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(LifeSiteNews) — We all know that Advent is a period of hope and preparation which begins four Sundays before Christmas.

But we don’t often consider the real hope that this holy season can give to us today – in our period of ecclesiastical chaos and the growing tyranny across the world.

In these essays I want to show that Advent is about more than casting ourselves into the period before the historical birth of Christ in Bethlehem – and more than just his birth into our hearts by grace.

In these first two parts I will explain how the links between the Advent liturgy and the Apocalypse establish sure reasons for being hopeful and free from fear today.

For what, exactly, are we preparing in Advent?

There are several ways of answering this question. One is to refer to devotional traditions and practice; another is to look at the texts of the Liturgy. There is of course a great deal of crossover between the two – but some significantly different emphases.

We would be forgiven for thinking that Advent is a time when we reflect upon the mysteries that led up to the Nativity: namely, the Annunciation, Our Lady’s expectation over nine months, the journey to Bethlehem, and so on. There are many beautiful and holy practices for Advent that draw on this spirit – such as the preparation of a manger, with children adding a piece of straw for each good deed, preparing a place for the coming Christ-Child. No doubt this is an especially important time for teaching our children about our holy religion – and for creating memories which they will cherish forever.

But there is a sense in which marking Advent in this way can lead us into a sort of “make-believe,” in which we pretend that we are living in the time before Christ’s birth, and thereby try to create an atmosphere of preparation and expectation – for something that was realized long ago. This is an observation, not a criticism. We mitigate the “make-believe” by casting Advent as a preparation for Christ being born into the soul of each individual Christian. No doubt many Christians have profitably spent many Advents in this way, and will continue to do so. Long may they continue.

Thus we see two aspects of Advent that are commonly treated in devotional books: first, the historical coming of Christ to Bethlehem; and second, his coming to our souls. But in these same books, we also find a third coming, or advent, of Christ: the “Parousia,” or his coming in majesty at the end of the world, to judge the living and the dead.1

But aside from the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent, the second coming barely figures in our observation of Advent in the songs we sing, or the prayers we pray at home. It certainly does not feature in the stories we tell our children during Advent. Rather, we focus on the history of Christmas, perhaps with a minor application to Christ’s coming into our hearts, or some consideration of “the four last things.”

Are we missing out on something that the Church wants for us?

The liturgical texts

It is primarily in the liturgy that we find the mind of the Church about Advent. She has celebrated this season in a particular way for over a thousand years, and it is important that we enter into the Church’s celebration – rather than try to celebrate it as mere individuals.

If we do not enter into the spirit of these liturgical texts, we run the risk of missing something rich and beautiful about the season. Not only this, but we may also miss the opportunity of observing this season as members of the Church, Christ’s mystical body, and instead pass it as atomized individuals or – even worse – in the hustle and bustle of the appalling Christmas logistics.

If we turn to the Roman liturgy, we find that the second coming figures much more prominently in its texts, chants and prayers. Fr H.J. Coleridge says of this that the Church is “training us” in our Advent preparation, and teaching us to link Christ’s historical Advent in Bethlehem with that which is to come at the end of time.2 These two comings seem to require each other: we must see the Judge in the divine Child – and the loving Child in the Judge.3

This duality is indeed clear in the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent – which flows so seamlessly on from that of the previous Sunday. Our Lord warns that before he comes again, men will be “withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world.” But rather than telling us to fear, he gives us words of encouragement and hope:

When these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.

Similarly, St Paul tells us that “[i]t is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, for now our salvation is nearer than when we believe” – and that we “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

These readings – and the First Sunday’s propers – are sometimes treated as if they are anomalies in a season which is otherwise focused on the historical birth of Christ. But if we listen carefully to what else is read and sung throughout in this period, we may be surprised at what we find. For example, the first responsory of the first lesson at Matins for the first Sunday of Advent reads:

I look from afar, and behold I see the Power of God, coming like as a cloud to cover the land with the hosts of his People: Go ye out to meet him and say: ‘Tell us if thou art he, that shalt reign over God’s people Israel.’

All ye that dwell in the world, all ye children of men, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, go ye out to meet him and say, ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.’4

This occurs throughout – nor is it limited to the First Sunday. Consider the third Responsory, from Wednesday in the second Week of Advent:

Behold, the Lord cometh down with glory, and His host is with Him, to visit His people in peace, and to establish them in life everlasting.5

The first Responsory, Third Sunday of Advent:

Behold, the Lord shall appear upon a white cloud, and ten thousand of His saints with Him; and He shall have on His vesture, and on His thigh a name written King of kings, and Lord of lords. He shall appear and not lie; though He tarry, wait for Him, because He will surely come.6

The liturgical writer Fr. Johannes Pinsk claims that of the 108 Advent responsories in the Roman Breviary, only 17 speak directly and explicitly about the historical birth of Christ – with the rest at least appearing to concern a sovereign ruler coming to his kingdom.7 Even the texts that refer to “the Child” refer to his future glory – not excepting the words of the Angel Gabriel to Our Lady.

We could also consider the texts of the Advent hymns, sung each day in the Divine Office in Advent. While each begins with the historical birth of Christ, each also contains at least one verse referring to this glorious future coming, and could easily have been used in the feast of Christ the King. For example Creator alme siderum for Vespers contains the following:

At whose dread name, majestic now,

All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;

And things celestial Thee shall own,

And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thou whose coming is with dread

To judge and doom the quick and dead,

Preserve us, while we dwell below,

From every insult of the foe.8

Open the liturgical books at random, and we will find the same spirit throughout. This gives rise to a question: Are the burning, urgent desires expressed in the liturgy aimed solely at creating a sense of having gone back in time, in the interest of galvanizing religious sentiment – such as the building of a picturesque excitement for a feast for the sake of our children?

There is nothing wrong with such an aim. But it is not obvious that it is the only aim of the liturgy – nor that it is even the main aim. If it was, all these prayers for Our Lord to come would inevitably carry an air of unreality – and even applying this to Christ’s birth in our souls does not do justice to the public and triumphant tenor of the texts.

However, if we start to see Advent as the Church seems to see it – a period of waiting, meditation and longing for the second coming – then our preparation and expectation becomes real, and really ordered towards the glorious advent of Our Lord.

This attitude shines another light on the two subsequent feasts of Christmas and the Epiphany – as we shall see in a later part.

Layers of meaning

Evidently, none of this means that we can insist on an apocalyptic paradigm of Advent to the exclusion of that of the stable and the star – nor to that of Christ’s coming to our hearts by grace. We certainly are not joining the secularists in their calls to remove Nativity scenes and to cancel Christmas!

Further, in the mind of the Church, Christ’s humble birth in a stable is itself a manifestation of God’s great power, and a fulfilment of the very prophecies we are discussing. In a similar way, his sufferings are manifestations of his power and glory, and both cases draw striking and jarring contrasts between what is seen by the “eye of sense” and the “eye of faith.” The same texts about Christ’s glorious advent can, at the same time, refer to his historical birth and the Parousia – and even to his advent in the soul. These paradigms – in which these texts refer to Christ’s historical birth, and to his second coming – are not at all mutually exclusive.

But as we look at more and more of these texts, and enter into the sentiments which they express, it becomes harder to say that expectation for the historical birth is certainly the privileged theme. These texts are much more open to an apocalyptic paradigm than we might have thought.

Why is this, and what are we to conclude from these exciting and exuberant texts about the end of the world? What do they tell us about how to spend a good Advent? And how can this teach us to stand firm and unafraid before the chaos of our time?

These will be the subjects of the next parts.


1 Dom Prosper Guéranger writes in his description of “the mystery of Advent”: “[The Church aspires after a third coming, which will complete all things by opening the gates of eternity. […] She is impatient to be loosed from her present temporal state; she longs for the number of the elect to be filled up, and to see appear, in the clouds of heaven, the sign of her Deliverer and her Spouse.” Dom Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year Vol. I, Advent, St Bonaventure Publications, Great Falls, Montana, 2000, p 30.

2Fr Henry James Coleridge SJ, The Return of the King Discourses on the Latter Days, Burns and oates Ltd, London, 1894, p 1

3Ibid., 1-2. 

4First and third responsories from Matins from the Second Sunday of Advent, taken from Divinum Officium.

5Third Responsory, Second Wednesday in Advent. Divinum Officium.

6First Responsory, Third Sunday of Advent. Divinum Officium.

7In his life, Fr Pinsk was involved with the twentieth century liturgical movement in ways that many readers would consider regrettable. However, his 1933 article ‘The Coming of the Lord in the Liturgy’ has a wealth of interesting information which is worth sharing. Johannes Pinsk, ‘The Coming of the Lord in the Liturgy’, from Liturgische Zeitschrift Jahrgang, 1932-33 and reproduced in the Bulletin Paroissial Liturgique n. 1, 1938. This version is a DeepL translation from the Spanish version reproduced in El Que Vuelve, Vortice, Buenos Aires 2018, an available at Due to the difficulty of locating a physical copy of this text and giving correct page numbers, I will not clutter the text with references to it.

8From Creator alme siderum, the hymn for Vespers, as translated as Creator of the Stars of Night by J.M. Neale. Available at