What is the Catholic Meaning of Advent?

clock December 1, 2012 14:14 by author John |

Advent - the AnnunciationWhat is Advent?

Advent is the liturgical season preceding Christmas, and the beginning of the Church’s liturgical year (in the West). It is the time that Christians use to prepare for the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The word Advent comes from the Latin word “Adventus” which means “coming”. We wait with joyful anticipation for Christmas, when Jesus was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.

As the words from the beautiful Christmas carol, ‘O Holy Night’ remind us, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” From the time of Adam, humanity waited for the savior to come to save us from the eternal separation from God that our sinfulness had warranted. Our only hope of salvation was the coming of Christ.

In the Old Testament, Jesus’ coming was foretold in the prophesies such as Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

The season of Advent is a time for Catholics to prepare themselves. This preparation is focused on becoming holier and worthy to celebrate Christ’s coming into the world on Christmas. It is also a time to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming to us in the form of the Eucharist. Finally, it is a time to prepare for His Final Coming as the Just Judge both at our death and at the end of the world.

The History of Advent

The feast of the Nativity was established in the 4th century and the concept of preparation for the Birth of Christ gradually grew until the season of Advent was established near the end of the 6th century. The preparation was more penitential in the early centuries of the Church, showing similarities to Lent. Fasting and other acts of penance were prescribed for the faithful.  Between the 7th and 11th centuries, Advent was observed for 5 Sundays. In the end of the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to 4.

Present Day Advent

We now continue the penitential theme, though it is accompanied by a prayerful and joyful anticipation of the birth of Christ and His second coming. Fasting and acts of penance are still valuable means of preparation, though we should also include prayers of joyful hope and gratitude for the gift of Christ’s Incarnation, life, and death. The late Pope John Paul II called Advent a time of intense training.

Traditional Advent Observances

In Churches and many Catholic homes, an Advent wreath is prominently displayed. It contains four candles, one is lit on each Sunday in Advent. Another popular custom is the Advent calendar, which counts down the days until the birth of Jesus. The most important Advent observance, however is participation in the sacraments of the Church in order to prepare our souls. Confession and the Eucharist are appropriate ways to prepare spiritually for Christ’s coming.

Year of Faith Catechism Study: CCC 436-440 – Christ and His Mission

clock December 1, 2012 01:02 by author John |

The Catechism sections for today discuss Christ and His mission. Supplemental material comes from St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies”.

II. Christ

436 The word "Christ" comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means "anointed". It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that "Christ" signifies. In effect, in Israel those consecrated to God for a mission that he gave were anointed in his name. This was the case for kings, for priests and, in rare instances, for prophets.29 This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively.30 It was necessary that the Messiah be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at once as king and priest, and also as prophet.31 Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet and king.

437 To the shepherds, the angel announced the birth of Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."32 From the beginning he was "the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world", conceived as "holy" in Mary's virginal womb.33 God called Joseph to "take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit", so that Jesus, "who is called Christ", should be born of Joseph's spouse into the messianic lineage of David.34

438 Jesus' messianic consecration reveals his divine mission, "for the name 'Christ' implies 'he who anointed', 'he who was anointed' and 'the very anointing with which he was anointed'. The one who anointed is the Father, the one who was anointed is the Son, and he was anointed with the Spirit who is the anointing.'"35 His eternal messianic consecration was revealed during the time of his earthly life at the moment of his baptism by John, when "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power", "that he might be revealed to Israel"36 as its Messiah. His works and words will manifest him as "the Holy One of God".37

439 Many Jews and even certain Gentiles who shared their hope recognized in Jesus the fundamental attributes of the messianic "Son of David", promised by God to Israel.38 Jesus accepted his rightful title of Messiah, though with some reserve because it was understood by some of his contemporaries in too human a sense, as essentially political.39

440 Jesus accepted Peter's profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man.40 He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man "who came down from heaven", and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."41 Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross.42 Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus' messianic kingship to the People of God: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."43

St. Irenaeus discusses Christ and His mission in “Against Heresies” (3,18,3-4):

3. But who is it that has had fellowship with us in the matter of food? Whether is it he who is conceived of by them as the Christ above, who extended himself through Horos, and imparted a form to their mother; or is it He who is from the Virgin, Emmanuel, who ate butter and honey, Isaiah 8:14 of whom the prophet declared, He is also a man, and who shall know him? Jeremiah 17:9 He was likewise preached by Paul: For I delivered, he says, unto you first of all, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 It is plain, then, that Paul knew no other Christ besides Him alone, who both suffered, and was buried, and rose gain, who was also born, and whom he speaks of as man. For after remarking, But if Christ be preached, that He rose from the dead, 1 Corinthians 15:12 he continues, rendering the reason of His incarnation, For since by man came death, by man [came] also the resurrection of the dead. And everywhere, when [referring to] the passion of our Lord, and to His human nature, and His subjection to death, he employs the name of Christ, as in that passage: Destroy not him with your meat for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15 And again: But now, in Christ, you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13 And again: Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs upon a tree. Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23 And again: And through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died; 1 Corinthians 8:11 indicating that the impassible Christ did not descend upon Jesus, but that He Himself, because He was Jesus Christ, suffered for us; He, who lay in the tomb, and rose again, who descended and ascended,— the Son of God having been made the Son of man, as the very name itself does declare. For in the name of Christ is implied, He that anoints, He that is anointed, and the unction itself with which He is anointed. And it is the Father who anoints, but the Son who is anointed by the Spirit, who is the unction, as the Word declares by Isaiah, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me, Isaiah 61:1 — pointing out both the anointing Father, the anointed Son, and the unction, which is the Spirit.

4. The Lord Himself, too, makes it evident who it was that suffered; for when He asked the disciples, Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am? Matthew 16:13 and when Peter had replied, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God; and when he had been commended by Him [in these words], That flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, but the Father who is in heaven, He made it clear that He, the Son of man, is Christ the Son of the living God. For from that time forth, it is said, He began to show to His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the priests, and be rejected, and crucified, and rise again the third day. Matthew 16:21 He who was acknowledged by Peter as Christ, who pronounced him blessed because the Father had revealed the Son of the living God to him, said that He must Himself suffer many things, and be crucified; and then He rebuked Peter, who imagined that He was the Christ as the generality of men supposed [that the Christ should be], and was averse to the idea of His suffering, [and] said to the disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever will lose it for My sake shall save it. Matthew 16:24-25 For these things Christ spoke openly, He being Himself the Saviour of those who should be delivered over to death for their confession of Him, and lose their lives.


29 Cf. Ex 29:7; ⇒ Lev 8:12; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 16:1, 12-13; ⇒ I Kings 1:39; ⇒ 19:16.
30 Cf. ⇒ Ps 2:2; ⇒ Acts 4:26-27.
31 Cf. ⇒ Is 11:2; ⇒ 61:1; ⇒ Zech 4:14; ⇒ 6:13; ⇒ Lk 4:16-21.
32 ⇒ Lk 2:11.
33 ⇒ Jn 10:36; cf. ⇒ Lk 1:35.
34 ⇒ Mt 1:20; cf. ⇒ 1:16; ⇒ Rom 1:1; ⇒ 2 Tim 2:8; ⇒ Rev 22:16.
35 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3,18,3: PG 7/1, 934.
36 ⇒ Acts 10:38; ⇒ Jn 1:31.
37 ⇒ Mk 1:24; ⇒ Jn 6:69; ⇒ Acts 3:14.
38 Cf ⇒ Mt 2:2; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9.15.
39 Cf. ⇒ Jn 4:25-26; ⇒ 6:15; ⇒ 11:27; ⇒ Mt 22:41-46; ⇒ Lk 24:21.
40 Cf. ⇒ Mt 16:16-23.
41 ⇒ Jn 3:13; ⇒ Mt 20:28; cf. ⇒ Jn 6:62; ⇒ Dan 7:13; ⇒ Is 53:10-12.
42 Cf. ⇒ Jn 19:19-22; ⇒ Lk 23:39-43.
43 ⇒ Acts 2:36