Q: Archbishop J, what do you hope for this Advent?
My hope this Advent is that each family will find ways in this season to deepen its relationship with Christ and among its members. This is the time when we contemplate the most beautiful and profound mysteries of our faith.
To choose, intentionally, as a family to enter into this time together will open the portal to the mystery that is Christ. In and through this mystery, the family will find its identity and thus its mission.
The purpose of Advent is to prepare for Christ’s coming. Many times, people skip Advent and go straight to Christmas—in October. This year let us, as families, use the Advent season to prepare for Christ’s birth in our hearts at Christmas time.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks about prayer this way: “The drama of prayer is fully revealed to us in the Word who became flesh and dwells among us” (2598).
Advent is given as gift by the Church so we can contemplate the drama and the events surrounding the birth of the Word who became flesh. Let us set aside these four weeks of Advent to make this most special journey towards Christ.
Several family activities during the Advent season can significantly enrich the journey to Christmas and the encounter with the Christ child. I will explore a few with you, to get you going.
The five candles—three purple, one rose coloured and one white—have been given various interpretations. We will use one convention here; there are others.
It will be wonderful to gather the family on each of the four Sundays of Advent to light the candle in a short prayer ritual. This will focus the family on Christ and assist its members to live the journey to Christmas.
The first candle symbolises ‘Hope’ and is often called the Prophet’s candle. It reminds us of the hope that the prophets had as they foretold the coming Messiah. They spoke to what they had not yet seen and waited for that which was not yet revealed. So too in this Advent we wait in hope for the coming of the Messiah to our families and our hearts.
The second candle symbolises ‘Faith’ and is called the Bethlehem candle. The prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). This prophecy led the Magi to the child. May it lead your family to the Christ child this year.
The third candle stands for ‘Joy’ and is called the Shepherd’s candle. This is the rose-coloured one. It is important when you light the first candle that you arrange it, so the rose-coloured candle is lit at the start of the third week.
This is the joyful Sunday of Advent, meant as a break from the penitential nature of the season, as we look forward more fully to the coming of Christ. The angels received great joy at His coming and so too your family will be abundantly blessed.
The fourth candle represents ‘Peace’ and is called the Angels’ candle. They were the ones who brought great peace when they greeted the shepherds. Their ministry to us brings us peace as we welcome God into our family and home.
The fifth candle, the white one, is placed in the middle of the wreath. It represents the coming of the Christ child. This is lit on Christmas Day.
Each week as you light a candle, reflect on the way your family experiences the particular theme or virtue in your family. What is there to hope for? How do we express our faith? How do we experience and express joy as a family? What brings us peace?
Purchase Advent Prayer and Reflection from the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission. It will assist you in having a great Advent season. You can purchase the wreath at most Catholic bookstores.
The Jesse Tree is a great family tradition. Again, its depiction varies greatly. One way is to place, each day of December, an ornament representing one of the historical figures or events that points or leads up to the coming of the Christ child. The activity requires choosing a Scripture for each day which gives the main idea for the ornament. The ornaments are put on the tree during a time of prayer and reflection on the verse of Scripture.
Making your crèche provides a very good catechetical moment. If the children are old enough have them research the concept of the crèche. Where did it come from? Why the animals, and their significance?
To involve the children in creating the Nativity scene is an important way to cultivate family traditions that transmit faith to the next generation.
When you build your crèche, do not put the child in just yet. Put the empty crib somewhere in the house as a reminder that we are waiting for the Messiah. Have the family pause before the empty crèche every day and pray for Christ’s coming.
Some families have the tradition of Advent angels. On the first Sunday of Advent have the family exchange names written on folded slips of paper. No-one should know his or her Advent angel. Each week do something nice for the person you have chosen. Become an Advent angel. At Christmas give the person a gift (from the ‘Advent angel’) and speak about the experience of being an Advent angel and receiving the love from your angel.
All of these suggestions are ways of creating holy moments during Advent. A holy moment is when we try, as best as we can, to make God’s will real in the moment.
Let us try this Advent to create one holy moment each day.
Advent is a great time for families, let us use this season to bring our families together in prayer and reflection.
Besides the activities recommended above, give something—food, toys, clothes—to a poor family this year.