First Week All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Second Week God of power and mercy open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Third Week Lord God, may we, your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fourth Week All-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do and seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day, We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!' Amen.
Advent and the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance
Catholics refer to Advent as a season of joyful anticipation. Many Catholics use this season as a time to prepare for Christmas day, when the birth of Christ is celebrated. Yet Advent is not merely about the anticipation of Christmas. It is a season that focuses on our anticipation of the Parousia, the second coming of Christ. Advent, as the first season of the Church’s liturgical year, reminds us that we are a people who are constantly awaiting for Christ’s second coming, that day when all things will be renewed in Christ.
During Advent, the Scripture readings heard at Mass often focus our attention on anticipation, and what it is we are to be doing as we anticipate Christ’s second coming. During the second Sunday of Advent, the Gospel reading focuses on John the Baptist, whose mission was to prepare the people of Israel for the first coming of Christ. The most notable aspect of John’s ministry was his proclamation of a baptism of repentance. People flocked to John in order to be baptized in the Jordan River, a river believed to be the descending river of God. In this river, people were baptized as a sign that they desired to be washed with the vigorous force of God’s grace. It was the sign that they were changing their lives, turning their back on their crooked ways, and returning to the commands of the Lord.
During Advent, as Catholics prepare for the second coming of Christ, the Church, following the example of St. John the Baptist, preaches the need for repentance. The repentance the Church proclaims, however, differs from that of John the Baptist. Whereas John’s baptism was symbolic of a person’s desire to repent, The Church has been endowed with the power of the Sacraments. The Sacraments are not merely symbols, but actually bring about the realities they express through symbols. So whereas the people baptized in the Jordan by John were symbolically cleansing themselves from sin, people who participate in the Sacraments of the Church, such as Baptism and Penance, are actually cleansed of their sins.
For this reason we offer Penance services during the season of Advent. These services provide people with an opportunity not only to symbolically mark their desire to turn away from sin and turn toward God, but to accomplish this in reality. There is a great irony in that many Catholics fear the sacrament of penance. This is likely caused by an undue focus on sin. People tend to focus on the portion of the sacrament where they confess their sins, rather than on the more important component of the sacrament whereby their sins are forgiven. Put another way, the proper way to approach the sacrament is not to be overly focused on sin, but on the reality that through the sacrament, there is an opportunity to become a saint-in-the-making. The goal of the sacrament is not to focus on sin and make people feel guilty. Rather, through the sacrament, a people can turn their back on sin, and instead focus on God. They become free from the burden of their sins, and thus can see God more clearly.
Because the Sacrament of Penance is efficacious in that it actually brings about the forgiveness of sins, it has an important role to play in the life of the Church. It is a sacrament whereby a people in waiting, an advent people, are able to prepare themselves for the day that they eagerly await; the day when Christ will come again.
Praying with Mary
The very essence of prayer is recognizing that God is with us. That is the meaning of one of the Lord’s names, one that we hear over and again in Advent, Emmanuel. The Lord is with Mary. The Lord is with us.
What does it take for us to pause amidst the busyness of this season of preparation—between the shopping and decorating, the family gatherings and holiday parties? Mary’s life is dramatically interrupted by the visitation of an angel and a miraculous conception. How do I hear the angelic messenger, that still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12) in my days? What does God wish to conceive in me? How does God want to use my flesh to incarnate the living Christ?
As we journey through this Advent and Christmas season, we can seek Mary’s intercession, looking to her example of how to welcome the overshadowing Spirit of God. As Mary said yes to the Spirit, I can trust in her to lead me to my own yes.
Here are some possible ways to practice praying with Mary this month.
Luke 1:26–56 chronicles Mary’s encounter with the angel, her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, and her song, which we call the Magnificat. Read this passage slowly. It’s long, so you may want to read just a few verses each day or each week. As you read, notice whether there is a word or a phrase that speaks to you. Ponder it in your heart as you go about your day. Invite the Lord to speak to you through his Word.
If the Rosary is not already part of your life, consider incorporating it once a week, or maybe try praying a decade a day. As the Joyful Mysteries recall the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, they are perfect for praying through the seasons of Advent and Christmas. As you meditate on each mystery, invite the Spirit to use the experiences of Mary and Joseph and Jesus to shine light on how the Spirit is moving in your life here and now.
The Angelus is a traditional prayer by which we can connect and reconnect with our ever-present God throughout the day. The Angelus is a brief reflection on the incarnation, recalling Mary’s yes to God’s invitation to bring Christ into the world. Prayed at 6:00 a.m., noon (often accompanied by a prayer for peace), and 6:00 p.m., the Angelus is a pause in the rhythm of our days in which we can recall Emmanuel, God with us.
How has praying with Mary enhanced your experience of Advent and Christmas?
Advent, is a time given to us “to welcome the Lord who comes to meet us,
to verify our desire for God, to look ahead and prepare ourselves for the return of Christ.”
Advent comes year after year. Every Advent, we celebrate Jesus' coming as an infant long ago, his ongoing presence with us now, and his return in glory in the future. Advent is also a season of repentance; John the Baptist calls us to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). We know as Christian disciples in the twenty-first century, during each Advent God calls us anew to figure out how to live in relation to a world that frequently wants little or nothing to do with getting ready to celebrate the Incarnation, without giving into an "us versus them" paradigm. We are in the world, but not of it. Ours is the mission to prepare the Lord's way.
The message Christian disciples hear this advent is first and foremost a message about who God is and all God does for his people. From the Sunday and daily Lectionary readings, we hear: God saves, God shelters and protects us, God's light triumphs, God provides nourishment, God comforts and heals, God's justice reigns. Through Advent we learn that in Jesus is the revelation of who God is. As disciples, we confess Jesus as Lord, the Son of God, and Son of Man. We trust our salvation is through him. For even if we were the one lost sheep out of the hundred, Jesus would look for us and call us back. We sill be safe forever in his Kingdom.
As disciples, our Advent task is to accept the charge to stay awake, to prepare ourselves for the Lord's coming. We do not know when this will be. We can, however, rest assured that God calls us to respond to all those who seek healing, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and justice in ways befitting our belief in Jesus. God's people grieve and experience injustice and heartache. Over and over, the Scriptures of Advent tell us this as well. But, God also desires that his people call out, for God has an endless, eternal font of grace to share with us.
As disciples, we live in this joy. On the Third Sunday of Advent, traditionally referred to as Gaudete or "Rejoice" Sunday, we celebrate the joy that is ours now and in the future. We believe in the incredible things God has done in Jesus. Together with Christ and his Body, the Church, we guide each other and those in need of hearing God's Word in today's world to the joy of Christmas Time. How will you embrace Advent discipleship? It's up to you.
“Jesus exhorts us to pay attention and to watch, to be ready to welcome him at the moment of his return.”
“Advent is a journey towards Bethlehem.
May we let ourselves be drawn by the light of God made man.”
A Busy Catholic's Guide to Advent: 10 Tips for Observing the Season
Advent is a criminally underrated liturgical season. It gets swallowed up in the pre-Christmas rush, and it's shorter and less intense than Lent, but it's a beautiful, quiet period worth marking. Beyond the obvious "get to Mass on all the Advent Sundays and every Sunday" exhortation, here are 10 simple tips for your Advent observation, from one busy person to another
1. Read some sort of short, daily devotion.
Just a few pages a day, max. There are plenty of great options to consider, including the Little Blue Book, Daybreaks from Liguori Press, and Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann's new devotional Celebrating Abundance. My wife and I decided last-minute to host three discussion sessions on Brueggemann's book at our house this Advent. Due to the procrastination, we gave some friends just 24 hours to respond if they were interested. Much to our surprise, we got about 10 takers. The lesson: People are hungry for some sort of spiritual nourishment, especially around this time of year. I bet you could find a person or two to reflect on some readings with you during the season by the first Sunday of Advent.
2. Get some quiet time.
Advent the liturgical season is quiet and dark, as we await the in-breaking of Christ's light at Christmas. Advent the shopping and party season is loud and glaringly bright. Seek out some quiet time separate from bedtime. Maybe try repeating the prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus" to yourself, slowly as you breathe in and out with your eyes closed. You can do this in your office or kitchen. And in this spirit …
3. It's OK to say no.
You don't have to go to every party you're invited to or schlep to the mall the Saturday before Christmas or watch the endless loop of wintry car commercials. As a mentor of mine likes to say, " 'No' is a complete sentence." Of course, there are certain obligations this time of year — especially for parents of young kids, I'm learning — that you just can't say "no" to. So I need to practice discerning which activities are essential and which can be skipped.
4. Don't forget the Advent music.
I'm not here to play liturgical police and tell you to shelve the Christmas music until sunset on Dec. 24. However, there are plenty of great Advent hymns and songs to work into your rotation. Some of my favorites: Sufjan Stevens' version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel;" Steve Angrisano's modern update of that same classic; composer JJ Wright's brilliant jazz/classical album "O Emmanuel;" the French hymn, "O Come Divine Messiah;" and Dan Schutte's "Christ Circle Round Us."
5. Decorate, even a little.
We Catholics are sacramental people: Smells, bells, stained glass, beautiful music, bread and wine. God can visit through our sensory experiences. So put out a nativity set (or, if you work for the church like my wife and I do and people like giving you religious gifts, put out eight or 10 nativity sets). Get some greenery or fake greenery up somewhere. And, at the very least …
6. Light an Advent wreath.
If you don't have one of these, a lot of parishes sell them. Try this short prayer from the U.S. bishops when you light it each Sunday. The family and home are what the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium calls the "domestic church," and an Advent wreath tradition is simple, lovely way to strengthen that smallest, essential community of faith.
7. Got a young kid or two? Add a Christmas book to bedtime reading list.
Speaking of the domestic church: If you have kids you read to at night, add a nativity book for children to your stack. We have already started reading some Christmas stories to our 2-year-old, and it's amazing how she is beginning to recognize the characters of the story so fast. I'm reminded how vivid and awe-inspiring the nativity story is.
8. Support an organization that works for social justice.
"Giving Tuesday" has come and gone, but the Advent and Christmas seasons are better inspirations for supporting charitable organizations anyway. As the magi brought whatever they had to give the newborn king, our own gifts to organizations that further the building of the kingdom of God on Earth is one way to celebrate their legacy. In addition to incredible, independent agencies all over the country, your own local Catholic Charities agency or Catholic Relief Services (international assistance) are reliably great nonprofits.
9. Consider the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Someone I know who's familiar with Catholic internet searches tells me "act of contrition" is one of the most popular Catholic Google search terms every Advent and Lent. This isn't all that surprising, as a lot of parishes host Sacrament of Reconciliation services during both seasons. I know my mom always wanted us to make it to the sacrament during Advent and Lent growing up. If Advent is all about preparing, there's no better way to prepare your heart and spirit. (I always freeze up when it comes time for the act of contrition, so I like to bring a paper copy or a copy on my phone with me into the confessional.)
10. Reflect on the "three comings of the Lord."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux described these three comings as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the coming of Jesus into our lives in the present time, and Christ's final coming in glory on the last day. In Advent, we wait and prepare for all three. Most Advents, I spend about 95 percent of my prayer and reflection and energy focused on the first coming only — with the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the baby. I'm missing those second and third arrivals of Jesus. I hope I'll stick to at least some of these suggestions I've outlined here, and that they'll help me focus on the Advent story that goes beyond Bethlehem.
Before you write these ideas down on a checklist, one disclaimer: I think all 10 of these practices are good ideas, but this list not full of silver bullets that will make this Advent "the best Advent ever" for you. Faith and joy and peace are unearned gifts only God can give. Through spiritual discipline, we can only put ourselves in a posture of humility and gratitude before the Lord, invite the Spirit into our lives, and be ready to respond.
BLESSING OF CHRISTMAS CARDS BEFORE MAILING
God of the universe,
in the beginning, you transformed the dark abyss
into light by speaking your word,
and in the fullness of time, you sent your Son, Jesus,
your Word Made Flesh,
to transform our death into life.
hange, then, the flesh of our lives into words of life,
written upon the Christmas cards we will send.
Take the stories and events of this year,
and make them glimpses of your grace.
Break the walls of separation, and unite us through
the simple gift of a written note.
As we remember the birth of your Son,
bless the words and greetings we will share
and those who will read them
so that the life-giving word you have brought to birth in us
may bring new life to the ends of the earth.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Your light will come, O Jerusalem. The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.
We shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
The sign of the cross shall appear in the heavens, when our Lord shall come to judge the world.
“In Advent we rediscover the beauty of all being on a journey … across the paths of time.”