By Msgr Michael de Verteuil, Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission
Advent has a hard time, almost swallowed up by Christmas and its preparations. But the more we put into celebrating the season, the more we will get out of it—so here are some suggestions to do that in our parishes.
The most obvious Advent symbol is the Advent wreath and even though official documents of the Church say nothing about it, it is a very good reminder of the season and the journey we make.
The blessing and lighting of the wreath, the latter of which we do every week, should be done just before Mass starts.
The only direction the Church gives for Advent church decor is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal § 305: “During Advent, the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year….”
Purple fabric/banners tastefully used can add to the Advent ambience. Crèches are Christmas symbols and I know it is difficult for some to wait for Christmas but please give Advent a chance—wait until December 17 when the focus of Advent shifts to preparation for Christmas.
Each season has it sounds—Christmas and Easter, for example, have the sounds of Alleluia and rejoicing; Lent has its more sober sound; Advent’s sound may be of a certain joy but also a longing, possibly symbolised by the ‘O’ of what are referred to as the ‘O Antiphons’ used in the Evening Prayer of the Church in the last week of Advent.
The ‘O’ is the sound of longing, a longing that the people of Israel experienced as they waited on the Messiah, a longing that we may have for the coming of the Lord.
The songs used at Mass should be carefully chosen to promote the Advent themes, many available in Caribbean Worship and Song and many available to be used judiciously in other hymn books and resources. The Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission’s website has some useful videos in this regard.
A tone can be set, and sensitivities heightened using Advent chants or appropriate music for 10–15 minutes before Mass, lights dimmed if it is an evening Mass—immediately people will know that this Sunday is not like other Sundays.
Our parishes can also celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (which falls on December 12 but as this is a Sunday in Advent if it is to be celebrated it will have to be on December 11).
There is a Marian component to Advent, especially in the last week, and celebrating these two feasts, not only honours Mary but reminds us of her waiting and longing for Jesus.
In our personal lives there are certain practices which can help us have a more fruitful Advent, for example: we can have Advent candles at home; we can spend a little time reading Scripture every day; and find every day a period where we can sit in stillness and quiet prayer.
We can use the response of the Sunday Responsorial Psalm as a mantra or sentence we repeat to ourselves throughout the week; we can use Advent devotions, many available on the Internet or in booklets like Magnificat; we can try to attend Mass sometime during the week; and we can practise waiting, remaining peaceful and using the time for prayer when we wait for the traffic light to change or for the line in the bank or at the cash register to move.
As we keep the season, so the season will keep us growing in our Christian life.