From a reader…
In my 14.75 years as a Catholic, I’ve heard that Advent:
1) Is a penitential season
2) Is a semi-penitentials season
3) Is no longer a penitential season but was before Vatican II
4) Never was a penitential season
Can you clarify which is the truth? References to manuals and codes of canon law are always appreciated.
Yes, Advent IS a penitential season. It just makes sense. However, the present Code doesn’t oblige us to do penance in the way that it does during Lent.
Before our great feasts, Christians fast and do penance and, if they have their heads screwed on the right direction, perform works of mercy. In ancient Christian Rome, for example, people would cut back on their food on fast days (obviously), but they would also give the difference to the poor.
Advent is a penitential season. The Church’s prayer in Mass and the Office traditionally continues our reflection on the Second Coming of the Lord… which is a matter for penitential preparation. This is reflected on the loss of the Gloria during Advent and our use of violet vestments. Waaaay back in our history, black vestments were used during Advent, which was a longer season.
That said, Advent is like Lent, but it is not like Lent. Advent is also rightly described as a season of joyful expectation. We are preparing also to celebrate the feast that, perhaps, touches us the most deeply: the Birth of the Lord. Hence, there is also a strong Marian dimension to our Advent reflection.
I like to describe Advent as a season of joyful penance or, if you prefer, penitential joy. We can hold the two in a beautiful, fruitful tension.
Consider that Advent presents the figure of John the Baptist, who said: He must increase, I must decrease. Kenosis. Sounds penitential to me.
Liturgical directives instruct us not to have flowers on the altar, not to have instrumental music except to support congregational singing. Sounds penitential to me.
Back to the vestments for a moment.
Some people like to distinguish between the purple shades used in Lent and Advent. They make Lent’s purple redder and Advent’s purple bluer. Those who don’t care for penance all that much (libs, in particular), had a craze for blue vestments during Advent. They cam up will all sorts of lame excuses for the use of blue. Blue, however, is NOT an approved color for Advent! There are some long-standing traditions of the use of blue vestments in the Latin Church, such as the Spanish indult, among others. As a matter of fact, in the coming calendar year, our TMSM is going to have a set of blue vestments made for Pontifical Mass on particular Marian Feasts. Why? ¡Hagan lío! BUT… for ADVENT? NO! And again NO!
Each year I have had a bit of a rant about blue vestments. Consider that my annual rant. And here is the now legendary song about Advent blue vestments
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