Q. Why is Advent sometimes called a “little Lent”?
A. The liturgical season of Advent earned the nickname “little Lent” because it’s intended by the Church to have a penitential character like that of Lent, and it’s shorter than the season of Lent. That’s why it has the same liturgical color as Lent (purple), a symbol not only of royalty but of penance. For the same reason, many of the Mass readings throughout Lent are of a penitential character.
The word “advent,” of course, means “coming.” It refers specifically to the coming of Jesus Christ. This season prepares us for the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas), when we celebrate Our Lord’s coming into the world as a Baby in Bethlehem. But that’s only half the meaning and purpose of Advent.
Christ actually has two advents; He comes to the world twice. The first was indeed two thousand years ago. But in the second, as we declare in the Creed at Mass, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.”
Our Lord came the first time as the humble Lamb of God, the Suffering Servant, the Savior who takes away the sins of the world. But the second time He will appear as the mighty Lion of God, the conquering King, the Judge of all the world. As should be evident from the season’s Mass readings, Advent offers us a time to reflect on both these comings of Christ — and to prepare our hearts accordingly.
Unfortunately, this penitential aspect of Advent is largely neglected even by many Catholics. The secular world steals this season and turns it into a month of moneymaking and overindulgence. But the Church calls us to take it back and make it a time of profound spiritual preparation through prayer, sacrifice, and detachment — so we can be ready in due time for both Christmas Day and Judgment Day.