Sunday, December 1, 2013
Advent: The Beginning of the Liturgical Year & Source of Rich Meditations

 St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church

With today’s solemn celebration for the First Sunday of Advent, the Church now begins anew the liturgical year.  In the words of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, it is in one liturgical year that the Church re-lives the 33 years of Christ’s life – thirty years obeying, three years teaching, and three hours redeeming.  As we journey through this week of Advent, let us continue to read and pray through the Scriptures.  One particular Scripture verse to focus on today is Matthew 24:37-44.  Specifically, let us meditate on the immortal words of Our Lord at the end of that section: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Advent is a time of penance in anticipation for the Nativity of Our Lord.  But it is also a time to help us remember that we must always be prepared for the Final Judgment and the Second Coming of Christ. Throughout the four weeks of Advent, our focus shall slightly shift, but our focus will always remain in the Child Jesus.  During the first week of Advent we should meditate on hope, peace for the second week, joy for the third week, and love during the fourth week.

Concerning the topic of Advent, Fr. Lawrence Smith has said, “Advent is the time to make ready for Christ to live with us. Lent is the time to make us ready to die with Christ. Advent makes Lent possible. Lent makes salvation possible. Advent is the time when eternity approaches earth. Lent is the time when time reaches consummation in Christ's eternal Sacrifice to the Father. Advent leads to Christ's life in time on earth. Lent leads to Christ's eternal Life in Heaven. The Cross -- through the Mass, penance, and mortification -- is the bridge connecting Advent and Lent, Christ and His Church, man and God. Each of the Church's penitential seasons is a dying to the world with the goal of attaining new life in Christ.”

In the words of Pope John XXIII, "Holy Christmas is approaching. Everything in the grotto of Bethlehem is a living lesson for all who wish to live by our faith, and be faithful to it.”  Perhaps no image visible in the Christmas season is more poignant than that of the Child Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem.  However, it was not until the 1200's that the first Nativity Scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Bonaventure (d. 1274), writes of the event in his Life of St. Francis of Assisi:

"It happened in the third year before his death, that in order to excite the inhabitants of Grecio to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus with great devotion, [St. Francis] determined to keep it with all possible solemnity; and lest he should be accused of lightness or novelty, he asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise. The man of God [St. Francis] stood before the manger, full of devotion and piety, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; the Holy Gospel was chanted by Francis, the Levite of Christ. Then he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His Name for the tenderness of His love, He called Him the Babe of Bethlehem. A certain valiant and veracious soldier, Master John of Grecio, who, for the love of Christ, had left the warfare of this world, and become a dear friend of this holy man, affirmed that he beheld an Infant marvelously beautiful, sleeping in the manger, Whom the blessed Father Francis embraced with both his arms, as if he would awake Him from sleep. This vision of the devout soldier is credible, not only by reason of the sanctity of him that saw it, but by reason of the miracles which afterwards confirmed its truth. For the example of Francis, if it be considered by the world, is doubtless sufficient to excite all hearts which are negligent in the faith of Christ; and the hay of that manger, being preserved by the people, miraculously cured all diseases of cattle, and many other pestilences; God thus in all things glorifying his servant, and witnessing to the great efficacy of his holy prayers by manifest prodigies and miracles."

Even from the first moment of Our Lord’s existence, Holy Scripture consistently alludes to the priestly office of Christ, which manifested itself primarily in the ultimate Sacrifice of the Cross.  Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem – He took a human nature as declared at the Council of Chalcedon – for the purpose of one day dying for the redemption of the human race.  And Scripture, even at the time of Christmas, alludes to the Sacrifice of the Cross.  Meditate on Philippians 2:6-7, especially on the word "slave".  Since Jesus is God, His very Incarnation was a Sacrifice. The cold, pain, and hunger He endured were all part of His Sacrificial mission, which culminated on the Cross. The baby in the manger, as He stretched out his little arms, knew that those same arms would one day be drawn out and pierced by the same men redeemed by His blood.

Advent as a season is quite ancient. The season itself went through slow development, taking form in the 4th century, and reaching a definite form in Rome by 6th century. Advent starts on the Sunday nearest Nov 30 (Saint Andrew), and forms the beginning of the liturgical year by the 10th century. It started earlier at one time (as early as Nov 11) because it was fashioned after Lent, so it had forty days originally in some areas, and even earlier in other areas (September) which forms the basis of the monastic fast. By the 6th-7th centuries the number is set as a span of four Sundays. The 1962 Missal texts preserve most of the ancient Masses of this season.

The First Sunday of Advent is the start of a new liturgical year in the Church.  At Mass you might have noted the purple vestments of the priest.  You might have seen less decoration than usual, no colorful flowers for example.  Probably the most prominent thing you noticed at your parish was the Advent wreath.  These are all signs of the new liturgical season of the Church.  The Gospel reading presented by the Church also reminds of the season.  Jesus told his followers and all people to “Watch!”  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word for “arrival” or “coming.”  It is during this season that we “watch” for the coming or arrival of Jesus: both in the remembrance of His arrival as a baby 2,000 years ago and for His coming or arrival in the Second Coming.

And don't forget about the Advent Embertide Fasting! For more posts on Advent and Christmas, please see the Advent & Christmas Compilation.

Advent Catechism Lessons:

Please visit's Advent Program and enter code ADVENT45 to save 45%! 

11 comment(s):

del_button December 2, 2013 at 9:51 AM
Birgit J said...

Excellent post - filled with much information and inspiration. Thank you for sharing!

del_button December 4, 2013 at 5:15 PM
Anonymous said...

Happy New Year! Many blessings to you and yours.
Great post!

del_button December 4, 2013 at 8:13 PM
Monique G. said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. It was filled with so much information the Advent season.

del_button December 5, 2013 at 1:54 AM
Sue Elvis said...

Thank you for quoting Fr Lawrence Smith's words. So much to reflect upon! I hadn't thought about the history of Advent before. I have learnt something!

God bless.

del_button December 7, 2013 at 9:16 AM
Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, and full of so much great information! I love how simple the Church looks during Advent, and than how on Christmas Day it is full of flowers and lights on evergreen trees!

del_button December 7, 2013 at 7:15 PM
Joanne @ Our ABC Life said...

I think the anticipation part of Advent is easy to forget in the December sales rush so it is important to focus on the waiting part of the Advent season

del_button December 8, 2013 at 10:42 PM
Unknown said...

Beautiful reflection...lots to reflect on! Hope, peace, joy and love...and be prepared! Thanks for sharing!

del_button December 9, 2013 at 12:45 PM
Matthew B. Rose said...


Advent and Christmas are such fertile times for Scriptural meditation, since, like with the Passion, every detail of the Infancy Narratives echoes back to the Old Testament. You could spend an entire Advent meditating on the stories hinted at in Matthew 1 (the Genealogy).

Thank you for the quote from St. Bonaventure. St. Francis has always been one of my favorite saints, and the more I learn about him, the more I love him.

del_button December 9, 2013 at 3:25 PM
Martianne @ Training Happy Hearts said...

It was not until I was an adult that I realized, "it is also a time to help us remember that we must always be prepared for the Final Judgment and the Second Coming of Christ." I am trying to teach my children that much younger than I learned!

del_button December 9, 2013 at 6:03 PM
Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker said...

Such great history! Thanks for sharing!!

del_button December 9, 2013 at 6:43 PM
Christine said...

Wow - thank you for sharing that quote from St. Bonaventure. I have read some accounts of St. Francis' nativity scene, but never any so beautiful or moving as this!

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