From a reader…
I’m reaching out because I’m doing a bunch of research on Advent. I have been reading a number of things on Advent and about living liturgically in general and I’m trying to get a few things straight that I’m not totally clear on (and youtube isn’t helping). Fr Mike says it’s not penitential: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA-gx-PWB0A
Another video that I found first said that based on the liturgy (but not canon law from 1983) it is penitential (vestments, church decorations, etc). Where does a new Catholic (with young children) start?
Yes, there is something to the issue that canon law does not prescribe additional penance for Advent. However, liturgically Advent is clearly penitential. “Fr Mike” is wrong. He has points that are right, of course. He’s not wrong in everything. But, he’s wrong, I think, in saying that it is not penitential.
As far as what a new Catholic might do… I would definitely observe it as being penitential, if not to the extent that Lent might be. “Fr Mike” did suggest not celebrating Christmas too soon. He is right on that point, of course. Let Advent be Advent. Let Christmas be Christmas. Let there be penance and then let there be celebration.
While there is an intimate connection between Cult (liturgy), Code (law) and Creed (doctrine), of all three we are our rites. Our Catholic identity is most powerfully shaped by our rites.
Advent is a penitential season. This is clear from the loss of the Gloria and the color of the vestments (violet). Once upon a time we used black vestments for Advent and the season was longer. This is partly why Advent dovetails so closely with the ending of the liturgical year. The nature of our prayers and readings during Advent having to do with the Four Last Things. Advent, in many ways, is more about the Second Coming of the Lord than the First Coming. It’s about both, of course. And let’s not forget that the Roman Rite has its traditional expression but also its… well, lightened and less complicated expression. Moreover, according to rubrics, instrumental music is limited during Advent and there should be no flowers on the altar. Just like Lent, a penitential season.
Yet, the tone of the shorter season of Advent is not like Lent. I often describe Advent as a season of joyful penance, or penitential joy. Lent is not against joy, by the way. We don’t have to mope.
“Fr Mike” is also wrong about Advent not being about having a Merry Christmas. Of course it’s also about having a Merry Christmas. We Catholics fast before we feast. 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. We traditionally deny ourselves things in a spirit of preparation and purification and, then in the right moment, we feast! Even though Christmas is a comparative newcomer among the great feasts, we do what Catholics do. First we fast and then we feast. The lights are bright and the cheer cheerier because we have denied ourselves beforehand.
I will drop this now and let you readers chime in with your resources.