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"What's The Smoke For" is a page that will explain Catholic Customs, Liturgy, Diversity and Inclusivity, Architecture and Art, Liturgical Furniture and Objects, Liturgical Posture’s and Gestures, Liturgical Praxis, Liturgical Prayers and Devotions, Liturgical Theology, Liturgical Vesture and the Liturgical Year. We hope it will make understanding the Catholic faith easier.

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Dear Johan,

                Advent is my favorite season of the year. I love the fact that we take time to prepare for the birthday of Jesus. Sadly, I don’t know the meaning of the word Advent. Do you know what it means and where it comes from?


Gentle Reader

              The notion of the birthday of Jesus makes me a little uncomfortable. It reminds me of an unfortunate “children’s Mass” with birthday cake and birthday song. Thankfully, there were no candles to be blown out. How many should there have been anyway?

Just to be clear, the season of Advent is the time of preparation leading up to the solemnity of Christmas in all its theological complexities. It is marked by the four Sundays of Advent.

The English word Advent comes from the Latin Adventus Domini, meaning the coming of the Lord. Most of us understand this to mean Jesus’ presence with us at Christmas as we commemorate and celebrate his birth. The full meaning of Adventus Domini, however, embraces Jesus’ birth two thousand years ago, his presence with us today, as well as his return at the end of time. Advent thus becomes a time of preparation not only for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas. It also is a time when we become more aware of Jesus’ presence in our lives today. And it is a time during which we prepare for his Second Coming at the end of time.

As a result, when we pray Maranatha or “Come, Lord Jesus,” we not only pray for his presence in our midst at Christmas but we also pray for his presence among us today. And, most astoundingly, we even pray for his Second Coming, thus hastening the end of time.

As Christians we believe that when Christ returns he will inaugurate the completion of the messianic times. At that time, according to the prophet Isaiah, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares / and their spears into pruning hooks” and “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, / and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.” “The desert and the parched land .  .  . will bloom with abundant flowers.” Not surprisingly, these are lines taken from readings used during the Advent season.

The beautiful season of Advent invites us to dream of that perfect world without disasters, disease, or death; a world where all God’s children and all of creation exist together in perfect harmony. It is also a season during which we commit ourselves to making this harmonious world a bit more possible.

So, when we sing Maranatha let’s do it with full voice and heart and let’s act in ways that will hasten the arrival of that perfect world.

I hope I did not ruin Advent for you.
© 2015 Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Excerpted from What’s the Smoke For? And Other Burning Questions about the Liturgy by Johan van Parys © 2014 Order of Saint Benedict, published by Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org. Used by permission.