The Origin of Advent

When we in The Episcopal Church and most of the rest of Western Christianity celebrate Advent, we follow a tradition that has stood for centuries.

One precursor of Advent was the harvest festival in Rome during the second half of December.  The Roman Saturnalia (December 17-23) had a strong theme of thanksgiving.  Pope Saint Leo I “the Great” (in office 440-461) added eschatological themes to his sermons during this time to warn Christians against celebrating Saturnalia, but he did not preach about the birth of Jesus during those days.  Interestingly, Christmas had become the beginning of the church year in Rome by 336.

Advent began in France no later than the sixth century.  Saint Martin’s Lent began on November 11 (the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours) and terminated on December 25.  This season of preparation existed by 567, the year of the Council of Tours.  Saint Martin’s Lent, which lasted for forty-two days, covered six weeks.  Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were fast days.

By the 700s Advent, abbreviated to four Sundays and the ensuing weeks, had, in much of Western Christianity, become the beginning of the church year, replacing March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation) and December 25 in that capacity.  Centuries passed, however, until Advent, became the universal beginning of the church year in Western Christianity.  That happened by the thirteenth century.

Legacies of the combined Gallic-Roman origins of Advent remain evident.  Pope Saint Leo the Great’s eschatological emphasis dominates through the middle of December.  Then looking forward to the birth of Jesus becomes dominant in the readings.  Relatively recent revisions in lectionaries back up the eschatological themes into the four Sundays preceding Advent in most of that portion of Western Christianity that follows lectionaries.  Some of the more conservative Confessional Lutheran denominations label those four weeks prior to Advent the End Time Season.  Furthermore, if one looks in the right place, one can find a congregation that observes eight Sundays of Advent, starting in early November.  One may recognize this is a modern counterpart to Saint Martin’s Lent, somewhat.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 24, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C:  CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY

THE FEAST OF JOHN LAFARGE, JR., U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND RENEWER OF SOCIETY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW DUNG-LAC AND PETER THI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS IN VIETNAM, 1839

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANE VENARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM, 1861

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT LIEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR IN VIETNAM, 1773

Posted November 24, 2019 by neatnik2009

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