How to ready one’s heart to welcome the Christ Child. “Advent is a time of waiting, conversion and of hope,” the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments reminds us.
Furthermore, popular piety “can contribute effectively to the conservation of many of the values of Advent, which are not infrequently threatened by the commercialization of Christmas and consumer superficiality.”
To counteract the commercialism, the Register offers 10 ways to prepare for Christmas.
Cultivate silence and reflection. “Given the busyness of the season and the many demands placed upon us to distract us to the real purpose — that we’re about to prepare for the Lord’s second coming and to welcome grace into our hearts to commemorate his coming to us in Bethlehem — we need to carve out time to be silent and reflect,” said Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut. It’s necessary “to save ourselves from busyness. Consciously set some time aside simply to rest in the Lord’s presence in prayer and to reflect.”
Return to reconciliation. “Make a good confession during the month of December,” recommended Father Gerald Murray, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Manhattan and a frequent guest on EWTN. “Bring the children.”
Read Scripture. Bishop Caggiano said he finds it “spiritually rewarding” in Advent when “setting aside time to read the prophets of the Old Testament like Isaiah and Micah, to meditate on them as the forbears, the harbingers of the Good News that would be realized in Christ.”
Rethink gifts. When selecting presents, Lisa Hendey, an author and founder of CatholicMom.com, said, “Our gifts at Christmastime traditionally reflect those gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi. In presenting tokens of love to our family and friends, we recall not only our affection for them, but also the ‘Reason for the Season.’”
To prepare for a peaceful, joy-filled Christmas, members of the Hendey family “thoughtfully select gifts which will not only bless our loved ones, but will bless those in need around the world,” she explained. “This sometimes means making donations to charitable organizations in the name of our loved ones or purchasing fair-trade gifts, or, more often, gifting an experience to be shared together, or a service or even the gift of time spent with a loved one — creating a special memory together.”
“Identify a charity that helps mothers and children and give them a Christmas gift,” suggested Father Murray. “In our parish, we help Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem. They have a foundation in America” (BirthplaceofHope.org).
He pointed out other possibilities, too, such as aiding local crisis-pregnancy centers. “They are always in need of help for mothers and their babies.” Another option is to “find an overseas orphanage run by the Catholic Church in places like Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Peru.”
He also said that, in his previous parish, “we collected toys for a halfway house for prisoners in the Bronx. These toys were for gifts for the families of the prisoners, and we got together with their families on Christmas.”
Hendey added, “Less time spent shopping means more time to savor all of the wonders of the Advent season and helps to prepare our hearts to remember the birth of our Savior.”
Light a Mary candle. Often forgotten is the custom of a “Mary candle.” Our Lady teaches us to patiently prepare for the birth of Jesus like she did. As Pope Francis said in his Dec. 8, 2013, homily, “Mary sustains our journey toward Christmas, for she teaches us how to live this Advent season in expectation of the Lord.”
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a good day to place a white candle decorated with a “mantle” of white silk or cloth tied with a blue ribbon before a statue or picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, explains Helen McLoughlin in Family Advent Customs.
“It serves as an eloquent reminder of Mary’s eager expectation of the ‘Light of the World’ and helps members of the family keep their own light of grace burning brightly as the best preparation for his coming.”
Around the candle, the family can pray the Magnificat and sing Marian hymns.
Create a family shrine. In The Year of the Lord in the Christian Home, Jesuit Father Francis Weiser recommends creating a family shrine that can serve as a focal point for preparing for Christmas and be “an appropriate symbol to all members that their lives belong to God; that religion and prayer are not merely a Sunday affair (and) that the Christian home is a holy place.”
The shrine can have an Advent wreath or statue or pictures connected with Christmas. Father Weiser suggests an Advent Crib, but without the Infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Shepherds tending sheep can be a little distance from the crib in the stable with the empty manger.
“It is amazing how well children will enter into the spirit and true understanding of such a visual representation of Advent,” the priest explains. “It teaches them to look forward to the arrival of the Savior, to prepare their hearts, and prayerfully to desire his great feast day. Now these thoughts are exactly what the Church expresses in her Advent liturgy.”
Be kind for Christ. McLoughlin recommends, at the beginning of Advent, each child in the family receive an empty manger. At day’s end, each gets a straw for every kind deed they performed in honor of Infant Jesus. They place the straw in their mangers daily to make sure that when the Infant Jesus arrives, he has a soft bed made of their gifts of virtue and devotion.
Explains McLoughlin, “It is amazing how much love a child can put into Advent when he or she is preparing for his Redeemer’s coming in grace.”
Pick up the phone. “Make a Christmas resolution to give a call to relatives you don’t see because they live far away,” said Father Murray. “‘I was thinking of you at Christmas and wondering how you’re doing?’ shows you don’t forget about them.”
Invite someone to Mass. As Christmas Eve and Day approaches, Hendey recommends inviting someone to “the birthday party.”
“We endeavor to plan the rest of our holiday events around Christmas Mass,” she said. “We find this a wonderful time to invite friends, more distant family and others who have been away from the Church for any reason or who may never have experienced Mass to join us for this special time of prayer.
“It offers us the chance to share with them the beautiful reason for our hope: our faith in Jesus Christ.”
00 “I’m a big believer in the power of the table,” said Bishop Caggiano. “I think the season of Advent and Christmas is the ideal time to make a conscious decision to spend it with family and friends, to spend it around the table. Take the time to share a meal, a luncheon, a cup of coffee. Enjoy each other’s company and be grateful for the ones you love and spend time with them around the table. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate Advent and Christmas.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.