Liturgical Year
Part 4 Christmas

Chapter y41 Advent

Preliminary Questions


Ten Finger History


God's Imperial Rule: Present or Future?



Spirituality of the Season

Catholic Update Video


To Think About

Preliminary Questions

"It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us." Chittister, The Liturgical Year, p 62.

Which liturgical season do you like better, Advent or Lent?  Why?  What is your experience of Advent? Christmas?

What have you been taught about the meaning of Advent? Christmas? What of the mystery is made present (anamnesis)?  What of the liturgical and civic celebrations is mere historicism?

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For an excellent comparison of the liturgy of advent before and after the Second Vatican Council, see:  Patrick Regan, "Two Advents Compared:  Ordinary and Extraordinary"  Worship, 84:6 November 2010, p 527.

Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium. Number 110, Para. 2.

Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars.  The Liturgy Documentary Series Number 6.  Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, USCC, 1984.  USCC publication number 928.  $6.95 paper. Numbers 18 and 20, p. 16.

Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Lectionary for Mass.  The Liturgy Documentary Series Number 1.  Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1982.  USCC publication number 839.  $6.95 paper. Number 41, pp. 89-93.

Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy. Newsletter. Vol. 14 November and Vol. 15 April/May.

USCCB. Prayers of the Advent and Christmas Seasons. Excerpts from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. ISBN 1-55586-300-0. $2.50.

Code of Canon Law. Book IV, Part III, Title II: Sacred Times (cc 1244-1253). Canons 1251-1253. CLSA Commentary, pp 853-855.

Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo. 1981, pp. 130-138.

Buckland, Patricia. Advent To Pentecost: A History of the Church Year. Wilton, CT: Morehouse-Barlow Company, Inc., 1979.

Davis, J.J.. "Advent." The New Catholic Encyclopedia. Palatine, Illinois: Jack Heraty and Associates. 1981 Vol. 1. pp. 152-153.

Irwin, Kevin. Advent and Christmas: A guide to the Eucharist and the Hours. Washington: Pueblo, 1986.

MacGregor, A. G. Fire and Light in the Western Triduum: Their Use at Tenebrae and at the Paschal Vigil. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

Martimort, A. G. (Editor). The Liturgy and Time, Volume IV of The Church at Prayer. New Edition. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 49-50, 54-55.

Nocent, Adrian.  The Liturgical Year.  Volume 1.  Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1977.

O'Gormann, Thomas. An Advent Source book, Liturgy Training Publications: Chicago, 1988. $12.95. [Readings, prayers, poetry, hymns, etc. A resource for homilists and musicians that is also suitable for private prayer and meditation.]

Parsch, Pius. The Church's Year of Grace. Vol. 2. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1953. 332-338.

Porter, Jr., H. Boone. Keeping the Church Year. New York: The Seabury Press, Inc., 1977.

Rohr, Richard, O.F.M. "Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr," two 60 minute audio cassettes. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1988. $19.95. Abbreviated in the Update "Christmas Watch: What Are We Waiting For?" CU 1289, December 1989.

Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986. ISBN 0-916134-75-X. $17.50 paper.

Tuzik, Rev. Robert L. The Season of Advent. Washington, DC. (Newsletter of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commission, Vol. 8 Number 5.)

The "steps" toward Christmas


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Ten Finger History

1. Apostolic [0-399]

2. Patristic [400-799]
Gregory of Tours writes in his History of the Franks that St. Perpetuus, who was bishop of Tours around 480 C.E., had declared a fast three days a week from November 11 (feast of St. Martin) till Christmas. In 567, the Second Council of Tours requested that monks fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This was extended to the laity and spread from France to England, as noted by Venerable Bede.  [Hubert Dunphy, Christmas Every Christmas (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1960) 13.]

3. Early Medieval [800-1199]

4. Medieval [1200-1299]

5. Late Medieval [1300-1499]

6. Reformation [1500-1699]

7. After Trent [1700-1899]

8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959]

9.  Vatican II [1960-1975]

10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]


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1947 Mediator Dei

Pius XII. Mediator Dei (On The Sacred Liturgy). Encyclical Letter, November 20, 1947. Part III "The Divine Office and the Liturgical Year". [Note: This document was foundational and formative for most priests who received their seminary formation before the mid-nineteen sixties. a) Compare it with your current understanding of the "Liturgical Today". b) Compare it with the facts of history and the documents of the Council.]

153. "The significance of the Liturgical Season" By these suitable ways and methods in which the Liturgy at stated times proposes the life of Jesus Christ for our meditation, the Church gives us examples to imitate, points out treasures of sanctity for us to make our own; since it is fitting that the mind believes what the lips sing, and that what the minds believes should be practiced in public and private life.

154. "Advent" In the period of Advent, for instance, the Church arouses in us the consciousness of the sins we have had the misfortune to commit, and urges us, by restraining our desires and practicing voluntary mortification of the body, to recollect ourselves in meditation, and experience a longing desire to return to God Who alone can free us by His grace from the stain of sin and from its evil consequences.

1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy  1963, December 4-Vatican II. Sacrosanctum Concilium  Chapter V: The Liturgical Year

102. Holy Mother Church is conscious that she must celebrate the saving work of her divine Spouse by devoutly recalling it on certain days throughout the course of the year. . . . Within the cycle of a year, she unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, not only from His incarnation and birth until His ascension, but also as reflected in the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of a blessed, hoped-for return of the Lord. Recalling these mysteries, the Church opens the riches of the Lord's powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present at all times and the faithful are enabled to lay hold of them and become filled with saving grace.

106. Sunday is the original feast day. . . other celebrations must not have precedence over this day. .

107. The traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons are to be restored to meet conditions of modern times. . .so that they duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of Redemption.

1969 Roman Calendar    1969, March 21-Calendarium Romanum (The Roman Calendar). March 21, 1969. [Note: This document was one of the first of the documents implementing the reform of the Second Vatican Council which contained both legislation (rubrics) and an official commentary on the rubrics in which the legislator gives both General Liturgical Principles and norms for pastoral judgments to allow the rubrics to achieve the goals.]

39. The season of Advent has a two fold character. It is a time of preparation for Christians when the first coming of God's Son is recalled. It is also a season when minds are directed by this memorial to Christ's second coming at the end of time. It is thus a season of joyful and spiritual expectation.

40. Advent begins with first vespers on the Sunday which falls on or closest to November 30 and ends before the first vespers of Christmas.

41. The Sundays of this season are known as the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays of Advent.

42. The weekdays between December 17 and December 24 inclusive are more directly oriented to the preparation for the Lord's birth.

1969 Official Commentary on the Roman Calendar (pp 68-69)

Meaning and Purpose   While the celebrations of Easter, Lent, Christmas, and Epiphany are common to all rites, Advent is a Western observance.  It was instituted to prepare the people for the celebration of Christmas, and shortly thereafter it acquired an eschatological character.  It recalls Christ's twofold advent:  his first coming to humankind, and his coming at the end of time.

Advent retains its traditional length of four weeks.  It is no longer considered a penitential season but a time of joyful expectations.  Although the Gloria is not used on the Sundays of this season, unlike its omission during Lent, it is not used at this time in order to allow it to ring out with a certain freshness on Christmas.

The Structure   The liturgical texts of Advent display a unity demonstrated by the almost daily reading of the prophet Isaiah.  Nevertheless, two parts of Advent can be clearly distinguished, each with its own significance, as the new prefaces clearly illustrate.

From the First Sunday of Advent until December 16 the liturgy expresses the eschatological character of Advent and urges us to look for the second coming of Christ.

From December 17-24, the daily Propers of the Mass and Office prepare more directly for the celebration of Christmas.

From the readings at Mass, the Fourth Sunday of Advent appears as a Sunday of the Fathers of the Old Testament and the Blessed Virgin Mary, in anticipation of the birth of Christ.

1969 Roman Lectionary  1969, May 25.  Ordo Lectionum Missae

11. The SEASON OF ADVENT: Sundays. Each gospel reading has a specific theme: the Lord's coming in glory at the end of time (First Sunday), John the Baptist (2 and 3), and the events which immediately prepared for the Lord's birth (Fourth Sunday). The Old Testament readings are prophecies about the Messiah and messianic times, especially those taken from the Book of Isaiah. The selections from the writings of the apostles present exhortations and instructions on different themes of this season.

Weekdays. Two series of readings are given: one from the beginning of Advent to December 16, and the other from December 17 to December 24. The first part of Advent is devoted to a semi-continuous reading of the Book of Isaiah, including those important passages which are also read on Sundays. Gospel passages for these days have been chosen because of their relation to the first reading. Beginning on Thursday of the second week, the gospel passages are about John the Baptist, while the first readings either continue the book of Isaiah or come from a text related to the day's gospel. The gospels of the first week before Christmas are from Matthew I, and Luke I, the events which immediately prepared for the Lord's birth. Selections for the first reading are from different books of the Hebrew Scriptures which have important messianic prophecies and a relationship to the gospel tests.

1971 Liturgy of the Hours  1971, February 2  [Note: Following the principle "Lex orandi legem credendi constituit, The way we pray reveals our belief" we can look to the second reading from the Hour of Readings for the first Sunday of Advent. This is sort of the "kick off" petrology reading for the season.

The Liturgy of the Hours proposes the meaning of the season by means of a catechetical instruction by Cyril of Jerusalem. Cyril lived about 315 to 386. He was ordained bishop of Jerusalem about 349. The new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults speaks of a period of mystagogia after the Easter initiation. This period of introduction into the inner life of the community is to be marked by special instructions and contact with the bishop. In 347, Cyril gave a series of such mystagogical catechetical sermons to the elect and neophytes in Jerusalem. Delivered during Lent and during the period of Mystagogia, these 24 sermons are the chief surviving work of Cyril. We celebrate his memory on March 18.]

From a catechetical instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop. (Cat. 15, 1-3: PG 33, 870-874) "On The Twofold Coming of Christ".

We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.

In general, what relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church 

524.  When the Church celebrates the Liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.  By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire:  "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

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God's Imperial Rule: Present or Future?

The following is taken from Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels, pp 136-137.

1.  John the Baptist   "You spawn of Satan! Who warned you to flee form the impending doom? ... Even now the axe is aimed at the root of the trees. So every tree not producing choice fruit gets cut down and tossed into the fire." (Matt 3:7, 10)

2a.  Jesus:  God's Rule as Future  But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give off her glow, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly forces will be shaken! And then they will see the son of Adam coming on the clouds with great power and splendor. And then he will send out messengers and will gather the chosen people from winds, from the ends of the earth the edge of the sky!... I swear to you, this generation certainly won't pass into oblivion before all these things take place! (Mark 13:24-27, 30)

I swear to you: some of those standing here won't ever taste death before they see God's imperial rule set in with power! (Mark 9:1)

2b.  Jesus:  God's Rule as Present 

"You won't be able to observe the coming of God's imperial rule. People are not going to be able to say, "Look, here it is!" or "Over there!" On the contrary, God's imperial rule is the rule is right there in your presence. (Luke 17:20-21)

It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, "Look, here!" or "Look there!" Rather, [the Father's] imperial rule is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it." (Thomas 113)

But if by God's finger I drive out demons, then for you God's imperial rule has arrived." (Luke 11:20)

"Father, your name be revered. Impose your imperial rule. (Luke 11:2 )  [Matthew interprets the second petition on the Lord's Prayer (Luke 11:2 above) as: "Enact you will on earth as you have in heaven." (Matt 6:10)]

3.  Paul of Tarsus  "Those of us who are still alive when the Lord comes will have no advantage over those who have died; when the command is given, when the head angel's voice is heard, when God's trumpet sounds, then the Lord himself will descend from heaven; first the Christian dead will rise, then we who are still alive will join them, caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air. As a result, we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:15-17)

4.  Commentary of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar  Scholars are agreed that Jesus spoke frequently about God's imperial rule, or, in traditional language, about the kingdom of God. Does this phrase refer to God's direct intervention in the future, something connected with the end of the world and the last judgment, or did Jesus employ the phrase to indicate something already present and of more elusive nature?  The first of these options is usually termed apocalyptic, a view fully expressed in the book or Revelation, which is an apocalypse.

The texts cited in this cameo essay can be used to support either view. One thing is clear: John the Baptist and the early Christian community espoused the first view: they believed the age was about to come to an abrupt end. Did Jesus share this view, or was his vision more subtle, less bombastic and threatening?

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are inclined to the second option: Jesus conceived of God's rule as all around him but difficult to discern. God was so real for him that he could not distinguish God's present activity from any future activity. He had a poetic sense of time in which the future and the present merged, simply melted together, in the intensity of his vision. But Jesus' uncommon views were obfuscated by the more pedestrian conceptions of John, on the one side, and by the equally pedestrian views of the early Christian community, on the other.

The views of John the Baptist and Paul are apocalyptically oriented. The early church aside from Paul shares Paul's view. The only question is whether the set of texts that represent God's rule as present were obfuscated by the pessimistic apocalyptic notions of Jesus' immediate predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. If Jesus merely adopted the popular views, how did such sayings as Luke 17:20-21 and Luke 11:20 arise? The best explanation is that they originated with Jesus, since they go against the dominant trend of the unfolding tradition.  Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are convinced that the subtlety of Jesus' sense of time -- the simultaneity of present and future -- was almost lost on his followers, many of whom, after all, started as disciples of John the Baptist, and are represented, in the gospels, as understanding Jesus poorly.

The confirming evidence for this conclusion lies in the major parables of Jesus: they do not reflect an apocalyptic view of history. Among his major parables are: Samaritan; prodigal son; dinner party; vineyard laborers; shrewd manager; unforgiving slave; corrupt judge; leaven; mustard seed; pearl; treasure.  The Jesus Seminar awarded a pink designation to all the sayings and parables in which the kingdom is represented as present; the remaining sayings, in which the rule of God is depicted as future, were voted black.

"Biblical scholars tell us that a careful reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus saw God's kingdom all around him, present although difficult to discern." I believe that this is related to the concept of liturgical anamnesis, the Remembering that makes us present to the mystery. We pass through our chronological past present future way of thinking -- Jesus was born in the past, Jesus will come again in the future -- to a way of thinking that takes place in God's eternal now, the kairos, God's time of favor. Anamnesis helps us to see the birth of Christ at Bethlehem and Christ the Omega as present now in mystery. This is a very deep and rich understanding that is still relatively new in Catholic theology.


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NAME:  The name comes from the Latin "adventus" -- coming, arrival -- parousia, is the corresponding Greek. PERIOD OF JOYFUL EXPECTATION

The book of the prophet Isaiah gives flavor to the season. Note how many pictures on our Christmas cards come from Isaiah. Note how many of our Christmas card seems our depictions of scenes from the prophet Isaiah: for example, the lion lying down with the lamb, swords being beat into plowshares. These are great visions of hope and joy.

Historicism--Receive baby Jesus in Christmas Communion. Placing infant in the crib at consecration of midnight mass, etc.

Waiting for the Cosmic Christ; not waiting for the Baby Jesus; not waiting for heaven.

THEOLOGY--COME LORD JESUS! COME / WAITING: Last verses of the bible: Revelation 22:20-21 "He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen." --Come! Thy kingdom come! Waiting for the kingdom is the basic stance of the Christian! Advent = season of joyful expectation, waiting for this coming.


LEVEL ONE: MEN AND WOMEN IN HARMONY WITH THE EARTH AND ALL LIFE. The earthling (ADAM) walks in the garden (Jesus betrayed, crucified, raised in the garden--exact spot? same tree? Adam's skull at foot of the cross?) ADAM names-knows the life forms.

LEVEL TWO: MEN AND WOMEN IN HARMONY WITH ONE ANOTHER AND WITH THE SELF.--They were naked but not ashamed. They could trust one another.

LEVEL THREE: They walked in the Garden and talked with God.

SIN: dia-bolical--tear apart Greek: dia-balo. Sin tears apart this three level harmony.  The beasts became "wild"--work sweat of their brow--pain of childbirth.  They found they were naked and made garments--trust destroyed.  God called the earthling and Adam hid.

CHRIST: Christ comes to reconcile creation, to restore these three levels of harmony, to announce the breaking in of the KINGDOM OF GOD.

RELIGION: re-ligio, to bind back together again. The Christian continues to dream the dreams of Jesus, dreams of a kingdom. The Christian prayer, "Thy kingdom come," "Come, Lord Jesus."

"Thy kingdom come"--implies "My kingdom go." --Goodbye to power, prestige, property. (see Richard Rohr, tapes cited above).

15. The biblical variety of waiting is not a passive thing---it is instead an active and purposeful action requiring imagination and a hope for that which is real and present. The root for the Hebrew verb to wait (qawa) has the same root as the verbs "to look for" or "to hope." Waiting, for the Hebrews, embodied the feelings of expectation and confidence, strength and judgment. The waiting of the Hebrew Scriptures finds its echo in the watching of the Christian gospels---the disciples are to watch, not so much for the birth of Christ, as for his death and resurrection and return. In the garden, the apostles were to "Watch!" They were to "Keep awake!" (from an unpublished paper by Lori Watson: "The Use of 1st Isaiah in the Advent Texts of Year A")

16.  In order to be awake and watching, one has to be constantly imagining---"How can my time and my place resemble a place for God to be born in?" (Marc Mullinax, "Expecting Advent-ure," Living Pulpit, 6 [1997] 42.)

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1.  Light  must strengthen sun god...days getting much too dreary. Christianized in fourth century. Light: winter solstice.    Advent wreath.  Lights on Christmas tree.  East, source of light. 

1a.  Advent Wreath  Light (see above) increasing one by one each week.   Wreath -- round, eternity, ever green.

2.  Color  

This is Advent violet, (Serum blue):


This is Lent violet, (Roman purple):


"The December 1987 edition of the Newsletter contained a clarification on liturgical colors in response to the many questions that come to the Secretariat regarding the use of blue vestments during Advent. . . . The official color for the seasons of Advent and Lent is violet. This color, which is often called purple, has a variety of shades ranging from blue-violet to red-violet. The shade that is traditional known as "Roman purple" is actually a red-purple. Elsewhere in Europe, violet tended to be more blue-purple than the Roman color. This difference is partially attributable to the variations in violet dyes obtained from shellfish in various regions of Europe. -- Those who have proposed the use of blue for Advent have do so in order to distinguish between the Advent season and the specifically penitential season of Lent. the same effect can be achieved by following the official color sequence of the church, which requires the use of violet for Advent and Lent, while taking advantage of the varying shades which exist for violet. Hence the bluer hues of violet might be used for Advent and the redder shades for Lent. Light blue vestments are not authorized for use in the United States." (Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Newsletter, September 1988, Vol XXIV, pp 35-36.)

For a history of liturgical colors in general, see Chapter 42 Symbol and Metaphor

3.  Penance --- a "left over" idea from Pius XII
3a.  Fasting
  ---  No fasting
3b.  Alleluia   --- Alleluia is not put away.
3c.  Gloria ---   The Gloria is put that it is fresh and new for the Angels to sing on Christmas as they announce the birth of the savior.  "And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest / and on earth peace to those on whom [God's] favor rests.'" (Luke 2:13-14 NAB)

4.  Etimasia ---  The empty throne of the pantocrator.

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Spirituality of the Season

Awaiting a Gentle God

[The following is copyrighted material reprinted from: Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Awaiting a Gentle God," St. Anthony Messenger, 103:7 (December, 1995) p 56.]

On the final Sunday of Ordinary Time we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. We look to Christ in glory, the alpha and omega, the beginning of creation and it's final destiny. In the Opening Prayer at Mass we ask God to "free all the world to rejoice in his peace, to glory in his justice, to live in his love." How wonderful it would be if the peace of Christ actually filled the whole earth and all creation could glory in his justice!

But this is not our daily experience of the world in which we live. While Christ rules as King, we long for his kingdom to be fully realized. The church year ends on this note of longing, waiting, anticipation -- the same note on which it now begins with Advent: the season of waiting and anticipation.

Advent is not another Lent. Baptism is the focus of Lent -- a season of penance and preparation for our baptismal dying and rising at Easter. Advent "is no longer considered a penitential season but a time of joyful expectation." (Norms Governing Liturgical Calendars, p. 69)

Advent: joyful expectation! What do we expect and why are we joyful? The answer to these questions is given in the Scriptures proposed for the season. "From the first Sunday of Advent until December 16 the liturgy expresses the eschatological character of Advent and urges us to look for the second coming of Christ. From December 17-24, the daily propers of the Mass and the Office prepare more directly for the celebration of Christmas." (Ibid.)

The prophet Isaiah sets the tone for Advent. He voices the hope and longing of God's people in exile as they await the time of their release. They dream of those days when God's rule will prevail and wars will cease, the days when "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (Isaiah 2:4, First reading for the first Sunday of Advent) They long for the time when all hatred and prejudice will cease, when the streets will be safe, and the elderly will not live in fear, when "the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the young lion shall browse together." (Isaiah 11:6, Second Sunday of Advent.)

How and when will this all come about? As the year 2000 approaches we will perhaps see a repeat of some of those events which accompanied the end of the first millennium. People warned that the inauguration of God's reign would be brought about by the imminent destruction of the world. Already I hear warnings that the year 2000 will be the end of the world, the earth will be consumed in the fire following an atomic blast or submerged in another great flood and utterly destroyed.

Jesus, it seems, was not of this opinion. Biblical scholars tell us that a careful reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus saw God's kingdom all around him, present although difficult to discern. Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, 'Look, here it is,' or, 'There it is.' For behold, the kingdom of God is among you." (Luke 17:20-21)

The kingdom is among us, now! Christ rules, now! The Second Vatican Council stated: "Already the final age of the world is with us (cf. 1 Cor. 10:11) and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way." (Constitution of the Church, 48) The Catechism of the Catholic Church (= CCC) states: "Since the Ascension [of Jesus,] God's plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at 'the last hour.'" (CCC, 670)

How can the kingdom be among us when the world seems so gripped by sin? To see the kingdom in our midst, we need a special sight: Faith. The light of Advent (as symbolized, for example, in the Advent wreath) little by little banishes the darkness of doubt and discouragement and enables us to see ourselves and our God as we truly are: dearly loved children of God.

I am reminded of a young friend of mine, who a few years ago was looking forward to receiving his very first bicycle on Christmas Day. He had secretly searched all those places in the house and garage where Santa Claus might hide a bicycle but didn't find any box or package big enough to contain one. A few days before Christmas he told me in confidence, "Fr. Tom, I asked my dad to get me a bicycle for Christmas and I've looked in all the hiding places and can't find it anywhere." I suggested, "Perhaps you haven't been good enough to get a bicycle?" He looked at me and said with complete confidence, "My dad is getting me a bicycle!"

We await God's kingdom as that boy awaited his bicycle. He knew it was there. We wait with total confidence in our loving Parent. "Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." (Mark 10:15) Even when we don't see the kingdom, we know by faith that it is here.

God reveals the kingdom gently and quietly. As God gently and quietly appeared among us in the stable at Bethlehem, so the kingdom is revealed to be in our midst in a quiet moment of prayer, in the stillness after the death of a parent, in the face of a friend in the hospital. The kingdom comes gently and quietly, often unnoticed. God's gentleness is an antidote to the violence of our times. The danger of Advent is that we get so caught up in the sounds of the season that we cannot hear the whispering voice of God, and that we become so busy giving gifts that we are not ready to receive God's gift, God's reign.

Advent is the season when we pray fervently for the end to war, hunger, and injustice. All creation awaits the kingdom and longs to "be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now." (Romans 8:21-22) "That is why Christians pray, above all in the Eucharist, to hasten Christ's return by saying to him: 'Marana tha! Lord, come!'" (CCC, 671) "Christ had died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."  "... Lord Jesus, come in glory."  "... we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory." 

Advent teaches us to live in the present. Our attention is not fixed on a baby's birth long ago, nor does fear of some future catastrophe consume our lives. The Spirit of Christ "is offered us at all times, in the events of each day, to make prayer spring up from us. Jesus' teaching about praying to our Father is in the same vein as his teaching about providence: time is in the Father's hands; it is in the present that we encounter him, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today." (CCC, 2659) The spirituality of Advent, Christmas, and every Christian season appreciates the grace of the present moment. "Thy kingdom come."

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Catholic Update Video

The following is the text of the teaching segment of the third program in the Catholic Update Video series The Liturgical Year: The Christmas Season in which I summarize the meaning of the Advent/Christmas season.

1) What is your favorite liturgical season: Christmas or Easter? When I ask that question some people say "Easter," and speak of how they appreciate the Holy Week services, or the Baptisms at the Easter Vigil. But others tell me that Christmas is their favorite season. And not just because of presents and Santa Claus -- they often mention Advent and the beautiful readings from the prophet Isaiah.

2) The Church Year celebrates two great "seasons" -- Easter and Christmas. Both seasons have three components.

3) In another "Catholic Update Video" program, I talk about Lent, Easter, and the Great Fifty Days. In this program I would like to speak of the Christmas season: Advent, Christmas itself, and the feasts of the Christmas Season.

4) Advent is a season of joyful expectation. We join with the generations of Israelites who awaited the coming (the "advent" ) of the Messiah, Mary's child, born at Bethlehem. And we join with the Church today all as we joyfully await his coming in Glory.

5) Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. The prayers and readings from Scripture during the first week of Advent draw our attention to Christ's coming in Glory. The second and third weeks of Advent present John the Baptist, inviting us to prepare the way of the Lord. The Bible readings from December 17th to Christmas day itself speak of Mary and Joseph.

6) Throughout Advent we read the from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah tells of the hope of God's people in exile as they awaited the time of their release. Isaiah dreams of a time when God's rule will prevail, when wars will cease, a time when people will "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (Isaiah 2:4)

7) Isaiah speaks of waiting, of joyful expectation. Isaiah longs for the time when all hatred and prejudice will cease, when the streets will be safe, and the elderly will not live in fear.

8) In those days, "the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the young lion shall browse together." (Isaiah 11:6)

9) How and when will this all come about? Jesus saw God's kingdom all around him. When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "Behold, the kingdom of God is among you." (Luke 17:20-21)

10) The kingdom is among us, now! Christ rules, now! But we can only see this kingdom with the eyes of faith.

11) A few years ago, a young friend of mine was looking forward to receiving his very first bicycle on Christmas Day. He had secretly searched all those places in the house and garage where "Santa Claus" might hide a bicycle but hadn't found any box or package big enough to contain one. A few days before Christmas he told me in confidence, "Father Tom, I asked my dad to get me a bicycle for Christmas and I've looked in all the hiding places and can't find it anywhere." I jokingly suggested, "Perhaps you haven't been good enough to get a bicycle?" He looked at me and said with complete confidence, "My dad is getting me a bicycle!"

12) We await God's kingdom as that little boy awaited his bicycle. We know it is there. We wait with total confidence in our loving Parent. Even when we don't see the kingdom, we know by faith that it is here.

13) At the Christmas Mass we pray: "In the wonder of the incarnation / your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith / a new and radiant vision of your glory. / In [Christ] we see our God made visible / and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see."

14) The great revealed religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, teach that we are all sons and daughters of Abraham. We all worship the God of Abraham. But we Christians believe that God took flesh and became one of us.

15) God knows how hard it is for us to love someone we cannot see or touch. And so God took flesh, came among us, truly human.

16) The Incarnation, the mystery we celebrate at Christmas, is the realization that God comes to us and we come to God in the flesh -- through our bodies in the created world.

17) Just as a child might spend the days following Christmas enjoying the different toys given by loving parents, in the days following Christmas the Church celebrates feasts which unwrap the meaning of the Incarnation.

18) On the day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen. We get a glimpse of the destiny of the infant Jesus. We hear of the flight into Egypt, and on December 28th we celebrate the Holy Innocents who were slaughtered by King Herod in the hope of killing the Christ-child. Herod stands for all who would seek to annihilate God's Kingdom in our midst.

19) On Sunday after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. On the eighth day of Christmas, the "octave" of Christmas, the Church directs our attention to Mary. January 1st, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, is the original and oldest feast of Mary in the liturgical calendar.

20) On January 6th, we celebrate the Epiphany, the "manifestation" of the Lord. Traditionally this feast celebrates not only the manifestation of the infant to the three kings, but also his Baptism by John in the Jordan River, and the first of his signs at the wedding at Cana.

21) During the course of a year, the Church unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from his Incarnation to his Second Coming. The season of Christmas celebrates both the historical beginning and final culmination of this great sacrament of God's love.

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1.  As Advent approaches, the liturgy discussion forums on the internet are full of questions: Where to put the advent wreath? How to get decorating done in one afternoon? How early can the anticipated Midnight Masses start? Does one ever use the vigil text for Christmas? These are practical things and things that must be dealt with in the real world. But as we study the meaning, liturgy, and theology of Advent, the question we should be asking is:  "What is this liturgical season saying? How is it portrayed through liturgical planning?  What is the spirituality for this season and how is it relevant to the faithful?"

2. We have experienced, and know from others, of excellent ways to present the birth of the baby Jesus to children; but how can we assist people's healthy childhood experience of Christmas "grow up"?

3. Regarding Christ's second coming. When does this happen? In the future? Or now? Again, to steal a quote: "It is said that you will come again, and this is true. But the word 'again' is misleading. It won't really be 'another' coming, because you have never really gone away. In the human existence that you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us. But still you will come again, because the fact that you have already come must continue to be revealed ever more clearly. It will become progressively more manifest to the world that the heart of all things is already transformed, because you have taken them all to your heart. Behold, you come. And your coming is neither past nor future, but the present, which has only to reach its fulfillment." (Karl Rahner: The Divine Dawning. Watch for the Light, Readings for Advent and Christmas, December 2) -- This is also the vision expressed in the life and work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: the kingdom growing until Christ be all in all and then give the kingdom to the Father. It is important that Catholics know what they are praying for at each Eucharist when they say (in the embolism to the Our Father) that they are waiting in joyful hope "until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." What are they thinking of?

4. How do we defragment the Paschal Mystery? At Mass on Christmas we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer "in memory (anamnesis) of his death and resurrection"  -- Do Catholics realize the implications of this "presence"?

5. Several of you quoted passages from the early Church writers regarding Advent. The quotes always spoke of JOYFUL waiting, JOYFUL expectation. How can we counter the "Christmas rush" with "waiting"? How can we counter "instant gratification" with JOYFUL waiting in a culture in which joyful waiting seems to be an oxymoron?

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To Think About

Commercialism.  Secular symbols-- What of a secular (commercial) Christmas: e.g. Japan, the seven dwarfs visit the crib, Santa on the cross?

What is the difference between Advent and Lent?

Give a brief history of Advent.

The Sacramentary gives a proper Preface to each of the Sundays of Lent (Cycle A). In the same literary genre, compose prefaces for the Masses of Christmas and Epiphany. Compare yours with those in the Sacramentary.

Anticipation of Christmas--e.g. in schools, decorations, etc.  In colleges and universities in the United States, the students often go home for Christmas vacation towards the end of the Advent season. Christmas Masses are celebrated before the students leave for vacation. Comment on this practice and give a pastoral solution to the problem.

"The seasons of the natural year happen by themselves; the seasons of the Church Year must be caused to happen." In the change of our devotional piety following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, many of the things which caused a liturgical season to happen have been lost. State several ways (family customs, devotional practices, etc.) which can cause Advent to happen" in the contemporary parish.

State the differences in the celebration of Epiphany in the East and West.

Today we think of the calendar year beginning on January first. This has been the case since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, traditionally attributed to Gregory XIII (pope from 1572-85). The (prior) Julian calendar (in use until 1582) celebrated New Year's Day on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation the date of the conception of Jesus and the date of his death on the cross.

I think that there are many ways that a family can use their preparations for Christmas in a way that reveals the meaning of advent. I think it is important to help people see that giving gifts, sending Christmas cards, decorating the house, can have a theological meaning and are not simply secular customs.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 11/30/18 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at