Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Peace and Joy in Our Lord Jesus!
The word Advent comes from the Latin words advenire (to come to) adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ's coming into this world. The Advent season is a time of joyful expectation and preparation for Christmas, the day upon which Christ's birth is celebrated and His first coming into this world. The focus of Advent is upon the centuries of waiting and preparation by God's chosen people, which preceded the coming of the Messiah.
As such, it is a time marked by expectation, hope, preparedness and penance. The later being mindful of John the Baptist's cry to prepare for the coming of the Lord with repentance (Treasury of Latin Prayers by Michael Martin).
You may have seen the giftbearing Santa Claus kneeling in prayerful adoration before the Baby Jesus. This representation of Santa Claus, the beloved "Saint Nick" of our childhood, as actually worshiping Christ is also a surprisingly novel and rather touching attempt to "re-Christianize" what has become an essentially secular “saint." There is no lack of truly Christian symbols, however. Many traditions connected with observances of Christmas have their origins in Christian, not pagan, culture, despite what we often read.
Our heritage of holiday traditions learned from our families, which we faithfully continue to practice in our homes for our own children, helps to link both the past and the future. We can make this vital connection even stronger when such practices are informed by enthusiastic faith which most of us also received, by the Grace of God, through our families. While there are a variety of Advent and Christmas customs from many cultural traditions, throughout Advent, I will share a few of the popular expressions of faith for you to share with your family.
The custom of using Advent wreaths in homes has increased during the past couple of decades, although they have been used in churches in Europe for many generations. The wreath's symbolism of the Advent of Light into the world by Our Lord's birth is clear. The gradual lighting of the wreath, one candle each week of Advent, combined with the liturgical colors of the candles (purple is the penitential color used during Advent and Lent; rose is used only on Gaudete Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday in Lent) help to symbolize not only our expectation and joyful hope in Our Lord's first Advent, but also in his Second Coming. During this season we prepare our hearts and our homes to celebrate His birth into our world, of course, but especially to receive Him in preparation for our redemption.
All make the sign of cross as the minister says: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All reply: Who made heaven and earth.
One of those present or the minister reads a text of sacred Scripture, for example:
Brothers and sisters, listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing,
As they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder Counselor, God Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful,
From David's throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains
By judgment and justice, both now and forever.
A minister who is a priest or deacon says the prayer of blessing with hands outstretched; a lay minister says the prayer with hands joined.
Lord God, your Church joyfully awaits the coming of its Savior, who enlightens our hearts and dispels the darkness of ignorance and sin. Pour forth your blessings upon us as we light the candles of this wreath; may their light reflect the splendor of Christ, who is Lord, for ever and ever.
All respond. Amen.
Lord our God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ: he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples, he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us, he is the Savior of every nation. Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath. May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ's promise to bring us salvation. May he come quickly and not delay. We ask this through Christ our Lord. All respond.
The home ceremony for use of the Advent wreath is simple. It consists of Collects, hymns and prayers proper to the Advent season. There are many to choose from online. The prayer I included below can serve as an framework for you and your family. Feel free to add Scripture passages from the readings used during Holy Mass heard during the Advent season.
During the first week one candle is left burning during the evening meal, at prayers or at bedtime. Two candles are lighted on the second Sunday and allowed to burn as before. The prayer for the week is:
Parent: Let us pray. O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure souls. Through the same Christ our Lord.
Three candles, including the rose candle, are lighted on Gaudete, the third Sunday, and during that week.
The following prayer is said:
Parent: Let us pray. We humbly beg Thee, O Lord, to listen to our prayers; and by the grace of Thy coming bring light into our darkened minds. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
All four candles are lighted on the fourth Sunday and allowed to burn as before. The prayer said the fourth week is:
Parent: Let us pray. Stir up Thy might, we pray Thee, O Lord, and come; rescue us through Thy great strength so that salvation, which has been hindered by our sins, may be hastened by the grace of Thy gentle mercy. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
At the end of Advent, candles and ribbons are changed to white, evergreens renewed if necessary, and tiny Christmas balls added to decorate the wreath. Perhaps you could place the wreath near the front door where it adds a festive note to the house and gives you a chance to explain the wreath to neighbors and friends who have not seen it previously. The wreath, unless it sheds, is kept until Epiphany.BACK TO LIST