1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

The Future of Advent

By December 5, 2013

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Does Advent have a future?An Advent wreath with a central Christmas candle on a home altar. (Photo © Scott P. Richert) At first glance, that may seem like a strange question. Advent, the period of preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas, has been celebrated in one form or another for at least 1,500 years, and while the Catholic Church no longer universally prescribes fasting during this penitential season (fasting is still observed in the Eastern rites of the Church), She also clearly has no intention of giving the season up. For the foreseeable future, Advent will continue to be celebrated by Catholics and other liturgically minded Christians.

What I had in mind in asking whether Advent has a future, however, is something a bit different. For all of the talk of a "War on Christmas" over the last several years, the public celebration of Christmas seems to be doing just fine. That's not to suggest that certain forces haven't waged a War on Christmas, just that the public celebration of the holiday has proved rather resilient. Almost too resilient, in fact, since in the popular mind, the "Christmas season" begins earlier and earlier each year (despite the fact that the Christmas season really starts on Christmas Day itself).

And that has had dire consequences for the future of Advent—and, in a roundabout way, for the future of Christmas itself. In the public realm, Advent no longer exists. There is no period of preparation for Christmas; Christmas is celebrated more or less continuously from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. Yet on Christmas Day, Advent still lies in the future—a future dominated now, in the popular mind, by the holiday for which Advent is meant to prepare us.

Perhaps we should rephrase my initial question. What is the future of Advent? If we continue on as we are, in one sense, Advent will have no future. And the same will be true of Christmas, because, in another sense, the future of Advent is Christmas.

That is why my friend Fr. John P. Mack, Jr., has said, "If you want to keep Christ in Christmas, keep Advent in Advent." By keep here, he means the sense of honoring or observing something, as in "Remember, keep holy the Sabbath day." Keeping or observing Advent helps us keep Christ in Christmas because Advent is meant to be a time of waiting, watching, hoping, longing, expectation—for the coming of Christ in the flesh at the first Christmas; for the coming of Christ in our hearts at this Christmas; and, ultimately, for the glorious Second Coming of Christ at the end of time, of which the first coming at Christmas was but a foreshadowing.

Unless we watch and hope and long for His coming, we cannot fully experience the joy that will accompany it.

By depriving ourselves of this period of waiting and expectation, by laying aside our spiritual preparations for the coming of Christ in order to enjoy more quickly the pleasures of the Christmas season, we not only destroy Advent, but the future of Advent, in both senses. And so if, in the future, Advent disappears from our lives altogether, we should not be surprised to find that the true meaning of Christmas—the coming of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and His Second Coming at the end of time—is lost to us as well.

(An Advent wreath with a central Christmas candle on a home altar. Photo © Scott P. Richert)

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Comments
November 30, 2010 at 12:13 pm
(1) Steve says:

As with all things relating to our faith, it is up to us to make sure that the season of Advent is continued in our homes.

The future of Advent is in peril if we let it die. It is up to practicing Catholics to observe the season of Advent. Put an Advent wreath on the dining room table. Place an Advent calendar on the wall. Hang ornaments on a Jesse Tree. Set up the nativity scene, but do not put the Holy Family in the scene, yet. Have Mary and Joseph “travel” across the room bit by bit until they “arrive” at the manger on Christmas Eve. Place the Baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Day.

November 30, 2010 at 1:52 pm
(2) Kapustin Yar says:

What is this heretical nonsense? The Catholic Church certainly does prescribe fasting for the full 40 days before the Feast of the Nativity. No meat, no dairy, and no oil as it has been continuously observed in the Catholic Church for 1600 years.

Only the local practice of one particular Catholic Church has changed. The modern practice or opinions of the Latin Church does not in any way define Catholicism.

November 30, 2010 at 1:58 pm
(3) Alice Seidel says:

I absolutely love Advent! It is my very favorite time of year. Here we can be quiet, and prayerfully, each day prepare for our Lord’s coming.
I have an Advent calendar which I used as a child and still put out every year. It must be over 50 years old, and each year that I put it out I thank God that here is another opportunity to be a part of another Advent!
True Christmas joy comes from knowing where it really is. When we turn our faces to Advent, and treat it as a real Season, then Christmas will sparkle as it never has before.
Merry Christmas!

December 13, 2011 at 10:44 am
(4) Mark Kolakowski says:

While it can create a logistical issue, parish churches can help accentuate the unique character of the Advent season by delaying the introduction of purely Christmas-related decorations (trees, pointsettias, etc.) until the first Mass of Christmas. Moreover, where deemed liturgically appropriate, the covering of statues or the closing of triptychs (in those churches lucky enough to have one) might be considered as well, though this another largely lost tradition normally associated with Lent.

And on the Christmas season, you are right that the secular world has the timing off, associating it with the ever-earlier gift shopping season. The liturgical calendar places it from Christmas Day through Epiphany (the 12 Days of Christmas that the song references). However, much to my dismay, it seems that fewer and fewer people who have Christmas trees keep them up until January 6, which my parents’ generation often called “Little Christmas.”

December 13, 2011 at 11:25 am
(5) mary says:

I try to keep the season of Advent holy by attending the sung Vespers at my parish church each Sunday of Advent up until just before Christmas and by attending Mass more often during the weekday and praying more. I try not to let the naysayers of the season get me down with their “Happy Holidays” and “Holiday trees” instead of “Merry Christmas”. I keep my tree up usually from around Dec 15th up until Little Christmas and some years a little beyond that date. It is just such a lovely time of the year and I sometimes wish we could have it all year!

December 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm
(6) Gemma says:

I am from India, living in Bombay. In recent times, Advent Season is spent mainly preparing for fun celebrations – clothes, sweets, gifts, parties. Weddings too, are held through Advent!

Before almost 15 years, Christmas was celebrated till January 6th.Then, till a couple of years ago, Christmas Cribs, Star, and other decorations were taken off right after New Year’s Day and Carols were not heard after 25th December. Some Parish Churches too, tended to do this. Some Choirs too, stopped singing Carols soon after Christmas. Thankfully, now the Christmas season in most Parishes and homes lasts till 6th January.

Probably, the relaxing of the rules for Advent, Lent, regarding fasting, abstinence, the Eucharistic fast, Saturday evening Mass to fulfil Sunday Obligation, among other relaxations, seem to have provided the “slippery slope”. “Modern times”, “the world has moved on, so why should Catholics be bound by archaic rules” seems to be the reasoning! How are we going to be accountable to Almighty God?

A Blessed Advent to you and all.

Gemma

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