The liturgical season of Advent begins the Church year.
The word Advent derives from the Latin word advenio, meaning coming or “to come to,” and refers to the coming of Christ. Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.
This refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas; but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Eucharist; and finally, to His Second Coming at the end of time. Our preparations, therefore, should have all three comings in mind. We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily.
Advent is a period beginning with the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle (30 November) and embraces four Sundays. That means that the First Sunday of Advent can fall as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.
In its symbolism, the Church stresses the penitential and preparatory nature of Advent. Purple vestments are used, and the Gloria is omitted during Mass. The only exception is on the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, when rose-colored vestments can be used. This exception is designed to encourage us to continue our prayer and fasting, because we can see that Advent is more than halfway over.
Perhaps the best-known of all Advent symbols is the Advent wreath, a custom which originated in Germany. Consisting of four candles (three purple and one pink) arranged in a circle with evergreen boughs (and often a fifth, white candle in the center), the Advent wreath corresponds to the four Sundays of Advent.
The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. The purple candles represent the penitential nature of the season, while the pink candle calls to mind the respite of Gaudete Sunday. The white candle, when used, represents Christmas. The candle flames signify Christ, the Light of the world. (8:1)