LITURGY MATTERS: Advent’s Coming

Let me declare my prejudices right up front.  I LOVE ADVENT! I love the readings. I love the focus on hope and promise. I love the lessons on waiting. I am already getting excited. I have this fantasy of taking Advent off, of withdrawing from the end of year rat race and immersing myself in the season.  Maybe next year! Because of the beauty and wonder of Advent it is worth us taking some time to plan ahead so our celebration will shape us and prepare us for Christmas.

We always celebrate Advent in a context and we need to be alert to that.  Every year it seems the challenge of Advent increases.  Every year seems busier.  Every year people feel more stretched.  Every year there seems to be more reason to be despondent and to lose any sense of hope.  It does not matter whether you focus on the world in which we live or the church … times are tough.  In recent weeks I have become more attune to the number of times I hear people say, ‘There is no point.’  

And yet life and advent proclaim that there is a point. In life, I accompany my nephew and niece as they await the birth of their first child. Our family is full of hope. In Advent the prophets are inciting a revolution, reminding us that no matter how dark it is, the light is coming in the most unimagined and unexpected ways. And so Advent cries out for us to wake up and keep alert! How much our world needs we Christians to celebrate Advent well.

Patricia Datchuck Sanchez said it like this in her reflection Actively Waiting in Nov 30, 2013.

Although we continue to celebrate Advent as a season, it is considerably more than that. Advent is a way of life, lived in watchfulness for the God who comes - not just at Christmas, but every day, in myriad ways and in many wonderful and sometimes distressing disguises. Therefore we wait - not passively, twiddling our thumbs, but actively.

So what can we do to prepare to celebrate and live Advent?

Firstly, we are keeping the diocesan website updated with resources. I encourage you to check this page regularly. Already there are things for those who wish to gather to pray and reflect, and some excellent background information from the National Liturgy Council.

Secondly, there is the Sunday liturgy. Here I think we need to reflect carefully and be open to looking at this with new eyes. I therefore recommend the following for your consideration:

1.  Go to LiturgyHelp and take your liturgical direction from there. Note especially the Introductory Rites. No mention is made of an Advent Wreath. This is because the Advent Wreath is essentially devotional not liturgical. This is a good distinction to inform our liturgical and pastoral practice.

LiturgyHelp has a great range of resources including this very informative booklet (See adjacent image). You’ll find it by clicking on the ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord’ banner on the page for the First Sunday of Advent. 

2.  That said, pastorally it is important to keep in mind that people love the Advent Wreath and its use in our liturgy has become customary. If your community continues to have an Advent Wreath in the Church I recommend the following:

  • Rid yourselves of the old dialogue prayers we used in the Introductory Rite that focused on the lighting of the candle for each Sunday.
  • Rather, go to the Book of Blessings and take your direction from there. (p. 647 or on LiturgyHelp). Read the Introduction. It makes good points. If anything is done at mass on the First Sunday of Advent, it is the blessing of the Wreath after the Universal Prayer. Then on the successive Sundays the candles are lit with no additional rites or prayers, either before mass starts, or before the collect.

3.  Consider encouraging the use of the Advent Wreath outside the Sunday liturgy in families and schools as outlined in the Book of Blessings. Several options present themselves:

  • Invite families to prepare their own Advent Wreath and to bring them to mass on the First Sunday of Advent for the blessing. Families can then use the Wreath as the focus for family life and prayer as they journey through Advent towards Christmas.
  • Better still, prepare a Blessing of the Advent Wreath for families to take home and to do themselves.
  • Even better, I recommend schools focus on the Advent Wreath. Use the ‘Order of Blessing within a Celebration of the Word’ on Monday of the First week of Advent. A priest, deacon or layperson may use this Blessing. It may be a good opportunity to invite the parish priest if possible. Encourage families to make their own Advent Wreaths and bring them to school for the blessing. Invite everyone, including the parish community. Encourage each class to have an Advent Wreath.

What other ideas do you have? The Advent Wreath provides us with wonderful opportunities to reach out to those who do not gather for Sunday eucharist. As an evangelising community our focus is on developing opportunities for prayer and reflection that meet young children, people and families where they are. Our society has much to learn about waiting and hoping in the midst of our struggles. Just imagine the stress Mary was under! Advent and Christmas are not about perfect families or circumstances. For this reason, Advent is a significant moment not to be missed. Let us think outside the box and take time to prepare well.

Thirdly, Advent is an opportunity to introduce people to the Prayer of the Church. Are there possibilities in your community to pray Evening Prayer on the Sundays of Advent, or any other time for that matter? 

The Book of Blessings has other blessings for the Advent and Christmas Seasons that might assist you in creating engaging opportunities to pray.

Andrew Hamilton posted a thought provoking article on Eureka Street. It is worth a read: Silence has two faces.

I hope these few thoughts help your community prepare well to celebrate the season that is all about preparing the way. If you come up with ideas or produce any resources that you think would be good to share please let Sharon know and we will share them more widely next year.

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Co-ordinator of Liturgy.