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Advent: A Penitential Season

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Dearest Friends in Christ,

Years ago, the Season of Advent was considered to parallel the Season of Lent as a time of preparation and a time of repentance appropriate for acts of penance. This is seen in various ways. Most ostensibly in the use of the liturgical color purple, the same color used during the Season of Lent and the color of the priest’s stole when hearing confessions. Additionally, the Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, when rose liturgical vestments are worn by the priest. Gaudete Sunday finds a parallel in Lent’s Laetare Sunday. Both Sundays mark a moment to pause and remember that even as we travel through these more austere liturgical seasons there is cause to rejoice (both gaudete and laetare are Latin imperatives meaning “rejoice!”) for we look forward to the great moment of celebration and triumph at the Season’s end, either the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas or His triumph over death on Easter. We would not need a moment to pause and rejoice were the Season of Advent not meant to be austere in a way analogous to Lent.

Unfortunately, this is something that has been lost, or at the very least, softened or blunted in more recent years. And this despite the fact that our cycle of readings for Advent remain a call to conversion as we await the coming of our Savior. However, in decades past it would have been commonplace to hear sermons on the penitential nature of the Season of Advent, a time to prepare ourselves for a privileged encounter with our God. In one of his Advent sermons, St. John Henry Newman likens our time of preparation in Advent for the birth of Christ to the purification of the People of Israel as they prepared to meet God at Mount Sinai:

When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to ‘sanctify the people,’ and bid them ‘wash their clothes,’ and to ‘set bounds to them round about:’ much more is this a season for ‘cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;’ a season for chastened hearts, and religious eyes; for severe thoughts and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end (Parochial and Plain Sermons, V, Sermon 1).

Penitential actions are by their nature difficult, and, like any human action, can be performed better or worse. Therefore, the virtue of penance is necessary for us to both sense the need for repentance and to carry out the acts whereby we leave our old selves behind and grow in unity with Christ. Accordingly, throughout Advent, FRESHImage will be offering free resources for cultivating the virtue of penance in our lives by putting this virtue into practice in various ways. Including:

  • Resources for the celebration of the blessing of the Advent Wreath the first Sunday of Advent, and prayer services for the lighting of the Advent wreath each subsequent Sunday of Advent that are appropriate for individual and/or group prayer.
  • Reflection on the meaning of the Advent Wreath, and the Church’s intended effect of the Wreath in our lives.
  • And, as the Season of Advent draws to a close, meditations on the various “O Antiphons” of Advent, which speak eloquently in Scriptural language of our need for a Savior.

Journey through Advent this year with FRESHImage, and seize the opportunity to encounter Christ in a fresh and transformative way.

Be sure to check our Advent homepage frequently for our latest updates as we make our way through this most august Season.

Your servants in Christ,

The FRESHImage Team 

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