The Meaning of Advent

November 30, 1997
Brother John Raymond

The Season of Advent has a double meaning: "as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ's first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ's Second Coming at the end of time." (The Roman Calendar) The Christian word "advent" is of pagan origin. Pagans observed a manifestation of a god who came to dwell in his temple at a certain time each year. The feast honoring this god was called "adventus." On this day the temple, normally closed, would be opened. At times a statue of a god would be moved to a place much larger than the small sanctuary where it usually resided. The adventus then was the god's return, an anniversary. In another context, the adventus referred to the celebration of the anniversary of the coming of the emperor. So this word was very convenient to use in another context—the coming of the Son of God in the temple of a human nature for His visit. The word gradually became limited to describe what was considered the only real coming—the coming of the Lord.

The actual season of Advent came into being toward the middle of the sixth century. Its orientation was entirely different from Lent, which was already established. There was no trace of ascetic preparation for Christmas. At first, the Advent Season was determined as the six Sundays leading up to Christmas. Pope St. Gregory the Great (591-604) reduced them to four, perhaps hoping to more clearly mark the difference between Advent and Lent. Before the seventh century, Christmas was a secondary feast, especially in Rome. But it came to take on more and more importance. Advent evolved in the same way. It became more solemn. Also, its orientation changed. From being a time to prepare for Christmas, it became a time to attend to the glorious return of the Lord. Today, the Sunday liturgies celebrate Advent in its double perspective of waiting for the Second Coming of the Lord (First and Second Sundays) and the immediate preparation for the feast of Christmas (Third and Fourth Sundays). The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about Advent, "When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present the ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for, by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His Second Coming." (CCC #524)

Through the Advent Liturgy we share in the longing and preparation for the coming of the Messiah by the ancient Chosen People. This in turn helps us to long for and be prepared for His Second Coming, as we believe the Messiah has already come the first time. Here is a fitting prayer based on the original prayer written by St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430) that I believe is appropriate for the Season of Advent.


Come, 0 Lord, in much mercy down into my soul and take possession and dwell there. A poor dwelling, I confess, for so glorious a Person as You. Yet, I am preparing for a fitting reception of You, by holy and fervent desires of Your own inspiring. Enter then, and adorn my soul, and make it a worthy place for You to inhabit, since it is the work of Your own hands. Give me Yourself, without which, even if You should give me all that You ever have made, yet this would not satisfy my desires. Let my soul ever seek You, and let me persist in seeking, until I have found, and am in full possession of You. Amen.