Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year. Next Sunday, a new Church Year begins with the First Sunday of Advent on Dec. 3, 2023. That day will usher in a period of preparation for Christmas. Advent is a time that in some ways is analogous to the penitential preparations made for Easter during Lent, thus the use of the color violet and the omission of the Gloria in the liturgy. In order to be prepared to properly observe Advent, and to reap all of the spiritual benefits available to us from doing so, it is helpful to reflect upon how we might best enter into this sacred season.
The first thing that we should understand is that Advent is not Christmas. At first glance, that statement seems self-evident. However, if you pay even scant attention to what is happening at stores and shopping malls, to what you see on TV or hear on the radio, or to what you encounter just about everywhere else – with holiday lights and decorations appearing in many places about the same time as Halloween – you might be left with the thought: “What’s Advent? Christmas is now! Party on!” In the Church, however, such is not the case.
In contrast to the consumeristic, winter holiday festival that passes for Christmas in secular society – a frenetic observance that is in full force well before the last bite of Thanksgiving turkey is enjoyed – the Church says: “wait;” “watch;” “reflect;” “prepare.” To help us do that, the Church gives us Advent.
The word “advent” is from the Latin and means “coming.” As a liturgical season in the Church Year, this is in reference to the first coming of Christ, his birth at Bethlehem. However, Advent also speaks to us about the other comings of Christ: his continuous coming to us in our present lives through the Word and Holy Sacraments, and his anticipated second coming in power and great glory at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead. Advent helps us to be watchful and to prepare our hearts and lives so that we are always ready to receive the Lord whenever he comes to us.
Here are a few suggestions of things you can do during the approaching weeks to undertake such preparation. (1) get a good Catholic book for spiritual reading during the season. One possibility is a free book of Advent reflections offered by Bishop Robert Barron. Go to this site to order the book: https://books.wordonfire.org/adventbooks2023 (2) purchase an Advent calendar, and use an Advent wreath, to gradually mark the passage of the days and weeks leading up to Christmas. The door on the calendar can be opened, and the candles lit, during your family devotional time each day; (3) exercise restraint in decorating for Christmas, adding decorations little by little to build anticipation; (4) go to Confession, perhaps even weekly during Advent, to make the season a holy one so that you are able to celebrate Christmas fully reconciled to the Lord and His Church. Confessions are heard at OLR on Wednesdays at 4:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3:30 p.m., and Sundays at 9:00 a.m. (5) spend some time in prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament; (6) add daily Mass to your schedule as frequently as possible during the season; (7) focus less on giving and receiving material things, and more on practicing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy for others, perhaps giving spiritual bouquets as Christmas gifts this year; (8) attend the Advent Lessons and Carols service on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 7:00 p.m.
If we thus focus our hearts and minds these next few weeks on preparing to receive and welcome the Lord Jesus, then our Advent will be holy, and our celebration of Christmas genuine and joyous!
Fr. Richard Ballard