What is Advent and why is it very important to us as Catholics?

Happy New Year! No, it is not January 1! The liturgical year does not match New Year’s Day, the beginning of the calendar year, nor July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year for many organizations. The Church year is distinctive. It always begins on the first Sunday of Advent, and with it comes a shift in the cycle of readings. The feast of Christ the King signaled the end of Ordinary Time.

Advent is the four-week liturgical season that precedes Christmas. The term “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus which means “coming,” and it focuses not only on the past coming of Jesus on the first Christmas; but also on the present coming of Jesus in the gospels, the sacraments, other people, prayer, love, truth, and personal experience; and the future coming of Jesus at the Second or Final Coming at the end of the world, the Parousia or the Last Judgment.

Advent is not Lent or a miniature version of Lent. In fact, the two seasons are extremely different. Advent stresses hope and joy, Lent stresses penance and sorrow; Advent emphasizes what we need to add to our lives (e.g., grace, light, joy), while Lent emphasizes what we need to remove (i.e., sin); Advent lasts for four Sundays and 28 days, Lent lasts for six Sundays and forty days; Advent is a liturgical season, Lent is an ascetical season (i.e., fasting, almsgiving, prayer, acts of charity); Advent stresses preparation with festivity, Lent stresses preparation with sackcloth and ashes; Advent features the prophet Isaiah, Lent features the prophet Jeremiah.

The main saint of Advent is John the Baptist. He is “the prophet of the Most High” (Lk 1:76), the immediate forerunner of Jesus, and the link between the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself. His story is recounted on the Second and Third Sundays of Advent. The Baptist was the voice crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Is 40:3; Mt 3:3), which is what we are called to do during this holy season. He also directed peoples’ attention from himself to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36), and made one of the momentous statements in the gospels as he declared, “He [Jesus] must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). If we hope to have a spiritually profitable Advent, we, like the Baptist, must diminish, while Jesus increases in power and brilliance in our lives.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minn. As a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he has always been a teacher. He now teaches the faith as a homilist, Bible study leader, retreat director, pilgrimage guide and author of numerous articles.

© 2002 Rev. Michael A. Van Sloun
Used with permission.