The parish is abuzz with questions already: “Have you started your baking, shopping, planning, list-making, wrapping…?” No sooner has Halloween moved on than we find Christmas bursting onto the scene in every grocery store, department store, catalog, and flyer. It is a cycle that encourages us to be always thinking of and preparing for “the next thing,” rather than taking time to stop and become aware of the blessings and graces our God is trying to share with us right now.
Thankfully, the Church in her great wisdom has given us the liturgical year, starting with Advent, as the perfect counter-balance. In it, we have been graced with spiritual tools that can help all of us exercise some awareness of the gifts God has for us in the present moment. We just need to take the time to use those tools and make them accessible to parish families.
Identifying lectionary-based Advent themes and determining how these themes may be talked about in homilies, highlighted in the music, and underlined in the opening and closing prayers of Mass can be a great help. If your parish plans to use the traditional Advent wreath as part of the Sunday liturgies, you may wish to invite all of the parish households to extend that experience at home with their own wreaths. While there are a host of good published materials for families and individuals to use for their private devotions, you could easily create a set of simple, customized prayers for your households that incorporate a quote from the Sunday Gospels, a brief reflection on the themes of the week, a suggested action or challenge for the week, and a closing prayer informed by the Collects they will hear at the Sunday Masses.
Making Advent materials readily available to all households is essential. In our parish, we hold an intergenerational Advent-themed event. During the event, we introduce the weekly themes, provide an opportunity for families to create their own Advent wreaths, and present the prayers, reflections, and weekly challenges. All of this gets parishioners thinking about and discussing the role Advent will play in their daily routines throughout the season.
With just a bit of pre-planning, you will be able to give your households the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Advent experience in such a way that the themes and prayers they encounter weekly in the Mass continue to echo through their activities at home, at work, and in school. In so doing, parishioners begin to focus their attention on the season at hand and the great spiritual gifts that otherwise might get lost in the holiday shuffle.
How are you helping your parish families enter into Advent?