Regardless of what major retailers and the secular culture may be telling you, ’tis not the season of Christmas…yet. It is not time to deck the halls with boughs of holly, and if you happen to find yourself driving past a Christmas tree lot, fight the urge to pull over. Instead, dare to be counter-cultural. Why? Because we are Catholic and it is Advent.
Advent comes from the Latin “ad-venire”, which means “to come to”. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website explains:
“Beginning the Church’s liturgical year, Advent is the season leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The Advent season is 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.”
In The Liturgical Year ,19th century Benedictine abbot and liturgist Dom Prosper Gueranger quotes St. Bernard when he writes:
“In the first coming He comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in spirit and in power; in the third, He comes in glory and in majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.” (Fifth sermon for Advent).
Indeed, Advent is a penitential season which is why the liturgical color selected by Holy Mother Church is purple. In preparation for the coming of the Christ we must not avoid introspection, but instead should undertake serious reflection. Penance, abstinence and fasting are all means by which we can more appropriately enter into the season at hand. Once again, the U.S. bishops:
“Changing customs, especially in connection with preparation for Christmas, have diminished popular appreciation of the Advent season. Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to be anticipated in the days of the Advent season. As a result, this season has unfortunately lost in great measure the role of penitential preparation for Christmas that it once had.” (Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1966).
As Catholics, what can we do in the face of our increasingly materialistic and highly secularized culture?
First, do not feel the need to go along to get along. Just because everyone else is doing it is not an excuse. This is the beginning of the new liturgical year for the Church, and not simply the biggest shopping season of the year. It is also not mandatory that you decorate your house early simply because friends, family and neighbors are doing so. Dare to be counter-cultural, because we’re Catholic and it’s Advent.
Second, begin the season of Advent with a sincere and exhaustive Examination of Conscience and then go to Confession. This is a time to prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord.
Third, give up something for Advent just as you would for Lent. This can be difficult during the season as many others are already celebrating with parties, exchanges, candy and more. Little sacrifices and penances, however, are excellent ways to help us grow in virtue and holiness.
Finally, there are a multitude of great devotions and practices that you and your family can incorporate to prepare yourselves, such as: an Advent wreath, the blessing of your Christmas Tree; an Advent calendar, the “O” Antiphons of Advent and finally, the Jesse Tree with readings and ornaments. In the beautiful and anticipatory words of the classic seasonal hymn:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.