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Is the season of Advent a fast?

05 December 2014


Your answers

Is Advent still a fast? If so, to what extent? 

Several church customs suggest that Advent is a "double" of Lent, albeit of shorter duration. The absence of flowers in the sanctuary, the purple/violet altar frontal and vestments, and the direction that the Te Deum and Gloria in Excelsis are not normally used in Advent and Lent, and may be omitted, raise this question whether the season is still a fast.

Official Anglican formularies provide a definitive answer, because in neither the 1662 Book of Common Prayer table of Days of Fasting, or Abstinence, nor the Common Worship Days of Discipline and Self-Denial is Advent included. The Lenten features seem to be survivals of ascetic Advent observances in fifth-century Gaul and Spain, or, a possible connection with the "Fast of the tenth month" (jejuniam x mensis).

In the Western Church, a strict and universal severity of Advent fasting was never maintained, and sporadic attempts to reassert its practice failed to obliterate joyful expectancy. This is illustrated in the 12th-century Ordo Romanus (c.1140), in which Advent is regarded as a festal season, when the Pope celebrated mass in white vestments and sang Gloria in Excelsis. Radical changes came later in 1290, when in Ordo Romanus XIV the Gloria was omitted and purple vestments were worn - a reproduction of Lenten use, except that the Alleluia, invariably omitted in Lent, still persists in Advent as a reminder of its essentially joyous character.

Advent always has been a complex mixture of pieties: penitential preparedness for Christ's coming in judgement, and joyful waiting. Above all, it re-echoes the longing prayer of the earliest Christians: "Maranatha": "Our Lord come!" (1 Corinthians 16.22). The analogy with Lent must, therefore, not be overdrawn: the theme of joy is clearly reflected in modern liturgies, e.g. in Common Worship eucharistic proper prefaces that pray that "we may with joy behold his appearing," and "in his love Christ fills us with joy, as we prepare to celebrate his birth."

(Canon) Terry Palmer  Magor, Monmouthshire


In the Orthodox Church, Advent is, indeed, still a fast. Indeed, it has never stopped being so. Weekdays are observed according to the standard Lenten rules. No animal products, wine, or oil are eaten. Fish is permitted on Saturdays, Sundays, and certain major feasts, such as the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple.

R. C. Beavis, Bristol


Your questions

How does the practice of bowing at the mention of our Lord Jesus Christ during, for example, the creed, match the belief in the equal status of the three Persons of the Trinity?

J. P. 

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG. questions@churchtimes.co.uk

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