The liturgical year begins with the Advent Season which starts four Sundays before December 25 and ends at the Christmas Vigil Mass. There are two themes to this season, both reflected by the term "advent" which means "coming." First, this season is a period to prepare for the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas), as we recall the first time that Christ came to us. Second, it is a time to reflect and prepare for Christ's Second Coming at the end of time.
During the season of Advent we remember the long years of waiting by the people of Israel for the Messiah, the messages of hope in the prophets, and how Mary and Joseph were faithful to God's plan. Advent is not a penitential season, as Lent is. Advent is a time of joyful preparation and expectation. The Gloria is omitted on Sundays in Advent not as a sign of repentance, but to create a longing that will inspire people to sing it more joyfully on Christmas.
Themes in Prayer and ScriptureThe scripture selections and the prayers of the liturgy for the season reflect the two themes described above. From the beginning of Advent until December 16 the focus is on preparation for the coming of God's Kingdom. From December 17 to December 24 the theme shifts to the anticipation of the birth of Jesus and his ministry.
The gospel reading during each Sunday of Advent reflects these themes. The gospel for the First Sunday of Advent concerns Christ's coming at the end of time. John the Baptist is the subject of the gospel for the Second and Third Sundays. The gospel for the Fourth Sunday addresses the events that happened right before the birth of Jesus. The readings from the Old Testament, especially from the Book of Isaiah, speak about the Messiah and the Messianic age.
The New Testament readings reflect the themes of Advent.
The Liturgical ColorSince Advent is a time of expectation and preparation, the colors violet or purple are used in the vestments and decorations. Purple is a color that was reserved for use by royalty, and so it is used in Advent to symbolize the coming of Christ our king, as celebrated at Christmas and as we prepare for the coming of God's Kingdom.
The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. The vestments worn on this day may be the color rose to symbolize the hope for the coming of Jesus.
A Symbol for AdventThe Advent Wreath represents a custom that Christians have followed for centuries.
The circle of the wreath recalls all the years the people waited for the Messiah. The four candles on the wreath remind us that there are four weeks in Advent. Each week one additional candle is lighted, so by the end of Advent all four are lit. The candles remind us that we are preparing for Jesus, the Light of the World.
Three of the candles are purple, the liturgical color for Advent. The candle lit for the third week of Advent is often rose-colored, to signify the hope for the coming of Jesus.