Our Current Liturgical Season …
Advent: A Time of Preparation:
In the Catholic Church, Advent is a period of preparation, extending over four Sundays, before Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin advenio, "to come to," and thus refers to the coming of Christ. This refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas; but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and finally, to the Second Coming at the end of time. Our preparations, therefore, should have all three comings in mind. We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily.
First We Fast, Then We Feast:
That's why Advent has traditionally been known as a "little Lent." As in Lent, Advent should be marked by increased prayer, fasting, and good works. While the Western Church no longer has a set requirement for fasting during Advent, the Eastern Church, both Catholic and Orthodox, continues to observe what is known as Philip's Fast, from November 15 until Christmas.
Traditionally, all great feasts have been preceded by a time of fasting, which makes the feast itself more joyful. Sadly, Advent today has supplanted by "the Christmas shopping season," so that by Christmas Day, many people no longer enjoy the feast.
The Symbols of Advent:
In its symbolism, the Church continues to stress the penitential and preparatory nature of Advent. As during Lent, priests wear purple vestments, and the Gloria ("Glory to God") is omitted during Mass. The only exception is on the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, when priests can wear rose-colored vestments. As on Laetare Sunday during Lent, this exception is designed to encourage us to continue our prayer and fasting, because we can see that Advent is more than halfway over.
We can better enjoy Christmas—all 12 days of it, from Christmas Day to Epiphany—if we revive Advent as a period of preparation. Abstaining from meat on Fridays, or not eating at all between meals, are good ways to revive the Advent fast. (Not eating Christmas cookies or listening to Christmas music before Christmas is another!) We can incorporate such customs as the Advent wreath, the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena, and the Jesse Tree into our daily ritual, and we can set some time aside for special scripture readings for Advent, which remind us of the threefold coming of Christ.
Holding off on putting up the Christmas tree and other decorations is another way to remind ourselves that the feast is not here yet. Traditionally, such decorations were put up on Christmas Eve, but they would remain up until Epiphany, in order to celebrate the Christmas season to its fullest.
The Colors during Advent:
Purple has traditionally been the primary color of Advent, symbolizing repentance and fasting. Purple is also the color of royalty, demonstrating the anticipation and reception of the coming King celebrated during Advent. Today, however, many churches have begun to use blue instead of purple, as a means of distinguishing Advent from Lent.
Pink (or rose) is also one of the colors of Advent used during the third Sunday. It represents joy or rejoicing and reveals a shift in the season away from repentance and toward celebration.
White is the color of the center Advent candle, representing purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.