My Dear Brethren in Christ,
The observance of and Advent Season is very old. Its beginnings appear to be in the the 4th century (AD 300’s) Celtic Monks in Gaul (modern France) which combined their intentions of observance with a similar three to six week period of fasting before Christmas already observed in the city of Rome (a season when new Christians studied in preparation for baptism.) This Gallic fast began at sundown on November 11th. The observance of Advent as a time of preparation and fasting grew and was well established in Western practice at the beginning of the 7th century (600s). The Celtic and Roman practice was was then widely adopted by Eastern Sees in the eighth century (700’s) and the beginning date was everywhere modified to begin on the 15th of November (actually sundown on the 14th.) It ended on sundown on the Eve of the Nativity (Christmas Eve) making the total number of days forty. It was observes as a kind of ‘second Lent’ but expectation of Fasting was less severe and seen as a time of cleansing and preparation
The Western Advent tradition was altered in the eleventh century by the Bishop of Rome (Gregory the VII) from five to four Sundays which were to be counted from the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew. The first Sunday in Advent then served to mark the beginning of the new Christian year.
For all Christians the season of Advent (from the Latin adventus meaning ‘coming’) focuses on the theme of the Lord’s coming:
1. The Nativity when the Incarnate Christ is born, He ‘arrives’ visibly to all, and this in fulfillment of of His many and great promises in Scripture.
2. The daily coming of Christ and His Kingdom into the world especially through the Church.
3. The Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Age.
The arrival of the Lord always means salvation and judgment. The coming Lord will subdue and destroy His enemies in body and soul to both men and nations. He will also bring deliverance, salvation, and healing to body and soul to both men and nations. So the basic character of Advent is generally more penitential and a season of some measure of abstinence from rich, and ‘pleasure’ foods. The English and Celtic traditions (and most of the West) except Sundays because the Lord’s Day is always a celebration and considered inappropriate for fasting.
The modern Church has largely let the penitential and fasting aspects of Advent fall into disuse. It is interesting to note that the jollity and feasting we commonly see before the Nativity were virtually non-existent even 150 years ago. Trees and houses were decorated Christmas Eve and The Twelve Days following the Nativity through the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th were the times for visiting, gifts, merriment, and fun. February 2nd was the official end of the ‘Light Season’ of Nativity and Epiphany.
May the Lord bless our Advent intentions.
Blessings, Fr. Wayne