One filled with joy preaches without preaching.
—St. Teresa of Calcutta
Happy New Year!
No, I’m not a month early. For Catholics who try to live by the Liturgical Year, our New Year begins on the Sunday after the feast of St. Andrew, or the first Sunday of Advent, which falls this year on Sunday, December 2. By living according to the Liturgical Calendar, I am able to delve more deeply into the faith experiences of the many holy people of God and deepen my own faith so much more. Each year, it gets more rich and glorious!
The Liturgical Year Guidebook
Fortunately, in our parish, we have been blessed with an excellent pastor who gives phenomenal homilies. Father Bill is down to earth, humorous, and wise. I’ve used many of his homilies as jumping-off points for lesson plans, children’s stories, and my own essays here. Three years ago, I began collecting them as part of an overall project to create my own liturgical year guidebook. I plan to have it done in the spring, but I want to begin to share some of these inspirations as we begin our new Liturgical Year.
It all begins each year with Advent, the wonderful waiting period of the Church.
Mary is pregnant, waiting to have Jesus. Elizabeth is as well, and Zechariah and Joseph are nervously watching close by. We are all waiting, in wonder and awe, for the miracle birth of “God becomes man.” And like anyone waiting for the birth of a new baby to their family, we should prepare. We should clean our houses—both our physical house and our temples of the Holy Spirit—in preparation for Him. We should put out welcomes for Him, in the form of special sacramentals, prayers, celebrations, fasting, kind deeds, reconciliations, and readings, so that we are ready to make Him feel at home.
An “Alphabet of Advent”
Depending upon the year, Advent can run for as long as 26 days. That’s the number of letters in the alphabet, so here’s a suggested “Alphabet of Advent” to help you and your family to get prepared. You can follow the alphabet in order, or mix it up as you wish. More than likely, you will come up with much better ideas on your own.
- A: Advent Wreath: Using greens from your yard, or purchased ones, and four candles (three purple, one pink), you can a lovely, simple wreath for your table, and light the candles for each week of the season. For more information about the history and practice of using advent wreaths, see this website.
- B: Bells for the Angelus Prayer: For centuries, church bells have been rung three times daily (6am, Noon, 6pm) to remind us to pray the Angelus which honors the Annunciation. Advent is a great time to make this a family tradition. See more information here.
- C: Crèche or Nativity Scene: It is said that St. Francis of Assisi invented the first Nativity set. A family Nativity set is a beautiful way for children to watch and wait for the birth of Jesus (and to move the animals around). Each year, a family member should bless the crèche—a great family tradition to start.
- D: Donate: Give clothing and food to those in need. Make this an Advent tradition before purchasing any Christmas presents.
- E: Eucharistic Adoration: Take your family to pray in the presence of Jesus. It’s so calming, solemn, and richly rewarding. (See the portion of Fr. Bill’s homily below that talks about how Mary was the first tabernacle for Jesus.)
- F: Fast: In centuries past (and currently in many other countries), Advent fasting was common. Read this article to learn more, and then decide as a family how and when you will fast to prepare for our Lord’s birth.
- G: Gaudete Sunday: Break your family’s fast for this joyous mid-point of Advent. See this wonderful article about the importance of Gaudete Sunday.
- H: Holly: Decorate your home naturally with firs, pines, boxwood, and holly. The holly and other evergreen plants have special meaning for this season.
- I: Immaculate Conception: Mary was conceived in St. Anne’s womb without sin so that she would be the sinless vessel to carry Jesus. This Holy Day of Obligation is celebrated on December 8. Learn more about this feast day here.
- J: Jesse Tree: All of the stories of the Old Testament culminate in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Create Jesse Tree Ornaments or a timeline, and discuss each reading with your family. See this website for great Jesse Tree ideas.
- K: The Three Kings: During the Advent season, we can also be thinking about the Wise Men or Three Kings who would have been traveling at this time over long distances to see the new King, Jesus Christ, and bearing special gifts. Read about them and what each of these gifts represents. Traditionally, we celebrate their arrival on January 6.
- L: Lessons and Carols: Google for local offerings of this beautiful and solemn service in early December. See more information about it here.
- M: Mary’s Baby Shower: Contact Heartbeat or a local pregnancy resource center and arrange for your family to host a baby shower for an expectant mom who needs help. You can make it as big or small as you’d like because everything is appreciated. Here’s an article about a Mary’s shower in Milwaukee.
- N: St. Nicholas Feast Day: Yes, there really was—and is—a Santa Claus! Celebrate his feast day on December 6 and learn how he became important at Christmas. Remember that he did everything he did because he loved Jesus.
- O: O Antiphons: Since the 8th Century, we have prayed these in the evenings of the last seven days before Christmas. Here are the O Antiphons for 2018 to pray with your family.
- P: Penance: Your parish will offer extra evenings for penance. Plan now to attend one with your entire family, and then enjoy some …
- Q: Quiet time together. You can plan “quiet nights,” with no TV or electronics, throughout Advent, beginning with a family recitation of the …
- R: Rosary, especially the Joyous Mysteries which lead up to the birth of Jesus. This can be followed by baking, playing board games, or the …
- S: Singing of Christmas Carols, especially religious ones. You can gather friends to carol around the neighborhood, at a nursing home, or just at home around a fire.
- T: The Magnificat: This is the best known of the canticles or songs of praise that are documented in Luke’s Gospel. This is prayed by Mary in awe and thanksgiving for being chosen as the Mother of God. See the prayer here, and see an interesting discussion about the power of praying it daily.
- U: Unborn: The first person to recognize and celebrate the coming of the Savior was an unborn baby. Read Luke 1:41. The sanctity of the unborn is celebrated in the stories leading up to Christmas.
- V: The Visitation: Mary hears that Elizabeth is also pregnant; her first thought is to run to her and help. Read Luke 1:39-56. While the Feast of the Visitation is celebrated in May, the act of the Visitation is the inspiration for an order of cloistered nuns and a model for all Christian service according to St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
- W: Wenceslaus: This good King, who is commemorated in a lovely Christmas carol, is worth examining by your family. Read this lovely story about how he examined his conscience and discovered the true meaning of generosity.
- X: Writing Xmas is not as bad as you think: Χ is the Greek letter “chi” and an abbreviation for the Greek word for Christ or Χριστός. Just remember to keep Christ at the center of all of your Advent activities!
- Y: Yule log and other baking ideas: You probably have lots of baking traditions in your family, but Advent is a great time to research and prepare cookies, cakes, and pastries from other countries. Many of these have religious meanings. All are fun to make, especially the Bȗche de Noël or French Yule log. Create several kinds, pack them up, and take them to a homeless shelter.
- Z: Canticle of Zechariah: This is the prayer or song of praise that the father of John the Baptist sings in thanksgiving to God in the Gospel of Luke. It is also a benediction that can be prayed each morning. Here are instructions for your kids to create a prayer card with the canticle.
“Bring Christ to Others”
Here are some final thoughts from Fr. Bill:
How you have made God’s salvation known to others? Pope Benedict called the Visitation the “first Eucharistic procession,” with Mary as the living tabernacle, carrying Christ to Elizabeth. With this visit, Mary has taught us something so fundamental to our faith: We are meant to go out and bring Christ to others. When Mary answered “Yes” to the angel Gabriel, she knew what she had to do. She had to share this, share Him, with the world. That was her great vocation in life, and, folks, that is our vocation, too. Just as we are challenged to be Elizabeth, seeing Christ in others and welcoming Him, we are challenged to be Mary, carrying Jesus to a waiting world. Every one of us has the capacity to be Mary today, by simply embracing God’s plan of salvation to its fullest, and going out.
Now it is our turn.
May your Advent be a wonderful wait for Him!