Advent Traditions Prepare Hearts for the Coming of Christ

The Advent wreath, with a candle marking each week of the season, is a traditional symbol of the liturgical period. The lighting of Advent candles is a reminder that Jesus came into the world to dispel darkness and radiate the light of God’s love. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review)

“Come, Lord Jesus!” This is the cry of the Church during the joyful, expectant season of Advent.  Beginning this year on Nov. 27, Advent marks the beginning of the new liturgical year. The season concludes with the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.

Advent is a time of eager longing as the faithful wait to commemorate the birth of Christ at Christmas, as well as a time of preparation for his final coming. Through the Scriptures of the Advent liturgies, the Church gives the words of the prophets and the evangelists, as they unfold God’s plan of salvation for his people, showing in Jesus, God’s promises fulfilled.

The season provides the opportunity to slow down and focus on the meaning of Christmas; it is a reminder of the ultimate goal to which the Lord calls each person. In parishes across the diocese, Advent wreaths with three violet candles and one pink will be lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas.  Priests will wear violet vestments to symbolize Advent.

“During Advent, the music changes to put us in the state of mind of yearning for Christ’s coming and we light the Advent wreath as a concrete reminder,” says Deacon Juan Cruz of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs.  “We light one candle per week.  A pink one, different from the others, lit on the third week, represents the joy of the eminence of his coming.”

“It’s not about the Christmas list and who gets what,” continued Deacon Cruz.  “I compare it to when you’re looking forward to something big coming into your life, you have anticipation.  The Advent liturgy is always about His coming and will we be ready.  Will our lamps be filled with oil to illuminate the path that Christ is making for us, for our new change?  We must live with the desire to change, trying to do all we can to do that.”

Families, like Bob and Joy Breske, prepare for Advent together around the dinner table. “Along with lighting the Advent wreath, we use the little Advent book that our parish gives out every year,” said Joy Breske, a parishioner at St. Margaret Mary in Winter Park.  The Breske’s fifteen year old son Bobby, who has Down Syndrome, is a student at the Morning Star School in Orlando and an altar server at their parish.  “Bobby is reading now, so he can participate in the reading of the story and the prayer in the book.”

In the multicultural communities in the Diocese of Orlando, Advent traditions reflect the richness and depth of the season, not only awaiting the coming of Christ, but also walking the path with His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12 celebrates the coming of the Virgin to the humble Juan Diego in Mexico. It is a highly anticipated feast that includes many different cultures but is particularly special to the Mexican and other Latino cultures. In the Mexican tradition, Advent is marked with Las Posadas, nine consecutive days of candlelight processions, depicting Joseph and Mary looking for safe shelter before the birth of Jesus, starting Dec. 16. For the Puerto Rican community, Misa de Aguinaldo, is a series of dawn Masses held for nine days ending on Christmas Eve. Parrandas, usually done before and after Christmas, is the festivity of Christmas caroling; knocking on doors in the middle of the night to surprise neighbors with songs and instruments, to bring them the Christmas spirit.

Filipino Catholics will celebrate Simbang Gabi, a novena Mass that begins Dec. 16 until Christmas Eve. Some traditional decorations include “patrols”, lighted lanterns depicting the Star of David, a symbol of Christ’s genealogy.

For some, Advent has other layers of meaning, and the expectation is deeply personal.  “As I’m preparing for Advent, I’m trusting in Jesus and preparing for a daughter,” says Lizette Hernandez, youth minister at Good Shepherd in Orlando.  Hernandez, who lost her full term son Micael Ivan during last year’s Three Kings Day weekend, says this Advent season will be full of challenges and joys, as she awaits the birth of her new child soon after Christmas. “I’m taking in God’s will, thinking about all that Jesus went through, about my own loss and expectation, and having the courage to be open to life and to God’s will.  Trials are good, because it means something good is coming.”