by Marcus Yee
Hello all! Have you ever wondered what Advent actually means? Why do the priests wear purple? What are the one pretty pink and three purple candles for? I had these questions too, and as I journeyed deeper into the season of Advent, these questions began to accumulate, and I figured, “Why not explore a little deeper?”
Eventually, after some research, I came up with a list of answers to my questions; I will be sharing these with you today, together with a few of my own reflections from last year’s Advent.
Let me begin with a funny story I heard from a priest during his homily.
A boy and a wise man were talking. The boy asked, “How can I go to Heaven?”. The wise man replied, “It’s simple! Just prepare yourself by praying to God the day before you die.” The boy said, “How would I know when I will die?” “Exactly, that’s why you should get praying now”, answered the wise man.
This sums up the opening Gospel’s theme on the first Sunday of Advent that says: “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man” (Luke 21).
This Advent is the time for us to “stay awake” in preparation for Christ’s coming both on Christmas Day, as well as in our lives. And therefore…
Tis the season to be holy… Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la…
What is Advent and how long does it last for?
In short, the word Advent means “coming” in Latin. This season is for us Christians to prepare for Jesus’ coming. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, and typically lasts 4 weeks till Christmas!
Why do the priests wear purple during Advent, isn’t purple used for Lent?
The colour purple represents penance, humility and preparation in the Catholic Church. Similar to the season of Lent, the season of Advent is a time for us to prepare our hearts to make space for Jesus, and to turn ourselves towards Him. Therefore, the colour purple is used by priests to symbolise the preparation we have to undertake, and also serves as a reminder that the joyous Christmas season has not yet begun.
But wait! Why does the priest wear pink on the 3rd Sunday of Advent?
The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, or Rose Sunday. “What’s this for?”, one might ask. The answer to that is simply, rejoice! (“Gaudete” literally means “rejoice” in Latin.) Gaudete Sunday can be seen as an anticipatory celebration for Christmas and a reminder to stay joyful even as we prepare for Jesus’ coming.
Do I have to fast during Advent?
Advent, unlike Lent, is not a penitential period, in that there are no hard and fast rules for fasting. However, we definitely use this time to renew our relationship with God, and to get back into a state of Grace with our Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It would also help to have a more intentional and committed prayer life during this period!
Hmm, what are those candles next to the altar for?
The candles are part of the Advent wreath, and symbolise the passage through the 4 weeks of Advent. Each candle represents one of the four Advent virtues and will be lighted as the weeks progress. The virtues are Hope, Love, Joy and Peace, and the candles are lit in this order as well.
Some churches may include a fifth candle, usually taller than the rest, and white in colour. White represents purity, and represents Jesus as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This candle is lit on Christmas Day, and emphasises Christ’s coming and Him as the Light of the World.
Jesus is the light of the world, and He brings light to the world, so as you go through the four Sundays, you increase the light in the world as the anticipation grows–Rev Tommy Davidson
So, what are the 4 Advent virtues and what do they mean?
The first candle to be lit. Hope is to look forward with faith and trust in our God. It is to know that we are never alone, for Christ is coming.
The second candle to be lit. On the second week of Advent, we are reminded that we were made out of love, and thus called to love. Love is to care deeply for the people and things around us because of how much they mean to us; it is only through love that we can fully be present and able to serve others.
The third candle to be lit. Joy is different from happiness, in that we do not have to be happy to be joyful. Unlike happiness which is dependent on external conditions, joy does not rely on our circumstances or current situations, but on simply knowing that God loves us. Fr. Henri Nouwen describes this quite perfectly by stating that joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.”
The fourth candle to be lit. On the fourth and final week of Advent, we are all called to be still and to allow God to work in our lives. Peace is simply being honest and comfortable with ourselves with the full knowledge that God is guiding us regardless of where we are now.
What is Advent to Me?
The season of Advent two years ago was special to me, as it was the first Advent season that I experienced after returning to God. Before that, I used to be very distant from the Church and out of touch with my faith, living a worldly and secular life. It was a life of searching for the wrong things in the wrong places–the next party to attend or the next night out to a bar. I was idolising false gods that rewarded me only with the temporal gratifications of the world.
After being lost for years, I took a desperate leap of faith in January 2017 and joined the School of Witness ‘17; this was when I found the Truth. I learnt, first with my head, and then with my heart, that 1) God loves us, 2) God wants us back, and 3) God wants to share and confront the burdens of our hearts with us. This, I feel, is where the greatness of our faith lies. It is because of these three reasons that God came down from Heaven to be with and among us.
For me, this is the meaning of Advent! It is a sacred time to prepare myself for Jesus’ coming, when He became man to take away our sins, and also a way for me to give thanks for the new Spirit He placed into me as I found my identity in God as His child.
At this point, I’m left with one last question, and I would like to pose it to you: what does this Advent mean to you?