way-point of Advent. This usage corresponds to the rose vestments used on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent (also the over-half-way-point of Lent).
- The Advent wreath, found in many Catholic homes, is a rather modern invention. It derives to a 19th century German custom, apparently Lutheran in origin. The practice was soon adopted by Bavarian Catholics and spread all over the world.
- The liturgical season of Advent anticipates Second Advent (Coming) of Christ while also remembering the First Advent (Coming) of Christ at Christmas. Thus, the season generally celebrates the activity of God in history in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent is the parenthesis in which falls all of Christian history.