Advent: What’s it all about? Preparation and Penance

Have you ever noticed the similarities between Lent and Advent? In both seasons, the liturgical color is a shade of purple. The Mass is a little more simple. During Advent, the Gloria is omitted; during Lent the Alleluia is omitted. Why is this? Because Advent, like Lent, is meant to be a penitential season.

Getting back into harmony with heaven

One of the ways in which Catholics are counter-cultural is our liturgical calendar, which is not in alignment with the secular world. We often get caught up in the world’s rhythm, when we are meant to be in harmony with heaven. Christmas and Easter are the times when this is most apparent. The world starts celebrating Christmas and Easter before the actual holidays and then moves on the day after. For Catholics, the seasons of Christmas and Easter start on the holidays. We have a whole season to celebrate Christmas starting December 25th! God knows that we are weak so he gave us an official period of time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.


Preparation = Penance

Advent is a season of preparation. Whenever we hear the word preparation we should think penance. In Catholicism, these two themes always go together; Preparation equals Penance.

In the Gospel for the second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist calls people to prepare (penance!) for the coming of Christ. How to does he tell people to do this? By “proclaiming a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins.”

In this passage, Luke references the prophet Isaiah:

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth…

What should we be doing during Advent? How should we be preparing our hearts for Christmas? The same penitential elements of Lent are meant to be lived out in Advent too: praying, fasting, and almsgiving.

Every valley shall be filled

What are the holes in your spiritual life? Do you need to spend more time in prayer so you can be filled up? Is there a specific virtue you need to grow in?

My parish women’s spirituality group always has an Advent reflection night to help us enter into this beautiful season. This year, the speaker focused on the need to reconnect with God. Her talk centered on making space to bring Jesus into the home of our hearts.

One of my goals for Advent is to simply get back into a habit of daily prayer. I do this first thing in the morning, before I look at my phone, before I do anything else. In this way, I am slowly reordering my life and making it a habit to always put God first.

Not sure how to get started with prayer? Check out this post on praying with scripture. There are some great stories during the Advent season to pray with!

In order to be filled with God, we need to be emptied of anything that is in His way.

Every mountain and hill made low

What are the obstacles between you and God? In what ways to do you need to grow in humility–“made low”? John the Baptist knew that it wasn’t about him: “he must increase, I must decrease.” Try fasting from something you are attached to, just like we do in Lent. Perhaps there is something in your life that has become an idol–smash it like the golden calf. For some, simply not listening to Christmas music during Advent is a huge sacrifice.

In the Magnificat meditation for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Sr. Ruth Burrows, OCD gave a beautiful description of Advent: “We must move into the shadowy mists of detachment…we should want this silencing, shadowing mist, that cuts us off from unnecessary things–things that are not him for us.”

Advent should be a time of simplicity, of stripping down, of detachment, as we prepare for our King who was born completely poor in a stable. This makes sense, because Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year. Like the beginning of the calendar year, it is a time to take a step back and reassess. It is a time to make resolutions for the new year. It is a chance to begin again.

In Advent, we make room for God, so Jesus can be born in our hearts, just as he dwelt within Mary physically. What do you need to be emptied of to make room for the divine child?

Make a highway in your heart

What was the first thing that Mary did after she found out she was pregnant with Jesus? She went to help her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant! Mary is our best example of how to live Advent. We can think of this season as journeying with her during her pregnancy, as she waited for the coming of Christ. She wanted to proclaim the good news of Christ’s coming and she was compelled by his presence within her to go and serve others. Like Lent, Advent is a time to make an extra effort to do works of mercy.

When I say preparation you say…penance!

What are you doing to enter into Advent?


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