Showing posts with label Sacraments. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sacraments. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Seven Weeks of Easter: Suggestions for a Catholic Celebration of Eastertide

The Catholic Church celebrates Easter for seven weeks, all the way from Holy Saturday to Pentecost. Long after the discounted chocolate eggs and bunnies have disappeared from the store shelves, Catholics still sing Easter songs and reflect on Easter-themed readings at Mass. But as the popular culture quickly moves on from Easter, it's tempting for Catholics to do the same in their everyday lives, doing nothing in particular to mark the season. So let us look at how we can make Eastertide a period of special celebration, not just for one day, but for seven full weeks.

Decorations: Enrich your home with Easter decorations, but wait until Easter Sunday, or at the earliest Holy Saturday to display them, so as to preserve the Lenten atmosphere up to that point. Make sure that you include explicitly Catholic symbols in your decorations, such crosses, images of Christ, and Eucharistic symbols. Spring-themed decorations are fine in and of themselves, as a symbol of the new life we receive through the death and resurrection of Christ, but we shouldn't let spring imagery take the place of the explicitly Catholic imagery in our Catholic homes.

At the same time, some images that seem like purely natural spring motifs have deep Catholic significance. Lamb imagery symbolizes Christ as the lamb of God, who offered himself as the Paschal sacrifice. Lambs also signify the faithful, whom Christ the Good Shepherd gathers in his flock.

But what about the Easter bunny and Easter eggs? Some would argue that both of these are pagan symbols, and therefore should be shunned, but they both actually have Catholic roots. The ancients believed that bunnies could multiply through parthenogenesis, that is to say, through virgin birth, and therefore, the rabbit became a sign of virginal purity, symbolizing especially the purest woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Given Our Lady's special connection to the Lord, the symbol of the bunny became associated with Easter.

Easter eggs have even more ancient roots, going back to the earliest days of the Church. The hard shell of the eggs symbolized the tomb of Christ, and the egg emerging out of the shell signified the resurrection of Christ. Later, as Lenten practices became quite strict, Catholics gave up eating all animal products, including eggs from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. Since at Easter they could eat eggs again, eggs became an important part of Easter celebrations, both in terms of food, but eventually also for decorations. The exquisite painting of eggs became a special form of folk art associated with Easter. Images of newly hatched chicks also tie into this symbolism of the resurrection.

Among the decorations, you could also include a Resurrection Set, an Easter equivalent of the Manger Scene. You can find some pre-made ones online, but you can build your own too. You could use rocks to represent the hill of Golgotha. Here you could place a cross or three crosses. Next to it, you could use rocks to make an empty tomb. Small statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, angels, and some other sacred figures can depict the Resurrection narratives from the Gospels.

Make sure you leave your Easter decorations up all the way through Pentecost. Visitors might wonder why you have not yet gotten around to taking your Easter things down, but that could be a good conversation starter about the length and nature of Eastertide in the Catholic Church.

The Truth About the Easter Bunny

The Story of Mary Magdalene and the First Easter Egg

Easter Candy Centerpiece- The Empty Tomb!

Decorate Your Own Eggs: Dyeing Easter eggs is fun, especially if you have kids at home. Take some time before Easter to dye hardboiled eggs to be served up on Easter Sunday and in the following days. Add meaningful Christian symbols using paint or stickers. If you are more artistic, trying painting more elaborate designs on the eggs yourself. You can also get some beautiful painted wooden Easter eggs online or from some ethnic stores.

New Clothes: Many people indulge in new clothes and shoes before Easter. If you can, continue this tradition to get a new outfit to wear for the first time on Easter Sunday. Show your love and respect for the day by wearing something special.

Volunteer: Easter is not only the holiest time of the Church calendar, but it is also the busiest, busier than even Christmas. Every parish needs lots of volunteers for a variety of tasks: administrative and liturgical preparations, various ministers for the many different liturgies, clean-up after the crowds have gone home, etc. Contact your local parish and ask how you can help. Many hands make light work – and you are sure to have some skills that would be very useful amid all the work that needs to get done.

Triduum: The best way to enter into the liturgical celebration of Easter is to attend the Triduum liturgies of the Church. The Triduum, literally meaning three days, goes from the evening of Holy Thursday through the evening of Easter Sunday. On Holy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper, in the course of which Christ instituted the Eucharist. On Good Friday, we reflect on the crucifixion of Christ, through which he offered the sacrifice that reconciled humanity with God. As we pray together on Good Friday, we also remember that every Mass is a mystical participation in the sacrifice offered by Christ on the Cross. The next day, on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins our celebration of the resurrection. At the Easter Vigil, we also celebrate the full initiation of the elect through baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion. Validly baptized converts from other Christian denominations are also given Confirmation and the Eucharist at this Mass.

The Triduum liturgies, when done well, are beautiful, powerful, and deeply moving. They help us enter more deeply into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, the central tenets of our faith. If you have not yet been to the Triduum liturgies before, find out when they are at your local parish and make sure to attend.

Easter Sunday Mass: The Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday counts as your Easter Mass, but continue your celebration by returning on Easter Sunday too. Join the multitudes to pray together and to share the Easter joy.

There will be many newcomers, or those who only attend on Christmas and Easter. Make sure to show them hospitality and kindness. Be patient with them if they take your favorite spot or disturb you somehow with their behavior. Help them feel welcome enough to want to come back the next Sunday too. If they are acting very inappropriately, commit to praying for them daily throughout the rest of the Easter season.

Easter Food Blessing: In some parts of the Church, Catholics observe the custom of the blessing of the Easter foods. The faithful bring to church some of the food they are planning to serve at their festive Easter meal. The priest prays over all the food and blesses it. If your parish observes this custom, take advantage of it, and bring some Easter dishes to be blessed. If the food blessing is not a custom at your church, ask the priest if he would be willing to offer this blessing either on Holy Saturday or perhaps after one of the Easter Masses.

Easter Dinner: Make your Easter meal a time of special celebration. Bring out your finest china. Prepare your best dishes. Gather with family and friends if you can. If you don't have loved ones in the area or friends who could celebrate with you, look to see if perhaps there is a community brunch in the area that you could attend.

If you are able to cook, try some traditional Easter foods. If you haven't already done so, look into the culinary traditions of your cultural background and try your hand at traditional Easter foods. If your research leads you to some other attractive Easter dishes too, feel free to experiment with these as well.

Easter Candle: During the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, the priest lights the Easter fire. From the Easter fire, he then lights the Easter candle (also known as the Paschal or Christ candle), usually a candle of massive proportions, which then is lit at different moments during the year, until a new candle is blessed at the following Easter Vigil.

To connect your personal prayer life with the liturgical life of the Church, get a white pillar candle for your home and set it up in your prayer area. If you are good with crafts, you can decorate it with symbols relating to Easter. Light this candle during your prayer time every day in the Easter season. Also, set it on your dining table and light it for dinners until Pentecost.

Octave of Easter: Easter is one of the two feasts of the Catholic liturgical year (the other one being Christmas) that transpire over eight days, hence the designation "octave," meaning eight. While the Easter season goes on for seven weeks, the feast of Easter goes on for eight days. If you can, go to Mass every day during the Octave. Go to Adoration. Have a longer prayer time at home.

Also, keep all of these days festive in your home. Continue using your best china. Make special dishes. Dress up the dining table with flowers. Or eat at out at nice places to celebrate.

Divine Mercy Sunday: St. John Paul II designated the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday, in accordance with the request of Christ given to the Church through the visions of a Polish nun, St. Faustina. On this day especially, Catholics are encouraged to reflect on God's infinite mercy for the world. Despite the increasing decay of our society, God's desire is that we experience not destruction or punishment, but his mercy. He demonstrated his mercy for us through his suffering on Good Friday. Now he wants us to be cleanses and find true union with him.

During her visions of Jesus, St. Faustina was instructed to have an image of the Divine Mercy painted. The image depicts Christ with rays of white and red light coming from his heart. Underneath is an inscription that says: "Jesus, I trust in you." If you do not already have this image displayed in your home, do so on Divine Mercy Sunday.

As you prepare for this feast day, pray the Novena to the Divine Mercy starting on Good Friday. (A novena is a set of nine prayers, prayed over nine consecutive days leading up to a feast.) On Divine Mercy Sunday, or the Saturday before, go to Confession. Through the visions of St. Faustina, Christ promised a great outpouring of graces on those who go to Confession in connection with the Divine Mercy Sunday.

The primary prayer associated with the Divine Mercy devotion is the Divine Mercy Chaplet, prayed using a regular rosary. Pray this chaplet on Divine Mercy Sunday, and consider praying it throughout the rest of Eastertide.

The Divine Mercy

Divine Mercy Novena

Divine Mercy Chaplet

Learn from Your Lent: How did you manage with your Lenten commitments? If you gave something up, were you able to stick with your plan? If you failed, use that as a learning experience. Failures in our attempts to gain a greater sense of discipline over ourselves can highlight areas in which we need to grow. If I tried to give something up and was not able to, then perhaps whatever that is has too much control over me, and I need to invest more time and energy into breaking its hold over me. Perhaps I am dealing with stress and anxiety in the wrong way, and I need a course correction. I need to reach out more for God's grace.

If you managed to break a bad habit during Lent, make sure you continue with your new sense of freedom from it during Easter. Eastertide is not a time to fall back into a bad habit you were able to give up. Likewise, if you were able to establish a new good habit during Lent, for example, praying more daily, then don't give it up now. Make it an integral part of your life and enjoy the sense of growth.

Special Meals on the Sundays of Easter: As Eastertide unfolds, make every Sunday a special day of celebration. As during the Octave of Easter, make dinner a special occasion, either by putting on a fancy meal at home or by going out to eat. On these days, gather with family and friends if you can.

Express Your Gratitude: During Eastertide, thank your priest and the many others who worked so hard to make everything happen at your parish. Priests and others involved in church work usually only hear from people when they are displeased. So be the one to give them a note of thanks. Send your pastor and his staff a card. Or send some emails of gratitude to the key people involved. Give a box of chocolates to the choir director to share with singers. Be creative.

Special Prayers: Some special prayers are associated with Eastertide. I have already talked about the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, which reflect on the glory of the resurrection, are especially meaningful to pray during the Easter season.

Also, by custom, the Regina Coeli is prayed in place of the Angelus during Easterside. Traditionally, the Angelus is prayed at 6:00am, noon and 6:00pm every day. I myself pray it when I wake up, then at noon and 6:00pm, as far as I can remember, and also right before I go to sleep. I always follow it up with the Memorare prayer. If you do not yet pray the Angelus, incorporate the Regina Coeli into your life during Eastertide, then switch to the Angelus prayer after Pentecost.

Regina Coeli Prayer

Angelus Prayer

Alleluia: During Lent, Catholics don't use the word "alleluia" at Mass or in other prayers. In fact, in some places, people actually write the word "alleluia" on a scroll, which they then bury until Easter, when the alleluia returns to our prayers. If you followed my Lenten suggestions, you may have done something to this effect yourself. If so, dig up the alleluia on Easter Sunday. But if you didn't, you can still celebrate the return of alleluia. In your daily prayers, sing some alleluia songs during Eastertide. If you are not much for singing, you can find many such songs on YouTube, which you can play during your prayer time or at other times of the day.

Connect with the Sacraments: As discussed above, the Church celebrates the three Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and First Holy Communion, during the Easter Vigil. Over the course of the Easter season, reflect on how these sacraments have shaped your life.

In baptism, we are called to be priest, prophet, and king. An entire book could be written on this sense of vocation. I offer here an article from Word on Fire:

Priests, Prophets, Kings by Bishop Robert Baron

In Confirmation, we receive the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which produce within us twelve fruits. During Eastertide, contemplate how these gifts and fruits are manifested in your life now, and pray for those you would like to see more clearly manifested in how you live your life.

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

7 Gifts and 12 Fruits Of The Holy Spirit That Sanctify Us And Make Us Into Other Christs

Attend Mass as often as you can during Eastertide. Make a habit of going to Adoration. If your local church does not have Adoration, respectfully inquire if that might be a possibility. If you have no access to formal Adoration, try to find a church where you can pray before the tabernacle. During your quiet reflection time, consider reading old spiritual book The Imitation of Christ, especially the meditations on the Eucharist.

Hopefully, as suggested, you had the chance to go to Confession at least once during the Lenten season. Build on that by going to Confession again during Eastertide, preferably during each month spanned by the season. Work on getting into the habit of going at least once a month.

As during Eastertide, pray for all those who are sick and are in need of healing. Pray also for the priesthood, especially in this time of crisis, when the healing and restoration of the priesthood is so badly needed. Pray for a priest or several priests by name. Pray also for all married couples to be able to live out their vocation to marriage, especially as our culture places more and more obstacles in the way of married life.

If you are married, focus on ways that you can enrich your marriage during Eastertide. Here some suggestions, based on ones I gave for Lent:

● Pray together every night. It is very important for married couples to spend at least a few minutes in prayer together every day. If you are not already praying together daily, make this a part of your Eastertide focus.

● Consecrate your marriage to our Blessed Mother every Saturday during Eastertide. Traditionally, Saturdays are dedicated to our Blessed Mother, because, unlike the other disciples, who despaired, she believe in the resurrection and remained filled with faith.

● Say a blessing over each other every day during Eastertide, preferably in person, but if that is not possible, from a distance. Pray to each other's guardian angel for blessings.

● If you have kids, pray a blessing over your children every day during Eastertide, preferably while they are present, but you can do so in their absence too. Consecrate your children to the protection of our Holy Mother every Saturday during Eastertide. Pray to the guardian angels of your children to help them be fully open to the love of God in their lives.

Below are some sample prayers you can use:

Prayer of Consecration to Our Lady for Couples

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
Queen of Angels, Queen of Peace,
Queen of Martyrs and of All the Saints,
Today we consecrate our marriage to you.
Guide us, guard us, help us, and protect us.
Keep us safe from all attacks of the enemy,
All evil spirits seeking to destroy us.

Dear Mother,
Guide all our thoughts, words, and actions,
So that in all things we may live out God's will in our lives,
And that at all times we may draw closer to your Divine Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help us help each other grow in holiness, advancing each day
On the way of salvation and sanctification
So that we may join you and all the holy angels and saints
In giving glory, honor, and praise to our God
With our whole being, with all that we are.

Prayer of Consecrating Our Children to Our Lady
(Adapt as needed)

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
Queen of Angels, Queen of Peace,
Queen of Martyrs and of All the Saints,
Today I consecrate my children to you.
Guide them, guard them, help them, and protect them.
Keep them safe from all attacks of the enemy,
All evil spirits seeking to destroy them.

Dear Mother,
Guide all their thoughts, words, and actions,
So that in all things they may live out God's will in their lives,
And that at all times they may draw closer to your Divine Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Help me help them grow in holiness, advancing each day
On the way of salvation and sanctification
So that they may join you and all the holy angels and saints
In giving glory, honor, and praise to our God
With their whole being, with all that they are.

Prayer of Blessing (Female Version)

Lord Jesus Christ, glorious King of Kings,
I pray that you bless [name] my [wife or daughter].
Send your Holy Spirit upon her, and anoint her.
Cleanse her spiritually,
Keep her safe from all evil, all attacks of the enemy.
Heal her and keep her whole in body, mind, and spirit,
Help her love you with her whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Let her experience your infinite love for her,
Let her always say yes to the promptings of your Holy Spirit,
And let her be a shining beacon of your love in the world.

I pray also for the protection of our Holy Mother,
The Blessed Virgin Mary over [name],
And of all the holy angels, martyrs, and saints.
I ask all the holy souls in Purgatory to pray for her.

I also ask you, holy guardian angel of [name]
To watch over her, help her, guide her, and protect her,
And help to lead her to full union with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Blessing (Male Version)

Lord Jesus Christ, glorious King of Kings,
I pray that you bless [name] my [husband or son].
Send your Holy Spirit upon him, and anoint him.
Cleanse him spiritually,
Keep him safe from all evil, all attacks of the enemy.
Heal him and keep him whole in body, mind, and spirit,
Help him love you with his whole heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Let him experience your infinite love for him,
Let him always say yes to the promptings of your Holy Spirit,
And let him be a shining beacon of your love in the world.

I pray also for the protection of our Holy Mother,
The Blessed Virgin Mary over [name],
And of all the holy angels, martyrs, and saints.
I ask all the holy souls in Purgatory to pray for him.

I also ask you, holy guardian angel of [name]
To watch over him, help him, guide him, and protect him,
And help to lead him to full union with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Contemplate the Resurrection:
At the core of our Catholic faith is our belief that Christ rose from the dead. We too will share in the resurrection of Christ. We too will rise from the dead. First, when we die, our soul will live on without our body until the Second Coming of Christ. At the Second Coming, our bodies will be raised from the dead and will be reunited with our souls. Our new body will be a perfected body, no longer subject to the limitations of physical life. Our new body will not age, will not suffer, and will never die.

As we deal with the vicissitudes of daily life, let us remember, during the Easter season, that our ultimate hope is the resurrection. Everything in this life will pass away. But we will be raised to a new life in Christ that will last forever.

Reach Out to Newly Baptized:
As discussed above, the Catholic Church administers the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. The people who are received into the Church at this time go through a lengthy initiation process. In the Easter season, they are starting their lives as new Catholics, or neophytes. Help them feel more at home by reaching out to them. Say hi and introduce yourself. Invite them to the different areas of church life you are involved in.

Wear an Easter Pin:
Various websites like Etsy sell pins with an Easter message, like "Happy Easter" or "He lives!" Consider wearing a pin like this throughout the Easter season, until Pentecost. People might ask why you are still clinging to Easter so long after the fact, but, as with the Easter decorations, such questions can be a great conversation starter to talk about the length and nature of Easter from a Catholic perspective.

Celebrate the Feasts: During Eastertide, the Church celebrates the feasts of a number of saints. Which saints exactly, will depend on the date of Easter. Look at a liturgical calendar for the season and take note of the feasts of saints that will be celebrated, especially of saints that you more particularly feel connected to. Make a point of doing something special for these days, such as going to Mass, spending time in Adoration, saying prayers to the saint, or having a special meal.

Focus on Mary in May: In addition to celebrating individual feast days of saints, we should focus on honoring the Queen of Saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the whole of May, a month dedicated to her. Depending on where Easter falls all of May might be within Eastertide, but at least a portion of of it will be.

Make a crown of flowers, using either real or realistic looking plastic flowers. On May first, place the crown on a statue of Our Lady in your home, either inside or in your garden, depending on your situation. If you don't have a statue yet, this would be a great time to install one. Keep the crown on the statue until the last day of the month. (If you used real flowers, you will have to replace it probably more than once.) During your daily prayers, make sure you include Marian prayers, especially the Rosary. Consider making a commitment to make at least one post per day relating to the Virgin Mary on one of your social media accounts in order to bring the joy of Our Lady to others as well.

The Ascension: Traditionally, the feast of the Ascension has been celebrated on a Thursday, but in some parts of the Church, the feast has been transferred to Sunday. After the resurrection, Christ spent 40 days with the disciples, appearing at different times to different people. The Ascension marks the time when Christ completed this last phase of his earthly ministry and was taken up to Haven.

In addition to the celebration at Mass, you can celebrate the feast of the Ascension by driving or hiking to an elevated site, or going up to a very tall building, like a skyscraper, to remember Christ ascending from our realm to Heaven.

Novena to the Holy Spirit: The feast of the Ascension also signals that we are drawing near to the end of the Easter season, which is Pentecost. At Pentecost, we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, which marks the beginning of the Catholic Church. Prepare for this celebration of the profound outpouring of the Holy Spirit by praying a Novena to the Holy Spirit, prayed each night from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost.

Novena To the Holy Spirit

Wear Red on Pentecost: At Pentecost the Easter season comes to an end, but we are not done celebrating yet. On this day, we celebrate the birthday of the Church, as the power of the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the disciples. Since red is the color associated with the anointing of the Holy Spirit, wear red on this day both to church and throughout the day. If anyone asks why, you will have a great conversation started. As you take down the Easter decorations on this day, you can now decorate your home with images of flames and doves – both of which represent the Holy Spirit.

The Feasts Go On: Immediately after Pentecost we have two more significant feast days. The first is Holy Trinity Sunday, which is followed by Corpus Christi, also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. On Holy Trinity Sunday, we should reflect on all that God has accomplished in the world, marked by our liturgical feasts from the incarnation of Christ at Christmas, to reflections on the earthy ministry of Christ in ordinary time, to the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, to the redemption of the world on Good Friday, to Christ's triumph over death and all evil through his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

On Corpus Christi, we should reflect on what is yet to come – the Second Coming of Christ. As we await his coming and go about our daily lives seeking to live out his Gospel, we should remember that he is already with us body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharistic bread and wine. Through our weekly, if not more frequent, reception of the Eucharist, we have the strength to carry our cross and to grow to love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.

Printable Format: This article is available for download as a PDF. Please feel free to share the PDF with others either electronically or in printed format.

Seven Weeks of Easter: Suggestions for a Catholic Celebration of Eastertide PDF

Photo Credit: The Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine and a Shepherd, popularly known The Madonna of the Rabbit by Titian from the Louvre.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Have Yourself a Very Blessed Advent: How to Reclaim the Catholic Character of the Advent Season

Our culture starts to celebrate Christmas at best at midnight after Thanksgiving, but more and more at midnight after Halloween. However, in the Catholic Church, we do not start the Christmas season until the evening of December 24. Instead, we have a four-week preparation time leading up to Christmas called Advent, which begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day, celebrated on November 30th. In the Catholic Church, the Christmas season then continues into January, until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In fact, in an older Catholic tradition, Christmas celebrations didn't end until Candlemas, which is February 2.

I'm not an Advent purist. I realize it's impossible not to engage in some early Christmas celebration, since our culture is awash with all things Christmas all the way through Advent. But in the midst of all that Christmas cheer, we can do much to reconnect with the original purpose of the Advent season and to reintroduce Advent customs developed in the Catholic Church throughout the centuries, throughout the world. Below are some suggestions for celebrating Advent in the Catholic way.

Reclaiming the Focus of Advent
The first step is to intentionally reconnect with the original focus of Advent, which is threefold:
- Preparing for the liturgical celebration of the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God.
- Becoming spiritually purified so that we can be more fully opened to the presence of Christ in our daily lives.
- Preparing ourselves and the world for the Second Coming of Christ.
When we enter into the Advent season with this focus, the many different Advent traditions fall into place naturally.

Advent Traditions
Please note: For this section, I relied heavily on the following article:
How to Celebrate Advent Like a Catholic

Advent Wreath: One of the most beloved Advent traditions is the Advent wreath, made of evergreen boughs, with four candles – three purple and one pink. On the first Sunday of Advent, you light one purple candle. On the second Sunday, you light two. On the third Sunday, you light the first two purple ones and the pink one. Pink or rose color is used on the third Sunday of Advent, which is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for rejoice. We are rejoicing because we are halfway to Christmas. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, you light all four candles. The increasing light of the candles symbolizes that the coming of Christ, who is the light of the world, is closer and closer.

If you do not have a custom of praying with your family at home each day, Advent is a great time to start. Gather around the Advent wreath each night, light the appropriate number of Candles, and say some prayers. Once you start in Advent, it is easier to continue with the evening prayers the rest of the year.

The Jesse Tree: The name of the Jesse Tree references the biblical prophecy that the Messiah will come in the line of Jesse, the father of the great King David (Isaiah 11:1-4). This hands-on Advent custom uses a small tree or a specially designed display board to trace our biblical history leading up to Jesus. Each night of Advent you add an ornament representing a biblical figure or event preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. You can order a Jesse Tree kit with ornaments online, or you can make them yourself if you are good at crafts. If you set up your Christmas tree already at the beginning of Advent, you can also add the Jesse Tree ornaments to you Christmas tree, though it might be fun to have a separate Jesse Tree corner.

As you add each ornament, you can read a few verses from the Bible corresponding to the symbol on the ornament of the day. Some premade ornaments will come with the relevant Scripture verses inscribed on the back. You can also find online guides for which passage to use with which symbol, as well as books that include the readings with reflections. The links below provide some leads.

The Tradition of the Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree

Advent Calendar: You can find a variety of Advent calendars in different places – both Catholic and secular stores and online. Advent Calendars typically start on December 1 and go through Christmas Day. Each day, you open a door, which leads you to some sort of surprise. Some calendars provide a chocolate for each day. Others, like the Lego Advent calendar, might offer a toy. In fact, I see from the posts of my Hungarian friends that they have gone beyond just a simple calendar. At the beginning of Advent, they display 24 little gift bags for each of the children somewhere in the home, and the kids get to open them as the Advent season unfolds.

Some Advent calendars have an adult theme, such as one I saw recently, which held a different type of beer for every day of Advent. While I don't think that an alcohol Advent calendar is inherently wrong, we do need to be careful not to turn the custom of the Advent calendar into something sacrilegious.

By contrast, the more spiritually focused Advent calendars will reveal a new Scripture passage, a blessing, or some other meaningful saying as you open up the door each day. If you have kids, the chocolate or toy calendars can be a fun tradition that can help them look forward to the Advent season. However, whatever kind of calendar you end up using, I would suggest opening each door in the context of an Advent prayer for that day.

Sunday Dinners: During the season of Advent, make a point of having Sunday dinner with family or friends. If you invite friends, you can make it a potluck. Or you could all go out to eat, especially if eating out is more of a special occasion for the family or circle of friends. Intentionally connect the dinner with the celebration of the Sunday in Advent. Start the dinner with an Advent prayer or Scripture passage, such as the Gospel reading for that Sunday. At home, you could place the Advent wreath in the middle of the table, with the appropriate number of candles lit.

Set Up Nativity Set in Stages: You can start setting up your Nativity Set at the beginning of Advent, but don't put everything out at once. Do it in stages, as a way of symbolizing that we haven't yet arrived at Christmas, but are gradually drawing near. For example, set out the animals the first week. Then add Mary and Joseph the second week. Add the angels the third week. Add the shepherds the fourth week.

Wait until Christmas Eve to place the baby Jesus in the manger. Some churches offer a Bambinelli blessing during Advent, when parishioners are encouraged to bring the baby Jesus figure from their Nativity Set to church for a blessing by the priest. If your parish doesn't celebrate this custom, perhaps you could ask your pastor to consider offering this blessing.

Finally, wait until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 (sometimes celebrated on the nearest Sunday) to set out the three wise men. As mentioned above, traditionally Catholics would keep celebrating Christmas until February 2. Even if you put away all the other decorations by then, leave your Nativity Set out until February 2 to rekindle our connection with this older tradition.

Blessing the Christmas Tree: Christians use the Christmas tree as a symbol of the coming of Christ into the world. The many lights on the tree symbolize Christ, the light of the world, bringing light into our darkness. The evergreen tree symbolizes rebirth, renewal, and eternal life in Christ. The triangular shape of the tree is seen as referring to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The ornaments on the tree represent Christ's gift of grace to us, as well as our worship being offered to God.

As we prepare our Christmas tree, we should bear in mind the symbolism that Christians associate with this custom, and we should avoid ornaments that would take us in a different direction. Once our tree is set up, we should also bless the tree, thereby reminding ourselves of the sacred purpose for which we have set it up. Most priests probably do not have enough time to bless each Christmas tree in their parish, but Catholics are welcome to bless their own tree, using blessings provided by the Church. See for example the blessing recommended by the United States Conference of Bishops:

Blessing of a Christmas Tree

Leave a Candle in the Window: During the Advent season, leave a candle in a window that can be seen from the street. You could use a purple candle holder, and then switch to a red one for the Christmas season. Just make sure you burn your candle safely. Consider using an electronic tea light, which does not pose a fire hazard.

Advent Foods: One way to celebrate liturgical seasons is to partake of foods traditionally associated with each season. Advent foods have disappeared from mainstream Catholic consciousness in the United States, but we can certainly bring them back. Various blogs offer suggestions, complete with detail recipes. I will link to two here, but you can easily find more on the web.

Advent Foods for Feast Days and Everything Else

Recipes for December ~ Month Dedicated to the Divine Infancy

Listen to Advent Music: Throughout the month of December, our culture is awash with Christmas music. We cannot avoid hearing Christmas music during Advent, nor do I think that we need to try. However, we should also make a point of intentionally listening to specifically Advent music. The link below offers a list. Most of these songs are on YouTube, so you can select the ones you like and create a playlist.

Resources for Liturgy and Prayer for the Seasons of Advent and Christmas

Celebrate the Feasts during Advent: The Catholic liturgical calendar offers a rich variety of saints to celebrate during the year. Advent is no exception. The two most prominent are St. Nicholas (Dec 6) and St. Lucy (Dec 13), both of which have specific traditions associated with them. Furthermore, two major Marian feast days also fall in the Advent season: The Immaculate Conception (Dec 8) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec 12). Advent is also enriched by various cultural traditions, such as the Filipino Simbang Gabi and the Mexican Las Posadas celebrations. Take part in these various festivities in your community, if they are offered. If not, you have a good chance of finding some of these customs in neighboring Catholic churches.

See also:
The major feasts of Advent

The Penitential Dimension of Advent
Historically, the season of Advent had more of a penitential character, much like Lent. We would do well to recapture some of the penitential aspect of the season. Penitential practices can help us to free ourselves from sinful habits and to refocus our lives on the love of God. Through penitential practices, we can also atone for our sins from the past. Below are some suggestions for penitential practices during during Advent:

- Abstain from meat one day during each week, for example, Friday.
- Fast one day each week during Advent on bread and water. If full one day does not seem possible, fast for portions of one or more days.
- Commit to having only three meals a day, with no snacking in between on certain days or during the whole of Advent.
- Give up a food or drink you especially love from the beginning of Advent until Christmas Eve.

Making Advent More Prayerful
Advent is a great time to get into the habit of more regular prayer. If we establish a custom of prayer over four weeks, we have a good chance of continuing beyond the season. Below are some suggestions for making Advent more prayerful:

- If you don’t already pray the Rosary, commit to praying one full Rosary every day during Advent. If that does not seem possible, then at first commit to saying at least one decade of the Rosary per day.
- Follow the Mass readings of each day of the Advent season. You can find various reflections on the daily readings, such as those of Bishop Barron.
- You might also follow another program of Scripture readings designed for Advent. You can find various sets, often with commentary.
- Read more Scripture in some other way, for example, by reading one chapter from the Gospels each day.
- Pray the Christmas Anticipation Prayer, also known as the Christmas Novena Prayer during the season of Advent, which can be found here.
- If you are married, pray a blessing over your spouse every day during Advent, preferably while he or she is present, but you can do so in their absence too. Pray to the guardian angel of your spouse to help him or her be fully open to the love of God in her life.
- If you have kids, pray a blessing over your children every day during Advent, preferably while they are present, but you can do so in their absence too. Pray to the guardian angels of your children to help them be fully open to the love of God in their lives.
- Commit to praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet each day during Advent.

Engage in Good Works
As a part of making Advent more spiritual, make sure that your spiritual commitment shows in your actions too. For example:
- Give alms.
- Perform works of service for family, friends, or strangers.
- Think of ways that you can continue these works of service beyond the Christmas season, during the months when charitable organizations get less attention from the public.
- Help kids get excited about doing good works by doing one of the following:
1) For each good deed they do, they get to put a piece of candy on the Christmas tree as decoration. (Some individually wrapped chocolates for example are easy to attach with ornament hooks). On Christmas Eve, they can start taking off all the candy and eating it.
2) Prepare an empty wooden box as the manger into which the baby Jesus will be placed on Christmas Eve. Whenever the kids do a good deed, they get to put a piece of straw into the manger. If they do a lot of good works during Advent, the baby Jesus will have a very comfortable manger.

Spiritual Cleansing
As we get closer to God, our spiritual enemies will work extra hard to try to derail our progress. They especially want to draw us away from moments in which we can experience the grace of God in a powerful way. We can expect intensified spiritual attacks during Advent. Therefore, it is especially important to use the time of Advent to turn away from sin and to seek the healing power of Christ to cleanse us from negative spiritual influences. I suggest the following spiritual practices.
- Examination of Conscience: Reflect daily on ways in which you have fallen away from Christ, and pray for the grace of complete repentance.
- Confession: Go to Confession at least once during the Advent season.
- Say spiritual binding prayers to cast our evil spirits that are attacking you and your family. For example, say aloud daily: “I repent of (name sin), and I close all doors that I may have opened through this sin. In the Holy Name of Jesus, I bind, rebuke, and cast out all demons that are attacking me and my family. I invite in the Holy Spirit into my family, into our hearts, our homes, and our lives. I invoke the protection of our Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holy angels, especially our guardian angels, and all the saints, especially the martyrs who shed their blood for the Lord.”

Drawing Closer to the Sacraments
The Seven Sacraments are at the heart of the Catholic life. Use the time of Advent to draw closer to each of the Sacraments either through your participation or through your prayers. I would recommend the following:

- Make a commitment to attending Mass more often than just on Sunday during Advent.
- On days when you cannot attend Mass, unite yourself spiritually with the Eucharist.
- Go to Adoration at least once a week during Advent.
- Remember that each Mass is like Christmas, because during each Mass, Christ comes to us in physical form in the Blessed Sacrament.

- As mentioned above, go to Confession at least once during the Advent season.

- During the Advent season, reflect on your baptism and Confirmation. Reflect on the following questions: “How would my life be different if I had not been baptized and Confirmed? What blessings have I received through my baptism and Confirmation? How can I share those blessings with others?”

- If you are married, focus on some form of marriage enrichment with your spouse during Advent. Assuming your spouse agrees, you could do the following:
1) Get an Advent calendar that has room for things to be placed inside. For every odd day on the calendar, place a small note inside in which you compliment your spouse somehow. For every even day, your spouse would then put inside the calendar a note complimenting you in some way. For each day until Christmas, you read the note that was placed inside. For Christmas Day, you would each place a note of compliment inside the calendar. This way, the whole Advent season can become a time of bonding.
2) Each night during Advent, both you and your spouse each place a new ornament on the Christmas tree, and as you do, you each say something positive about the other. If you have children, you can adapt these exercises to involve them too.

- Pray for a priest by name (or several priests) during the Advent season, as well as for vocations to the priesthood. Pray for all of our ordained ministers and the healing of the Church during these times of crisis.

- Pray for all those who are ill in mind or body, especially those who do not have access to the Anointing of the Sick for whatever reason. Pray in a special way for those who are struggling with loss or grief during a time when the world around them is so festive.

Share Your Own Ideas
I hope that the above list has given you things to think about and to do during the Advent season. If you have Advent ideas of your own, please share them with me, so that I can expand this list (giving you due credit of course). In closing, I am also including a list of links that you might find helpful.

Advent Resources:

How to Celebrate Advent Like a Catholic

The History of Advent

Resources for Liturgy and Prayer for the Seasons of Advent and Christmas

Catholic Apostolic Center Advent Resources

CatholicMom Advent Resources

Word on Fire Advent Reflections

The Best Advent Ever by Dynamic Catholic

Archdiocese of Seattle Advent Resources

Unites States Conference of Bishops Advent Resources

Advent Reflections from Formed

The Religion Teacher’s Advent Activities

National Catholic Education Association Advent Resources

Christmas Anticipation Prayer

The following prayer is recited 15 times per day from the Feast of St. Andrew on November 30 to Christmas:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
In which the Son of God was born
Of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight,
in Bethlehem,
in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, O my God,
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
[here mention your request]
through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of His blessed Mother. Amen.

Photo credit: Advent Wreath in St. Mary's Cathedral in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Zoltan Abraham (c) 2017