Advent and Liturgy


Advent (ad-venio in Latin or “to come to”) begins the Church year and consists of the four Sundays before Christmas. The Advent season is a time of preparation for the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.

  • This season has a two-fold character preparing for Christmas and the remembrance of the birth of Christ and his first coming and anticipation and awaiting Christ’s Second coming. It is a season of joyful anticipation.
  • Violet or purple is used for vestments, except for particular feasts.
  • Preface Advent I is used from November 28 until December 16, inclusive.
  • Preface Advent II is used from December 17 until December 24, inclusive.
  • Gloria is omitted for Advent (GIRM 53). Like Lent, the opening rites are more quiet in order to prepare us for Christmas.
    • NB – Exceptions include solemnities during the season (e.g. Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception) or feasts and memorials of particular importance to the region, diocese, or parish.
    • NB – I am unable to find any indication that the Gloria should be sung on Gaudete Sunday. This seems to be a common question or point of confusion.
  • The Alleluia is maintained. Gloria is the song of Christmas, and Alleluia is the song of Easter (so we change it during Lent). Advent is a joyful waiting, and full of joyful prophetic readings, so we do not stifle the joyful acclamation.
  • The Creed is also maintained, as it is for every Sunday
  • Homilies especially recommended for the weekdays of Advent
  • “Floral decorations should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of the season” (GIRM no. 305)
  • Musical instruments “should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the character of the season” (GIRM no. 314)
  • Funeral Masses on Sundays not allowed

Saturday December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a Holy Day of Obligation, and though it falls within the Advent time-frame, the Gloria is sung.

History and Liturgy

The observance of Advent has developed over the centuries. White vestments were used, and the Gloria said, in Rome during Advent to the end of the twelfth century, “Ordo Romanus XI”, 4. After that, Advent was gradually considered a time of penance in imitation of Lent. The Te Deum and Gloria (and sometimes the Alleluia) were left out during it, and the use of purple vestments introduced.

On every day of Advent the Office and Mass of the Sunday or Feria must be said, or at least a Commemoration must be made of them, no matter what grade of feast occurs. In the Mass the Gloria is not said. The Alleluia, however, is retained. During this time the solemnization of matrimony (Nuptial Mass and Benediction) cannot take place. This prohibition of the solemnization of matrimony extends through Epiphany.

The celebrant and sacred ministers use violet vestments. An exception is made for the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday), on which the vestments may be rose-coloured, or richer violet ones. Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) states that black was the colour to be used during Advent, but violet had already come into use for this season at the end of the thirteenth century. Binterim says that there was also a law that pictures should be covered during Advent. Flowers and relics of Saints are not to be placed on the altars during the Office and Masses of this time, except on the third Sunday.

GIRM 53. The Gloria is a very ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other text. The Gloria is intoned by the priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by all together or by two parts of the congregation responding one to the other. It is sung or said on Sundays outside the Seasons of Advent and Lent, on solemnities and feasts, and at special celebrations of a more solemn character.

The Advent Lectionary

The Advent lectionary prepares us beautifully for the season opening with a Gospel preparing us for the second coming of Christ, introducing us to John the Baptist, and ending with a Gospel preparing us to celebrate the first coming as the Word made flesh.

  • The first readings bathe us in joyful prophecies anticipating an era of renewal.
  • The second readings are drawn from Epistles revealing an early church filled with hope in the face of persecution.
  • The weekday readings are divided into three sections:
    • At the beginning of Advent we hear sequential readings from Isaiah paired with a Gospel text showing how it is fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
    • On Thursday of week two we start hearing Gospel stories concerning John the Baptist.
    • Beginning on December 17, the octave preceding Christmas offers us Gospel stories that relate the events prior to the birth of Jesus, and prophecies that prepare us for Christmas Day.

During this final octave, that the church opens for us the “O Antiphons.”  These are antiphons for the Magnificat at evening prayer in the Divine Office.  Each evening throughout the year the Magnificat text remains the same, but the antiphon that introduces and closes it changes according to the liturgical season.  During the week before Christmas each antiphon addresses Christ under a new title: O Wisdom, O King of the Nations, O Rising Sun, etc. – leading up to the great title proclaimed on Christmas Eve: O Emmanuel.  The liturgy offers these antiphons as the verses to the Gospel acclamation so that those who go to Mass but do not celebrate evening prayer may also reflect on these titles of Christ.

Advent Wreath

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Savior, but New Advent Encyclopedia states “the popular idea that the four weeks of Advent symbolize the four thousand years of darkness in which the world was enveloped before the coming of Christ finds no confirmation in the Liturgy.”

Three candles are purple and one is rose. The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.

The Advent Wreath at Home

The USCCB encourages that, in family practice, the Advent wreath is most appropriately lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food, and suggests the following traditional prayer service.

On the First Sunday of Advent, the father of the family blesses the wreath, praying:

O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

He then continues for each of the days of the first week of Advent,

O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

The youngest child then lights one purple candle.

During the second week of Advent, the father prays:

O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

The oldest child then lights the purple candle from the first week plus one more purple candle.

During the third week of Advent, the father prays:

O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

The mother then lights the two previously lit purple candles plus the rose candle.

Finally, the father prays during the fourth week of Advent:

O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.

The father then lights all of the candles of the wreath.

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