Advent is the liturgical season when Catholics spiritually prepare for Christ's three comings, or advents: first, His past coming as a babe and sacrificial savior; second, His future coming as judge; and third, His present coming as the Eucharistic Lord.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of Christ's threefold advent in his homily, which the Church places during Advent in Her Office of Readings. In his homily, the Doctor of the Church proclaims, "We know that there are three comings of the Lord. ... In His first coming, Our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming, He comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming, He will be seen in glory and majesty."
Monsignor M. Francis Mannion, founder of the Mundelein Liturgical Institute, wrote of this triple theme of Advent:
During Advent we celebrate what are sometimes referred to as the "three comings of Christ": the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time, and the coming of Christ today in the sacraments and life of the Church. ... The third coming of Christ occurs in the present: ... Christ comes today in the gift of the Holy Eucharist in which we are privileged to share, in the sacraments of Christian life.
Advent begins the Church's new liturgical year and leads into the liturgical cycle of Christmas, just as Lent leads up to the Church's second great liturgical cycle of Easter. During this solemn yet joyful period of spiritual preparation, priests wear purple vestments to symbolize the spiritual house cleaning that Catholics are urged to accomplish by penance, almsgiving and prayer.
Homes have Advent wreaths on their doors but minimal decorations. Churches postpone decorating or putting flowers on altars until right before Christmas. Advent wreaths in churches contain four candles for the four Sundays of Advent. Three of the candles are purple as a sign of penance, and one candle is pink for the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday, meaning "Rejoice, the Lord is near."
Learn how the season of preparation brings Christmas joy in Church Militant's Premium show The Download—Advent.