While the secular world embarks on the consumer frenzy of preparations for the “holidays”, the liturgical traditions of our faith invite us to “Prepare the way of the Lord!” using rituals and devotions that draw us deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation. Various cultural and ethnic groups have Advent traditions such as Simbang Gabi from the Philippines, Rorate Masses from Germanic lands, and Las Posadas from Latin America. If your parish has communities that celebrate any of these or other traditions, consider learning about the tradition, connecting with Catholics from other cultures, and exploring a new dimension of season of Advent. In this article, I would like to draw your attention to some of the liturgical events happening in our diocese, some feast days, and some sacramentals you may wish to celebrate in your home or parish this Advent.
Rejoice in God’s Mercy
“Prepare the way of the Lord!” The liturgical colour for Advent is violet, which indicates the penitential dimension of the season. Preparing for Christmas means not only food and gifts but also preparing our hearts to receive Jesus through the process of conversion and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Again this year the Diocese of Calgary wants to extend, in a focused way, God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness with the initiative “Rejoice in God’s Mercy”. Although the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available year round, during Advent 2013 (and Lent 2014) all parishes will have the sacrament available on Wednesday evenings in Advent: December 4, 11, and 18.
New Liturgical Year, New Gospel
The liturgical year of the Roman Church begins with the First Sunday of Advent. The readings are arranged on a three-year cycle, with each year featuring a different Gospel though portions of John’s Gospel are read each year. This Advent we begin Year A and will hear mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. Consider organizing a special mission, retreat, or Bible study that introduces the Gospel of Matthew to the participants. Such a study would be especially useful for ministers of the Word including lectors, psalmists, and music ministers. You might even ritualise a thanksgiving to the Gospel of Luke heard this year and a welcome to the Gospel of Matthew.
The Advent wreath is a familiar tradition in our parishes but it also has a place in the home. The circular shape of the wreath symbolizes the eternal love of God, without beginning or end. The wreath bears four candles, one for each week of Advent. In the first week of Advent, you would light one candle before daily prayer, two during the second week, three during the third, and finally four candles so that the light increases as we approach the birth of Jesus, the Light of the world! In North American it is customary that three of the candles are purple but the one we light on the third Sunday, gaudete or rejoice Sunday, is pink as an encouragement to us through the season.
December 6, Feast of St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas was a fourth-century Bishop of Myra in Turkey. He is known for helping the three daughters of a poor man who wanted to marry but lacked the dowry. St. Nicholas threw three bags of gold, one for each daughter, through their window at night. Our Christian tradition has often seen a community elder dressed as the saint ask children to tell his story as well as to ask whether they have been diligent in their responsibilities. Ultimately, the message of St. Nicholas is to encourage us to show kindness and care for one another especially as we prepare to give gifts at Christmas. St. Nicholas sometimes delivers candy canes, reminiscent of his Bishop’s crosier, and tangerines as a reminder of the bags of gold he donated to the three daughters.
December 8 (Transferred to December 9 in 2013), Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the patron of the Diocese of Calgary. From early Christian times, Christians held the belief that Mary was preserved from sin from the moment of her conception. In 1854 the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was declared formally. Four years later, Mary appeared to a teenage girl in Lourdes France saying: “I am the immaculate conception”. Miracles and healing followed at the site. Mary did nothing to earn this privilege of being without sin but it was God’s gift to prepare her for the role as the mother of God. This feast is an opportunity to call upon the Mother of God, to recognize God’s goodness towards us, and to offer thanksgiving.
December 12, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe brought the promise of justice and hope to the indigenous people of Mexico. Today she continues the promise for all oppressed people. She is the patron of the Americas and the patron of the unborn. This year the Vigil for the Protection of Human Life will be observed on December 12th. Parishes are invited to celebrate the vigil in their own communities and a special service will be held at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary at 7pm to pray for the protection of the unborn.
December 13, Memorial of St. Lucy
St. Lucy was a third century martyr from Italy known for dedicating her life to Jesus and giving her dowry money to the poor. Her name means, “light” and she is the patron of the eyes. In the Middle Ages there was a tradition that St. Lucy was seen bringing bread to feed the hungry during a famine. The people of Sweden have a great devotion to St. Lucy. There, a young woman or girl dresses as St. Lucy, in white with a red sash and a crown of candles, and brings pastries to share. A white candle with a red ribbon could accompany prayer on this day. You might want to offer special intercessions for and service to those with eye problems as well as bless and share food especially with the poor.
- Blessings and Prayers Through the Year: A Resource for School, Parish, and Home, Elizabeth McMahon Jeep
- Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops