This long-time Texas boy has recently moved north to Minnesota, and two of the joys I have felt as a result of this move are the experiences of watching the leaves change color in the fall (something I did not see much growing up) and the snowfall of winter. (Within just the last few days, I have witnessed more snow than I have in the past several years combined back home.) These changes remind me of the changes that occur in the liturgical calendar. The changing seasons and colors go hand-in-hand and emphasize that something special is on the horizon.
Our Church is diverse: there are roughly 14 million Catholics in the United States, spanning from coast to coast, with an array of cultures and faith practices to accompany that number. As I reflect on 20-plus years in ministry, I have witnessed some beautiful ways that our Church celebrates this season. Here are just four:
Decorate Advent wreaths. Bringing older and younger students together to decorate Advent wreaths is a joy. Gather Advent wreath supplies (purchasing these items separately or as a kit), and assemble the students together. Pair an older student with a younger child, and provide them with the supplies: a metal ring, some greenery, four candles (three purple and one pink), and some prayers. The purpose of this activity is for the young student to bring home the Advent wreath and Advent prayers, so this can be shared as a family during the season. By pairing up the students, you create a bonding relationship.
Host an Advent Liturgy of the Word prayer service. During the weeks of Advent, bring the student body together as a group to pray as one voice. You can have different groups of children lead in different ways: some lead in song, while others process in with tapers to light the candles on the Advent wreath. Allow students of different ages to proclaim the readings. A clergy member or a lay person can end the service with a short reflection. This is something that is very easy to do and brings the community together to focus with prayerful intention on the importance of the season.
Gather for an Advent day of prayer. Last year my parish gathered with the families in faith formation classes to prepare for Advent. Our gathering began with some powerful music to set the tone for our time together, followed by a reading from Isaiah 11:1—“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, / and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” The remainder of our time was spent reflecting on different aspects of the Jesse tree and decorating our own Jesse tree with symbols that were made during the day. The Jesse tree was then placed in a prominent place to be enjoyed by the entire parish and school community.
Have an Advent parish mission. This is my first year in my new parish, and this community has been longing for a mission. Our associate pastor has agreed to lead us in a parish-wide mission, “Fiat, Our Daily Yes to God.” My hope is that this mission will prepare the parish for future missions.
Friends, as we prepare for the birth of our Savior, let us pray for each other during this Advent season, so that on Christmas Day we will all be able to receive the birth of Emmanuel together.
The With My Family section at the end of Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts sessions has ideas for celebrating the liturgical seasons at home, including Advent. For more Advent ideas, visit LoyolaPress.com/Advent.