December 2, 2009

The History of Advent

In the early Church, four different "comings" or manifestations of the Lord were celebrated all as one feast on January 6th. The birth of the Lord, the visit of the magi, his baptism, and his miracle at Cana. The feast was named "Epiphany" - a Greek word meaning "showing, manifestation." Epiphany became, along with Easter, a traditional date for baptism.

Just as the baptisms at Easter were prepared for by a time of fasting and penance (Lent) so the baptisms at Epiphany were prepared for by a time of fasting and penance called "Advent" (from a Latin word meaning "coming").

Gradually, in many places, Christ's birth was given its own feast day on December 25th and the season of Advent shifted to a time of preparation for this feast.

Over the years, Advent became less and less a carbon copy of Lent (fasting and penance) and more a time of prayer and reflection to appreciate the meaning of Christ's coming at Bethlehem, and his coming at the end of time.

The symbol of this season has become the Advent wreath, with the successive lighting of its four candles on each of the four Sundays - a sign of the approach of the light of the world.

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