When does advent begin and end? Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. The first Sunday of Advent is the start of each new Church year. What is it for? The word ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word adventus, which means ‘coming’ or ‘visit’. During this time we connect with the longing and expectant waiting of the Jewish people as they prepared for the advent of the Messiah. We also look forward with similar longing and expectancy to the second advent of Christ that we have been promised. The Catechism points out both meanings “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Saviour’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming.” (No. 524). Has it always been celebrated by Catholics? The Advent tradition has evolved in the life of the Church. There was an early form in Europe, as a period of preparation for the Feast of the Epiphany when converts were traditionally baptised. Like Lent, it had an emphasis on prayer and fasting. A similar practice spread to England. In Rome, the Advent preparation seems to have appeared in the sixth century, judging from homilies by Pope St Gregory the Great. Over time it became more closely linked to Christmas. At one stage there were five Advent Sundays until Pope Gregory VII (pope from 1073-1088) reduced the number to four. Are there special Advent prayers? There are many, but perhaps the most special ones are in The Divine Office, which is part of the official liturgy of the Church. The Office contains particular psalms and prayers for each day. In the last week of Advent there are special antiphons before and after each of the psalms, known as the “O” antiphons because they all begin with “O”. They are very beautiful calls for Jesus to come into the world, filled with urgent longing and love of the Christ. As we pray them ourselves they express our longing for Jesus to enter our hearts and world today and again in the fullness of time. Eg. The last O Antiphon said on December 23 is: O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Saviour. O come and save us, Lord, our God. There are lots of Advent prayers you can use and adapt for the home or school. Check out our seasonal notes for our child-friendly Advent prayer service. What are the colours of advent? Advent colours are purple and rose. At Mass the priest’s vestments, altar cloths, and Advent candles are purple, except for the third Sunday of the season, Gaudete Sunday, when the colour is rose, for joy.There is also a white candle for Christmas Day itself, usually in the middle of the Advent wreath.