Celebrate the season of Advent as a family

November 22, 2011

With all the excitement of the implementation of the Roman Missal taking place on Nov. 27, you may have forgotten that this First Sunday of Advent also brings about another important yearly milestone of the Church. 

It begins the new liturgical year. 

As Catholics, our Church year is cycled into seasons which make up the liturgical calendar. These seasons along with feast days help us experience the life of Christ, His Church and His continued grace on us throughout the year in scripture and in sacrament. This year, as we break open the richness of the Mass with the new Roman Missal, we should also take the time to help teens and youth experience the first season of our cycle, Advent. 

In today’s commercial world, the Christmas season begins a few weeks before Halloween. Stores begin decorating and publishing their Christmas wish books, television commercials start talking about the holidays encouraging shoppers to get out now to get the best bargains and radio stations begin to introduce new Christmas tunes. So how can we help our teens and youth understand the focus of Advent as a time for waiting of Christ’s coming? We start by helping them understand the symbols, reading and prayers of this season. The word Advent derives from the Latin “ad-veino” meaning “to come to.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes the season as “a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas. Advent devotions remind us of the meaning of the season.” The color purple becomes a symbol of penitential hope in a time of darkness.

One way families celebrate the season is the family Advent wreath. An Advent wreath is traditionally made with evergreens formed into a circle with four candles (three purple, one rose) to represent each Sunday of the season. The rose candle is lighted on the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. USCCB website has a wonderful blessing that families can do at home to bless their Advent Wreath (www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/blessings/objects). This blessing is usually done the evening before the First Sunday. Instead of just lighting the candles on the four respected Sundays, take the time each night to light the wreath before dinner and take turns as a family reading the readings for that day. Readings can be found on the U.S. bishops’ website. Parishes also have many wonderful resources in how to incorporate the Advent wreath into your family’s’ prayer life. Check with your Youth Ministry or Religious Education Leader for resources available at your parish.

Another poplar tradition is the Advent calendar, where youth begin the countdown until Christmas day by opening up a box or removing a piece of paper which has a daily thought or prayer to help us prepare for Jesus’ birth. I proposed having a different twist to this calendar; take the time to add small little activities of service, sacrifice and evangelization to help celebrate the season. This could include going through your closet and donating unused clothing and toys to the St. Vincent de Paul Society; gathering food for a food drive; doing something nice for a family member or neighbor (like cleaning their room, doing one of their chores); giving up money for soda, or your favorite coffee/hot chocolate drink to help buy gifts for those less fortunate; inviting a friend or family member to Mass or parish youth event; or tell one friend about the “real reason for the season.”

Since Advent is also a season of penance, take some time to be a part of your parish’s communal penitential service. One way I like to celebrate is with an evening called prayer, penance and pizza. Before the parish service, be sure to explain to your teens the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in their life, take some time to pray together as a family. After the service, grab some pizza. Encourage your teens to invite some friends and have a celebration of this wonderful sacrament of healing. 

Advent is also a great season to share your time, talent and treasures as a family with others. Look for service opportunities you can do as a family. This could include working in your parish food pantry or food service agencies like Loaves and Fishes, Martha’s Kitchen and the Houston Food Bank. Families can volunteer at the parish to help with Christmas Art & Environment preparations or baking cookies for shut-ins. Teens of the appropriate age and training could volunteer to baby-sit for parents who may need help while shopping or attending holiday gatherings. Families can also assist some older parishioners or neighbors, who need help preparing their home of the holidays. Families can also adopt other families who may need assistance in this holiday period with gifts. Whatever traditions or experience your family celebrates this holiday season, be sure to take the time to prayer, reflect, renew and focus on the true “reason for the season.”

Randy Adams is Associate Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry.