In Catholic churches all across the globe the arrival of the Advent season heralds the beginning of a new liturgical year and preparations for the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” Familiar local cultural traditions this time of year include holiday decorating, shopping, food preparation and social gatherings, but the Church’s spiritual heritage undergirds the hustle-bustle with its hushed liturgical anticipation of not only Jesus’ birth, but the anticipation of His second coming as well.
One expressive Advent custom is the use of the Advent wreath with its four candles. What began as a symbol of the cycle of seasons was later redefined in Germany in the 19th century and brought to the U.S. in the 1930s as a reminder of the approach of the feast of Christmas. According to Father William Sanders at Catholiceducation.org “the circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life found in Christ.”
Each of the four candles on the wreath represents the four weeks of Advent. Three violet and one rose colored candle are traditionally used and correspond to the liturgical vestments worn at the Sunday Masses of Advent. The royal violet of Advent is also the color of fasting and penitence used during Lent and Holy Week, symbolizing the connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The candles are lit progressively each week to symbolize the expectation and hope surrounding Jesus’ birth and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead.
The first violet candle is called the candle of hope — a hope in the deliverance from sin. The Scripture reading for this week taken from Luke 21, reflects an accountability for faithfulness and prayer at Jesus’ second coming. “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” One way to prepare in faithfulness is showing kindness. Here is an activity the entire family can participate in this week.
Create an Advent tree of kindness
For each family member: one sheet each of 9 inch x 12 inch red and green construction paper, glue, scissors, one sheet of colored star stickers, list of good deeds
Ask family members to brainstorm good deeds they can do for others. Make the good deeds general, not for specific people. (Example: Set the table for dinner, not set the table for my mom.) Type up the list of good deeds and make one copy for each member.
Have family members cut out a Christmas tree from the green construction paper and glue it onto the red paper. Pass out the stickers and list of good deeds.
Explain that they are to put a star on their tree after they do a good deed for someone else. (Deeds can come from the list or from their own imaginations.)
During each evening this week, ask family members to share any good deeds they may have done, and discuss how serving others feels to them.
The second is called the violet candle of preparation and reminds Christians to get ready to receive their Savior. The Gospel reading for this second Sunday in Advent from Luke 3 offers the faithful the call to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. … and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Prepare your way with this week’s activity.
Construction prayer chain
Red and green construction paper, scissors, tape, pens or markers
Cut the construction paper in 1 ½ by 8-inch strips. Place in bowl or basket in an easily accessible area. Gather family members to brainstorm people and intentions for which to prayer. Write these intentions one on each construction strip. Place the first strip’s ends together making a circle and tape. Interloop the second strip inside the first, connect its ends and tape. Continue to make a looped chain of the prayer intentions, adding new intentions each day. Pray for the intentions together each evening. Drape the prayer chain on the Christmas tree or hang it in a prominent place.
The third is a rose colored candle and depicts joy. It corresponds to the third Sunday of Advent, which is called Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent. Scripture from Luke 17 speaks of healing and thanksgiving. “… and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. … Then He said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.’”
Give thanks for all those who have touched your lives with this week’s activity.
Write a letter to a loved one
Decorative Christmas letter stock, pens, envelops, stamps
Gather each evening this week and ask each family member to write a letter to someone whom they would like to thank or tell how much they mean. (Example: a grandparent, a teacher, a friend.) Include Scripture, poetry and pictures in the letter. Address the envelopes, stamp them and pray over them before mailing the next day. Fourth candle
The fourth candle is again colored violet and is the candle of love. It reminds Christians that God loves them enough to send his only Son to Earth. St. Luke’s Gospel for this week tells the story of Mary, who travels to see her cousin Elizabeth who is with child as well. Elizabeth upon seeing the mother of her Savior proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Jesus is the light of the world, brought into human form by God’s obedient servant Mary. Bring the light of Christ to your family by praying a decade of the rosary each evening after this week’s activity.
White lunch bags, votive candles, sand and a hole punch
Using the hole punch, create designs on each bag — use Christmas cookie cutters for ideas and patterns. Place sand in the bottom of each bag. Nestle a candle in the sand at the bottom of each bag. Place the bags along your walk. Light the candles, pray and enjoy.
As the Church celebrates the revelation of God in Christ we put our anticipation into action by being like Jesus, a light to the world.
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