Celebrating Advent: the Start of the Liturgical Year and Christ’s Birth

Advent devotions, penance services

Long before tinsel, wrapping paper and Christmas trees filled our homes in December, there was a young woman, Mary, who said yes to God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel; a man, Joseph, Mary’s husband; and a child that was born and named Jesus. 

Three Wise Men from the East came to pay the child homage and to present gifts that hinted at His life, death and resurrection, realities that would give us the faith we now embrace. It’s something to remember as we approach Advent, the first of six seasons in the liturgical year.


A New Liturgical Year Begins

The purpose of the Liturgical Calendar is to glorify, celebrate and understand the mystery of Christ, beginning with his birth and incarnation until his ascension, his rising from earth to heaven after his resurrection.

The liturgical year is made up of six seasons:

  • Advent - four weeks of preparation before the celebration of Jesus' birth
  • Christmas - recalling the Nativity of Jesus Christ and his manifestation to the peoples of the world
  • Lent - a six-week period of penance before Easter
  • Sacred Paschal Triduum - the holiest Three Days of the Church's year, when the Christian people recall the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus
  • Easter - 50 days of joyful celebration of the Lord's resurrection from the dead and his sending forth of the Holy Spirit
  • Ordinary Time - divided into two sections (one span of 4-8 weeks after Christmas Time and another lasting about six months after Easter Time), wherein the faithful consider the fullness of Jesus' teachings and works among his people

Source: US Conference of Catholic Bishops 

Approaching Advent

The Advent season, which begins December 2, is a time of preparation, of quieting and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas, directing our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas Day. The final days of Advent, from December 17 to December 24, focus particularly on our preparation for the celebrations of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas).

While merchants remind us about decorations, gatherings and gift-giving, this blog post offers suggestions for preparing spiritually for Christ’s birth – the reason for this season. Following are several aids to help us on our Advent journey.


Advent Candles - ID 101287806 © Rfischia | Dreamstime.comAdvent wreaths, calendars and nativity scenes are all devotionals that help individuals, households, and the parish as a whole to focus on the coming of Christ’s birth in what can become a busy season of the year. [Note: A selection of these devotionals and prayer aids from the In His Name Catholic store in Raleigh will be available for sale after Sunday Mass on December 2].  

Advent Wreath and Candles

The Advent Wreath will be integrated into the parish’s Sunday (and Saturday Vigil) liturgies beginning with the first weekend of Advent, December 1 and 2. The wreath will be blessed and then a brief reading or prayer will be said as candles are lit at the start of each Advent weekend Mass: one candle for the first week of Advent, two for the second, and on through the fourth week.

Traditionally, Advent wreaths are constructed of a circle formed from evergreen branches, holding four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent. Today’s Advent wreaths typically include a metal ring with four candle holders, or four glass candle holders that are placed on a table in a circle, with or without greenery.

The wreath holds three purple candles that symbolize the prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices, and good works undertaken during Advent. It also holds one rose (or pink) colored candle that is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. This is a day of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas. To mark the joyful day, the priest and deacon wear rose-colored vestments during Mass that weekend.

Advent Calendar

An Advent calendar is used to help us count the days from the start of Advent to Christmas Day. Advent calendars help people fully enter into the season with daily activities and prayer suggestions. Those made for children have age-appropriate messages for each day of the Advent season; some incorporate a chocolate treat as well.

Nativity or Manger Scene

In its present form, the custom of displaying figures depicting the birth of Jesus Christ owes its origin to St. Francis of Assisi, who created a live Christmas crèche or manger scene for Christmas Eve in 1223. (View brief video here)

When the manger is set up in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another family member. (Blessing options here.)

You can put all the figures in the scene at once, or make it interactive, something that evolves over the weeks of Advent through Epiphany. Deacon Phil said that's what he did when his children were young.

"We started with the manger and a few animals, and had Mary and Joseph there as well. But the Wise Men ‘made their way’ to the manger over the course of the weeks of Advent and the Christmas season, appearing on window sills and book shelves as they traveled from the far corners of our home. We placed Baby Jesus in the crib after Midnight Mass and the Wise Men figures arrived on Epiphany, January 6. It was fun to see the kids track down the traveling Wise Men each week."


  • Read or listen to the daily Mass readings
  • Pray a decade of the Rosary before bedtime |How to pray the Rosary
  • Reflect on the humility of Christ and seeks ways to see the face of Christ in the poor and humble
  • Have a Friday movie night and watch a Christmas classic as a family
  • Research the plight of migrants in the world and pray that they will be safe and receive shelter

Piedmont Deanery Advent Penance Services

As noted above, one of the purple candles in the Advent wreath reminds us of penitence and preparation for the Christ’s birth. Following are penance services that will be available in the Piedmont Deanery. Services at each site will begin at 7 p.m.

Have a blessed Advent season!



Tags: Liturgical Year, Advent Penance Services, Advent


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