One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is the different Liturgical Seasons that we experience. They lend a certain rhythm to our lives and provide comfort and a sense of order to the year. Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year, and will begin on Sunday, November 27th. Advent always begins on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew (November 30th).
One of the disadvantages of the recurring nature of our liturgical seasons is our tendency to take them for granted, and thus not prepare properly. It is all too easy to have good intentions, and then find ourselves at the end of a particular season such as Advent, and to discover that we really have not participated at all!
Tips for making sure that Advent does not pass us by
- Keep a focus on Advent as being four weeks of preparation for Christmas.
The word Advent is derived from the Latin word Adventus, meaning “coming.” The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that we are to prepare for a three-fold coming of Jesus by:
“preparing ourselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
making our souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
making ourselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.“
- Daily Mass
Advent would be an excellent time to try to attend Mass on a daily basis. I wrote about the power of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in an earlier post. I can certainly testify in my own life how much difference it can make to be able to go to Mass on a more frequent basis. It is challenging for us to do so, given the general business of our society, and especially so in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but what better way to pull back from the hubbub?
- Eucharistic Adoration
Again, prayer before the Lord is so powerful. Try to make time at least once a week to go and spend some time with Jesus in the adoration chapel. He awaits you and would be so glad to see you, to hear your voice, to listen to your troubles, your needs, your wants, your desires, your worries. Take your worries to Him and turn them into prayer.
St. Paul says “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-8)
- Identify one Advent tradition and consistently practice it with your family throughout the Advent season
Some well known traditions include:
Advent Calendar - you can find an online version at EWTN
Jesse Tree – Fish Eaters has a very informative article on this Advent devotion
Nativity Scenes – everyone is familiar with this tradition started by St. Francis. For a clever modern interpretation of the history of the Nativity see The Digital Story of the Nativity
- Approach Advent with a more penitential spirit.
This one really is difficult in our culture. Have you ever given any thought to the fact that priests wear purple vestments in both Advent and Lent? Purple is the color of penance. We are all familiar with the penitential aspects of Lent, but I think the notion of Advent as a time of penance has largely disappeared from our society. That being said, if you are in the mood for attempting some practices that are truly counter-cultural, here are a few possibilities:
- Refrain/minimize participation in Christmas parties
- Hold off on putting up Christmas tree and lights until 3rd Sunday of Advent. Why the 3rd Sunday? That is the Sunday traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday (Joyful Sunday) in which the mood of penance is interrupted by the priest wearing rose-colored vestments, to mark the halfway point of the Advent season. If you really want to be radical, you can wait all the way until Christmas Eve!
- Practice “dirty” charity.
“Clean” charity involves giving money to the needy, while “dirty” charity means actually getting your hands dirty by personally serving those in need. While waiting for the coming of the Lord, see Him present in the most unfortunate around you.There are many people for whom the holiday season can be a time of great sorrow. Nursing homes and hospitals are filled with suffering people who need a little hope in their lives, who need the light of Christ to shine in the darkness they are going through.
- Intensify your spiritual life through prayer and spiritual reading
There are many wonderful sources of spiritual nourishment that can help to make this a profitable Advent for you. Here are a few I recommend:
- The Liturgy of the Hours. This is a wonderful set of prayer books that are geared to each liturgical season. The Liturgy of the Hours is a treasure trove of Psalms and writings of the Church Fathers. For those interested in browsing online for free, the Liturgy of the Hours can be found at Universalis or at Divine Office
- Read Scripture daily. YouVersion, an Evangelical Protestant website, has done a great job of putting together all kinds of reading plans to help people read Scripture. There are over 100 Bible translations available, including The Catholic Public Domain Version and the Douai-Rheims. Regrettably, they do not have the Revised Standard Version available, but you could use the Christmas Reading Plan to identify the reading sequence, and then read those verses out of your preferred Catholic translation.
- If you prefer to get your inspiration from audio, how about a daily dose of Pope Benedict XVI? Hat tip to George Blackwood for this recommendation. St. Luke productions is providing a daily dramatized audio reading (by Leonardo Defilippis). The series is called Benedictus Moments and the samples I have heard are excellent.
- Iphone apps
There are many excellent Iphone apps available with Catholic content. Here are two of my favorites:
- Ipieta is one of my favorite apps. It includes the Bible, a Catholic calendar for the year, and many thousands of pages of writings of the saints, including Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, writings of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila to name just a few. Warning – don’t use this app while driving or you will wind up in a ditch!
- Divine Office – this is the Iphone app version of the Liturgy of the Hours I gave earlier. It is a beautiful app and worth the price.
What are some of your ideas for making this the best Advent ever? Please feel free to add a comment to the post and share your thoughts.
I hope you have found at least one tip that you can take action on. It will be tempting for many of us to try to do too many things at once. It is better to be consistent with one practice than to try a little bit of everything! Pray about it, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to the practice that will most benefit you this Advent.