It was the first Advent season that I would be out of the monastery, and I wanted to be able to take it all in; the beautiful hymns and hues of this special time that we have hope in our hearts and expectant joy as we await the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I sat there back in my home parish, the small church that I loved and missed so much during the time that I had spent away in the monastery for two years. I recalled the Advent season before I had entered the monastery, never imagining that entering into religious life would greatly test my faith. If someone would have asked me before I was in religious life if I ever thought that the feeling of the liturgical season of Advent would be snatched away from me, I would have chuckled at the thought of that happening to me. How can the sights and sounds of Advent be taken away from someone, especially someone who enters into a religious community?
During my time in the monastery yes, we celebrated Advent, but I struggled with having the feeling of Advent that I had back when I was home in my own parish. For almost twenty-five years of my life I grew up with the familiarities associated with the Advent season; purple or pink (rose) vestments, the purple or pink (rose) altar cloth, purple and rose (pink) Advent candles, the ambo decorated with the colors of purple and pink (rose), and then just like that it was all gone. Everything I associated with the reminder of the liturgical season and that we are preparing for the coming of Christ was just taken away from me without any warning and without a rhyme or a reason. I recall sitting there the first Sunday of Advent in the monastery and being completely heartbroken that the community made a personal decision to use blue for the liturgical season, and not because it had any particular meaning to them, but because they simply could make that decision, and they had been doing so for years. I never did receive a proper explanation for why they used blue, and I know that in order to make an argument in good faith one must also listen to the reasoning on the other side no matter how much it may seem illogical and irrational.
Why does our Church use these essential elements for Advent and why does it even matter? Because Catholic means “universal” and whether I were to walk in to my own parish or a parish in Canada I know its Advent because of those gentle reminders in the liturgy and this common liturgy brings us even closer together as Catholics. I know that we are not yet in the Christmas season, but we are soon approaching the Nativity of the Lord as we wait in a period of “devout and expectant delight”. The colors of purple and pink (rose) are not just any old colors that the Church haphazardly chose to use for this liturgical season, they have been chosen because of their symbolism, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops shares with us the Liturgical Notes for Advent:
The liturgical color for Advent is purple, just like Lent—as both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days. Also Advent (like Lent) includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. This penitential dimension is expressed through the color purple, but also through the restrained manner of decorating the church and altar: "During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord…[also] the use of the organ and other musical instruments should be marked by a [similar] moderation…" (GIRM n. 305 and n. 313)
The third Sunday of Advent is called "Gaudete" Sunday (coming from the first word of the Latin Entrance Antiphon for this day, meaning "Rejoice") and the liturgical color may be rose instead of purple. This is the Church's way of further heightening our expectation as we draw ever nearer the Solemnity of Christmas.
As I am spending this Advent at my home parish I have come to realize how much even more so I love my Catholic faith, and I love our Church, and the absolute beauty and splendor of the different liturgical seasons. My Catholic faith is not something that I am willingly going to push aside and give up, not even for religious life, and I know that God is not asking me to sacrifice my faith to be a Catholic religious Sister. There are opportunities in the Liturgy for variation during this season as well as the other seasons, such as the hymns that we sing during mass, whether during the Feast of St. Nicholas we use the Common of the Pastor for Bishops or the Proper for the Season, which of the Eucharistic prayers the priest will choose for mass, etc., but the symbolism of the Advent Season is not one that any of us Catholics should have to compromise in any way.