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Ask the Register: Is Advent a penitential season?

Q. Is Advent a penitential season like Lent?

A. The season of Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year, where we, in a sense, put ourselves in the place of the people of Israel, our ancestors in the faith, who longed for the future messiah.

It is a time of devout and joyful expectation as we prepare our hearts for Christmas, the day when the Incarnate Word was made visible to the world.

The liturgical season of Advent is not officially a penitential season even though the liturgical color of violet is used, as it is during Lent. The Code of Canon Law affirms this, stating, “The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent” (Ca. 1250).

However, in preparation for the solemn season of Christmas, Advent takes on a more subdued tone. For instance, the Church urges moderation in the decoration of altars and in the selection of hymns during this season. The Gloria is omitted during the Masses in the season of Advent, except for solemnities.

In addition to Advent being a time to reflect about the first coming of Christ being made visible to the world, Advent is also a time to recall and await the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this Second Coming in the following way: “Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end” (CCC 1040).

Herein lies one of the great treasures of the season. In our contemporary culture, it is increasingly difficult for us to enter into the season of Advent. There is a great frenzy of shopping, parties and activity. This isn’t all bad, but the Church reminds us to settle down, be patient, and contemplate. As the Catechism states, at the Second Coming, the ultimate meaning of God’s salvation history will be revealed to us. That means all our questions of our purpose in this world and of God’s providential plan will be known to us.

Thus, it may be said that the season of Advent builds up a longing in us for the greatest of things—the things that truly last. Rather than wondering what will be in our stocking on Christmas morning, the Church inclines us to wonder at the reality of God taking on human flesh and entering our world. Instead of longing for the latest gadget that will probably be out of date by next Christmas, think of what we can gain by using the season of Advent to stir up a yearning in our hearts that can only be fulfilled on the day that we meet the Lord.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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