Advent is the period of preparation for Christmas, from the Latin adventus, (coming) — a time of longing and waiting for the Savior’s birth as well as for his second coming at the end of time.
For Christ’s disciples, the nine-day period between his ascension and Pentecost was a similar interval, as they waited in prayer until the coming of the Holy Spirit. That nine-day prayer period is the basis of the Catholic novena, in which people petition God or a saint for a particular purpose for nine days, often starting on the tenth day before the relevant feast — so the Christmas Novena begins on December 16.
As the Archdiocese of Denver began preparing for the Jubilee Year 2000, Archbishop Francis Stafford decided to hold a nine-year novena to Mary leading up to the new millennium. In 1991 he commissioned Jesuit iconographer William Hart McNichols to create an image representing Our Lady of the New Advent.
Fr. McNichols chose to use the icon type known as the Sign, showing the infant superimposed on his mother rather than in her arms, which are lifted in prayer. This became the official icon of the Archdiocese (although its patron saint is Francis).
In 1992, in response to Stafford’s request for a liturgical feast day with a mass in honor of Our Lady of the New Advent, the Vatican designated December 16.
On August 12, 1993, at the opening of World Youth Day in Denver, Pope St. John Paul II prayed,
“O Mary, Our Lady of the new Advent, who kept all these things, pondering them in your heart, teach these young people to be good listeners to your Son, the Word of Life.”
The archbishop presented him with a second version of the image painted by Fr. McNichols. In 1999, Stafford’s successor, Archbishop Charles Chaput, dedicated Our Lady of the New Advent Theological Institute, an educational complex for the training of priests, missionaries, deacons, lay ministers, and catechists, located in Denver.
The Our Lady of the New Advent prayer, included below, was composed by the Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga located in Virginia Dale, Colo., to complement this icon that holds a special place for the faithful of the Denver Archdiocese.
Prayer to Our Lady of the New Advent
O Lady and Mother
of the One who was and is
and is to come,
dawn of the New Jerusalem,
we earnestly beseech you,
bring us by your intercession
so to live in love that the Church,
the Body of Christ,
may stand in this world’s dark
as fiery icon
of the New Jerusalem.
We ask you to obtain for us
this mercy through Jesus Christ,
your Son and Lord,
who lives and reigns
with the Father
in the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
(Information from the Archdiocese’s site, www.archden.org. Picture of the icon from Creighton University, puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/andre/advent.html.)