The sense of Advent as a penitential season akin to Lent has been largely lost to the popular culture of today, marked as it is by high excitement throughout December, and accompanying commercial and social indulgence.
But if Catholics wish to prepare conscientiously for a holy Christmas, then Advent is the season in which they “prepare a way for the Lord” by practising abstinence, self-denial, fasting, almsgiving and charity.
It is a time when more time can be given to reading Scripture or a religious book and to deepening and improving prayer life.
Recourse to the sacraments is also important in Advent. Indeed, one of the wisest things a Catholic can do in this season is to make a good Confession.
Like Lent, Advent once ran for 40 days in some places and has its equivalent of Laetare Sunday in Gaudete Sunday, the “Sunday of joy”, and the third of Advent, when a priest will wear rose-coloured vestments to signal an upbeat change of emphasis.
This is the point when Catholics can relax their fasting and reach for the occasional mince pie, consoled by the knowledge that a Christmas well prepared for ought to be one of deep and lasting joy.