Advent: Celebrate, Prepare
For Western Christians, the new Church Year begins on November 29, a season called Advent, which refers to both Christ’s first and second coming. While the world gets into its annual frenzy of shopping and parties, the Church asks us to take time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. Why do we celebrate Advent? Let this hymn stanza by Wiliam Watkns explain:
Forgive us, Lord, for feast that knows not fast,
For joy in things that meanwhile starve the soul,
For walls and wars that hide Your mercies vast
And blur our vision of the Kingdom goal!
Precisely when Advent, the approximately four-week period preceding Christmas, first came to be observed is debated. But originally it was a penitential period similar to Lent. In 380 the Council of Saragossa stressed daily church attendance from December 17 until the Epiphany. Pope St. Leo I (the Great), best known for persuading Attila the Hun to spare Rome from destruction in the fifth century, called for fasting on the Wednesdays and Fridays in the weeks before Christmas.
In 581 the Synod of Mac in present-day France called for fasting on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from November 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, up to and including Christmas Eve, December 24. The Council of Constantinople in 1166 set the fast to begin on November 15.
In the Greek Orthodox tradition, Advent remains to this day a solemn season, with the faithful abstaining from meat, fish other than shellfish, dairy products, and sweets in the days leading up to Christmas. In some Eastern churches, the pre-Christmas fast is known as St. Philip's Fast, because it begins on the day after the feast of St. Philip the Apostle, November 14.
Join our Advent prayer: Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen!
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