In the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches of the West, the several weeks before Christmas are known as Advent. It’s from a Latin word meaning “coming.”
It happens that the beginning of Advent falls on the Sunday closest to Nov. 30, the ancient feast day (in both East and West) of the Apostle Andrew.
On Nov. 30, there are two Gospel readings descriptive of Andrew’s bringing new disciples to Jesus.
The observance of the season of Advent can be traced to the late fifth century in Italy and Gaul, perhaps a bit earlier in Spain.
At the time of the Reformation, it was preserved among the liturgical customs of the Anglicans and Lutherans; in more recent years, it has been revived by other Protestant groups.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the penitential season of preparation for Christians begins Nov. 15, the day after the Feast of the Apostle Philip.
For this reason it is popularly known as St. Philip’s Fast.
A count of days between Nov. 15 and Dec. 25 shows that this period lasts 40 days, the same as the Easter Lenten season.
Among Christians in the West, this preparatory season begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Thus from year to year it will vary in length from three to four weeks, but always has four Sundays.
In the Christian West, the season of Advent is marked by special hymns.
Foremost among these, perhaps, is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” a hymn with Latin origins in the eighth century. “O Antiphons” are in use among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans.
This hymn was first translated into English by John Mason Neale in the mid-19th century and has been recorded many times. One of the best-known versions is by folk singer Joan Baez in 1996.
Another popular Advent hymn is “Conditor Alme Siderum” dating to the seventh century.
The “Conditor” has several times been translated into English and appears in modern hymnals as “Loving Makers of the Stars,” “Creator of the Stars of Night,” or something similar.
Other Advent hymns, often heard in Methodist services, are Charles Wesley’s “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending.”
The Rev. Daniel Rohan is pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.