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Celebrating Advent Essentially

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 23, 2021 | In The Liturgical Year

Happy New Year! The new Liturgical year 2021-2022 begins with the First Sunday of Advent on November 28, the second to longest possible Advent. The Advent season begins on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle on November 30, and always includes four Sundays. The earliest date Advent can begin is November 27, and the latest it can begin is December 3. If Christmas falls on a Sunday, that is the longest possible Advent of 28 days. Christmas on a Monday means the shortest Advent of only 22 days. However, this longer Advent has the trade off of a shorter Christmas season. Epiphany will be on Sunday, January 2, the day after the end of the Octave of Christmas.

Once I get a “lay of the land” on how long the Advent and Christmas seasons will be, there comes a question of what will I do in my home for these seasons? How can celebrate within my domestic church? There is a wonderful movement of Catholics really trying to live liturgically, to follow and live the Liturgical Year in their family. The ideas and inspirations shared in books and social media are wonderful and very attractive. Unfortunately there is a pressure to want to do and buy “all the things.” But before taking on extra devotions and family traditions, it helps to step back and choose liturgical devotions thoughtfully and intentionally.

Four Elements to Living Liturgically

Over the years I have pinpointed four elements to keep in mind when living the Liturgical Year:

  1. Keeping in mind that living the Liturgical Year is nurturing our relationship with Christ
  2. Respecting the individual is key. Know your child. Recognize your family and personal needs and limits.
  3. Essentiality—get to the heart of the feast. Leave room for wonder and discovery.
  4. Our relationship with Christ needs to be expressed as celebration, with no apologies! Celebrate like a Catholic!

These 4 elements I want to apply to this new Liturgical Year, starting with Advent.

The Advent Season

What is Advent? Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus, meaning coming. I use this quote of the explanation of Advent from the General Norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar as my guide for Advent:

39. Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.

From this definition are the two spiritual essentials of Advent:

  1. Two-Fold Coming of Christ
    Advent is not just the remembrance of Jesus’ first coming at Bethlehem. Our remembering should propel us to work for the Kingdom of God to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. The Advent liturgy includes the Messianic prophecies and “O” Antiphons prophesying not only the coming of Jesus at Bethlehem, but also the total fulfillment at the Second Coming, or Parousia, the end of time “when God will be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:28). Advent has this double sense of longing and preparation.
  2. “Devout and expectant delight”
    I love pondering this phrase. Today we are afraid of having open moments and downtime. We feel the urge to “fill” time and to connect one activity to the next. We need to learn the “Art of Waiting” as coined by Mother Mary Francis. It’s hard to make this priority in this busy season. We are pressed from the outside with extra commitments and activities during December. We have to carve out some space and time individually and as a family. That time can be used for meditation, contemplation, and listening to God. Doing so will help unfold true delight.

Focusing on External Essentiality

We are bombarded at this of year from outside commitments. Often there is a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) with all the wonderful “holy” things for Advent, but so often it is just exchanging one set of “busy” with another. It’s a common “ailment” of society to overscheduling, and I will be the first to admit guilt in this area. Often we have great plans and then we aren’t home or can’t accomplish all those lovely ideas.

This is just a friendly reminder to try to not take on too much. Some events can be out of our control, but our response can help keep a balance on our time. We don’t need to give up on family devotions during Advent, but we could operate in a scaled down fashion, or choosing essential devotions, and having the children do more without parental help.

How to Celebrate

St. Thomas Aquinas asserted that nothing can enter into the mind except first through the senses. Incorporating all the senses—sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing—plant firmly the different aspects of the Liturgical Year. It helps to engage a few senses for each devotion implemented in the home.

Again, we need to recognize the individual. Who is this child? We need to be aware of the age and needs of the children when discerning what devotions to incorporate for Advent. We don’t need to do every devotion thoroughly when they are just wee babes. There is time to unfold.

My suggestions aren’t new and certainly not complicated. These are what have worked for us over the years, and still are touchstones for my teenage sons. I concentrate on the essential that will provide a sense of “devout and expectant delight” with a focus on the two-fold coming of Christ.

The Advent Wreath

When my husband and I married we were both committed to eating dinner together as a family. Family meals and our dining table are the anchors for many of our prayer activities. Our Advent Wreath is at our table, usually suspended from the chandelier. Of all the Advent traditions, this one has most “bang for the buck.” This tradition is always priority, and a favorite.

Lighting the candles through Advent satisfies the needs for each age level and gratifies many of the senses—-sight, smell, hearing, and touch. We always allow everyone to take turns leading the prayer, lighting, and snuffing the candles.

Advent Wreath for All Ages

Years ago I was inspired by Mother Mary Francis in Come, Lord Jesus! describing how the Poor Clares had names for each of the Advent candles, I decided to do something similar at home. This was a way to echo the Advent Liturgy and capture the spirit of the Jesse Tree/Salvation History so that it is attainable even for the younger age. A child in the 0-6 age lives in reality and in the present moment. It isn’t until after the age of 6 that there is more of an ability of a sense of time and history. But at the younger age they love hearing names and learning nomenclature. So the Advent wreath provides four key figures of the Advent Liturgy—Isaiah, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Each week is tied into the Sunday Liturgy, following this theme for the week. The prayers are from the Sunday Collects, or Opening Prayer of the Mass. I used wood napkin rings, painted them gold, and added names with a permanent marker. The napkin ring sits around the base of each candle. I also made a poster, included a short verse/antiphon with visual symbols.

Our daily procedure would be:

  • Pray the Collect prayer
  • Recite the verse/antiphon—chose particular texts from Messianic prophecies used in the CGS Atrium
  • Light candle
  • Sing “O Come Emmanuel”

There is room for expansion for older children, by letting them choose the verses and make the poster. There can be further expansion on the lives of these key figures, reading the prophecies and pondering Salvation History. Always popular with my sons we sometimes make foods that represent the week’s figure. See my previous posts for more details:

Reading / Art / Music

My husband and I are big readers, with daily newspapers and many books in our house. We have shared our love of literature with our sons. Our priority was to read every day/night to them. It has been a delightful memory to have that snuggle time with reading.

During Advent we had one or two special books that we read each day. Because we had so many books, I did an “Advent Alphabet.” I themed our books by the alphabet, but also tied them to feast days of Advent. My sons’ favorite books are the ones that incorporate Christmas carols and we “sang” to read them.

“Strewing” is a term that some homeschoolers use, and it’s simply choosing books or art and strategically leaving them out with no comment, in hopes they might spark some interest. I would check out books from the library and place books near the kitchen table. My sons would always pick them up and read them.

Another form of my “strewing” is using visual displays left on the table. I incorporated flip chart easels with masterpieces of art that correspond to the feasts with Gospel readings and prayers
I created one for the end of Advent for the “O” Antiphons.

Besides this we also have lots of different Advent calendars and a simple Jesse Tree for them to hang the ornaments and read the Scripture passage. All these traditions give that sense of countdown to Christmas. These are the foundational devotions we do throughout Advent. And the rest is gravy.

Saints and Feasts of the Season

The Advent season contrasts with Lent because there are more saints and feast days that are celebration. During Lent the liturgical season takes priority for the liturgy, but during the Advent season before December 17 different saints days can take precedence. These days are specially marked in our homes with prayer (usually Mass), foods, books, and sometimes a little extra.

December 6: Optional Memorial of St. Nicholas of Myra, Bishop, also known as Sinterklaus or “Santa Claus.” This bishop saint is the patron saint of children and popular worldwide. Our family puts out shoes on the hearth on St. Nicholas Eve. Often we find gold chocolate coins and Legos and books in the morning from St. Nicholas. We also love to bake Speculatius cookies, a Dutch spice cookie, as popularized by Florence Berger in her Cooking for Christ. See my post for more details:

December 8: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Holyday of Obligation. This is the patronal feast of the United States. We do not have too many traditions regarding this day except our Mary Candle, and having a lovely feast day dinner and dessert.

December 12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas. This year this feast falls on Sunday, so it won’t take precedence in the Liturgy for our parish.

December 13: Memorial of St. Lucy, of Syracuse, Martyr The name of Lucy or Lucia means “light” and she is the patroness for those with eye troubles. My youngest son’s birthday is on St. Lucy’s day, so we tend to give more emphasis to the birthday than this feast day. But families with girls really enjoy this feast with the breakfast buns and Lucia-Bride waking the family with the crown of candles. See my post for more details.

There are also Ember Days and Gaudete Sunday that we like to acknowledge.

The “O” Antiphons

Finally, my favorite part of Advent and probably the entire Liturgical Year. I have written many times on the O Antiphons. Advent can be divided into two sections, the remote preparation and then the final seven days of Advent, beginning with December 17. They are called “O” because each Antiphon begins the invocation with “O”. These aren’t feast days, but beautiful antiphons or short phases embedded in the Liturgy. Each antiphon is a different Messianic title that brings all the longing and preparation for the Messiah, but His First Coming and our preparation for the Second Coming at Parousia.

  1. O Wisdom, December 17
  2. O Lord of Lords, December 18
  3. O Root of Jesse, December 19
  4. O Key of David, December 20
  5. O Dayspring, December 21
  6. O King of the Nations, December 22
  7. O Emmanuel, December 23

For these days, I give an impression to my family. We sing the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel with corresponding verses each night. We look at the symbols of the antiphons, and sometimes I prepare or talk about food that would match the symbolism. I mentioned before my flip easel art book as a visual. It sits on the kitchen table and my sons read it every morning.

New Liturgical Year, Essential Focus

Again, living the Liturgical year is being in relationship with Christ. To nurture this relationship we have to recognize and honor the individual. It’s best to focus on the essential, with our celebration as an expression of this relationship.

As the beginning of the new Liturgical Year, Advent is the time to practice this essentiality in celebrations. We can focus on the two-fold aspect of Coming of Christ with a spirit of devout and expectant delight. Practicing essentiality is trying to not overwhelm the family with all sorts of traditions, but making sure that they are directed to the individuals in the family.

There are so many ideas for Advent—all of them good, but zoom in on what is a best fit for your family.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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