Advent: Waiting for His Coming in Holy Anticipation
December 2, 2016
I. History of Advent
“Advent is at once a celebration of His first coming and His presence in the midst of His church, and an anticipation of His full and final coming when He will complete the work of the redemption. The word Advent must therefore be taken in the fullest sense; past, present and future. The Church not only prepares to welcome Him at Christmas time or to greet Him in the hour of His final triumph; it rejoices even now in the presence of its Lord in its midst.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia)
Late 4th century texts give January 6, Epiphany, as the date for the celebration of Jesus’ birth in the east and December 25th in the west. Advent developed in the eastern church as a very penitential time, much like Lent. In the west, it was very festive and celebratory. Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) inaugurated a season of preparation for Christmas called Advent, composed prayers and responses, and preached from a series of scriptures appropriate for the season.
In the 9th century there was conflict between the solemn fasting and penitence in Spain & Gaul and the feasting and merrymaking of Italy. The north mellowed and the south became more reserved! In the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII decreed the observance of a season of Advent that was to last through the four Sundays before December 25, beginning on the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew (Nov. 30) and ending on December 24. Advent season can be as long as 4 complete weeks or as short as 3 weeks & 1 day.
Pope Gregory VII declared that Advent would consist of two themes:
1. Waiting with joy for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
2. Preparing with reverence for the second coming of Christ at the end of time.
This fusion of joy and penitence, expectation and hope, birth and judgment set the foundation for Advent Season as we know it today
II. Prayers of Advent
Antiphons are short, focused verses. The ‘O Antiphons’ are seven antiphons used in the daily evening prayers for December 17-23 which are recited or chanted as a response to the Magnificat, hence the name ‘antiphon’ which means a sung response.
At the latest, they were developed in the 8th century, but there are earlier references to them. Boethius (c. 480-524) referred to them so they must have existed in some form at the point in time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire) they were recited by the Abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the 8th century they were in use in the liturgical celebrations of Rome. Their usage was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” where common parlance (Catholic Educator’s Resource Center web site). Each one opens with an invocation and concludes with a supplication for the Savior’s coming. So by praying the “O”s, we ready our hearts to welcome Christ’s arrival. They all follow the same pattern—addressing Christ by one of the Messianic titles, then begging him to come.
Sapientia (O Wisdom)
Adonai (O Lord)
Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
Clavis David (O Key of David)
Oriens (O Rising Sun)
Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
Writers have said that the Antiphons are arranged in the order we now have them because the Latin words, beginning with the Antiphon used on December 23 and working back, created an acrostic ERO CRAS, which means “Tomorrow I will come” or “Tomorrow I will be with you”.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is based on the O Antiphons.
III. Symbols & Traditions of Advent
Liturgical Colors Purple—royalty & penitence
Gerry Bowler (The World Encyclopedia of Christmas) says that the Advent Wreath was invented by a German Lutheran pastor Johann Henrich Wichern. He had an orphanage and wanted to make the Christmas story more real for the children. Each night he would read to them and light a candle. He had a candle for each day on a wheel-shaped chandelier. We now have wreaths reduced both in size and number of candles.
Wreath—ancient symbol of victory
Christ is the light of the world. We light one, then two, then three, etc. This progressive action, the accumulation of light, reminds us of the ever closer approach of the Light of the World, both at Bethlehem and in glory at the end of the age. The liturgical colors are purple or blue. Often, the candle on the 3rd Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, is rose. When Advent was very penitential in nature, the change in color marked a lessening of penitence in anticipation of the coming Christmas joy. Gaudete means to rejoice.
Advent calendars first appeared in 19th century Germany and are made to be used from Dec. 1 to Christmas, regardless of the number of days in Advent. There is a little door/window for each day. When opened there may be candy, a scene, scripture, thought for the day, etc. They may be sacred or secular in focus.
Themes of Advent
While many churches have developed themes for each Sunday, there are no specific themes other than those of preparation for His coming—past, present, and future.
IV. Music of Advent
Advent music is filled with expectation and longing, a preparation for celebration. It has qualities of intense yearning and longing as well as joyful expectation.
Advent Lessons & Carols
This is a service of scripture readings and carol singing. The lessons are drawn from the Old Testament with one or two readings from the New Testament. They reinforce the message that the Messiah is coming. The music as well as the lessons should reflect Advent and a note of expectation rather than Christmas and a spirit of fulfillment.
In 1880, the Bishop of Truro, E.W. Benson (later Archbishop of Canterbury) prepared an Order of Worship for lessons and carols to be used on Christmas Eve. The ‘cathedral’ was a wooden shed. The purpose was quite humble—to keep the men out of the pubs on Christmas Eve! This service contained ‘nine tiny lessons and nine carols’; lessons were read by various officers in the church, starting with the chorister and ending with the Bishop.
In 1918 the Dean of King’s College Cambridge developed a service for Christmas Eve based somewhat on the 1880 Order of Service. Modified slightly the next year, the form has remained basically the same since. The carols change some from year to year. It always begins with a solo choir boy on the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City and always ends with Hark the Herald Angels Sing as the recessional. This service has been broadcast at 3:00 p.m. December 24 since 1927 or 1928 with 1930 being the only year not broadcast. NPR broadcasts it in the USA—if live, it would be 8:00 a.m. December 24 here in Idaho.
In 1934, the same Dean composed another service “A Procession With Carols Upon Advent Sunday” (1st Sunday of Advent). He wrote “In the old English liturgies, the Advent Offices made a preparation for the coming of our Lord to this earth far more vivid and eager than those of our present Prayer book...The purpose of the Service was ‘not to celebrate Christmas, but to expect it’ ”.