Dear parish family and friends,
Advent is a beautiful liturgical season. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word for an “arrival” or a “coming”. The season of Advent thus reminds us that the Lord is coming. Jesus Christ, our Savior is about to arrive. However, Advent tells us that He comes in different ways. First, He came to us at a specific point in history at Bethlehem more than two millennia ago. Second, He will come to judge the living and the dead in the Second Coming at the end of the world. Third, He comes to us in grace. He speaks to us in our consciences; He comes to us in the Eucharist and in the Word of God proclaimed; he arrives in the person of the beggar, the needy, the immigrant, the suffering, the abused, and the defenseless. We must be ready to receive and welcome Him whenever He comes and however He comes.
Advent is a time of joy tinged with penance. Joy, because we can imagine nothing sweeter than the Baby Jesus and His Mother Mary’s bliss at the thought of His coming to light. Penance, because we strive to be properly disposed to receive so great a Gift from God. In the historical tradition of the Church, the faithful have always performed penance before great feasts. Christmas and Easter, hence, have their penitential seasons in anticipation, which are Advent and Lent respectively. The liturgical color used at Mass during both Advent and Lent is therefore purple–a sign of penance. The Church also emphasizes the penitential dimension of the season by directing the use of sparse ornaments in churches and by legislating that instrumental music should not be used excessively, except to sustain congregational singing. This is a liturgical fast that makes the celebration of the feast all the more powerful by the contrast of a muted season before it.
In our parish church, the Advent wreath is the central teaching symbol of the season, the focal point for drawing the assembly into the beginning of the story of redemption that will unfold throughout the Church Year. For this reason, we light the Advent Candles and proclaim the appropriate Scriptures each Sunday. I was deeply touched these days by families who brought their Advent wreaths or Advent candles to church to be blessed. Indeed, these simple gestures can become quite powerful as Advent is one of the few Christian festivals that can be observed in the home as well as at church. With its association with Christmas, Advent is a natural time to involve children in activities at home that directly connect with the liturgy at church.
In the home, an Advent wreath is often placed on the dining table and lighted at meals, with Scripture readings preceding the lighting of the candles, especially on Sunday. A new candle is lighted each Sunday during the four weeks, and then the same candles are lighted each meal during the week. In this context, it provides the opportunity for family devotion and prayer together, and helps teach the faith to children, especially if they are involved in preparing the wreath itself, lighting the candle, and reading the daily Scriptures. Some families also decorate the house for Advent using purple color table cloths, or bake special cookies or treats, or simply pray an Advent prayer before meals. An Advent Calendar is a way to keep children involved in the entire season. There are a wide variety of Advent calendars, but usually they are simply a card or poster with windows that can be opened, one each day of Advent, to reveal some symbol or picture associated with the Old Testament story leading up to the birth of Jesus. All of these provide opportunities to teach children the significance of this sacred time, and to remind ourselves of it as well.
We Catholics have such a rich and priceless heritage. If we make the effort to keep our traditions in line with the liturgical year, our families will be blessed and enriched. Saint John Paul II challenged us, “Families, become what you are!” We must live what we are despite societal pressure to do otherwise. Setting time aside from our busy holiday schedules to observe some Advent traditions is a great way for us to “become who we really are,” an advent people, eagerly longing for the coming of Our Lord.
Will your Advent this year be different from any other year?
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham