Most Christmas calendars include the 25 days in December. But what lies behind each flap lifted up during the countdown doesn’t always have spiritual value; it’s more likely to be a piece of candy. This year, St. Joseph Parish in South Bend came up with a digital Advent calendar that’s not only for adults, but laden with rich Catholic meaning.
The calendar was the brainchild of the parish Christian Formation Commission, chaired by Sean Driscoll, director of Christian formation. The nine members of the commission serve rotating three-year terms and are discerned by current members as a way of drawing in parishioners who may not have played a central role in the past. They come from a variety of life stages, and their task is to develop parish opportunities for faith formation and continuing education.
During a typical Advent, the commission might provide a table of Advent resources after Mass, host a quiet evening of reflection or Taizé prayer in the church, a talk and perhaps a meal around one of the Marian feasts — the Immaculate Conception or Our Lady of Guadalupe — and a service of lessons and carols. At their virtual monthly meeting in September, they realized none of these ideas could take place in 2020. In October, they began to brainstorm alternatives.
Claire Kilbane, a relative newcomer to the parish with a background in education, suggested an Advent calendar, where anticipation and hope build as a new door is opened each day. They found a free online template, My Advent Calendar, that won’t allow a person to click on each flap until midnight of the previous day. This meant the team didn’t have to lock in the entire content ahead of time.
The content was customizable, too: For example, one treat for the last week of Advent was seeing St. Joseph Grade School’s second graders put on their Nativity pageant.
The commission developed a structure for the calendar by focusing on a different general topic each day of the week. Sundays include a prayer suitable to use at the Advent wreath and some reflection on the Scriptures from that day’s Mass. On Monday, a parish family or individual shared their approach to Advent. For example, commission member Becky Cressy welcomed viewers into her home to see her family’s traditional decorations.
Tuesdays’ offerings came from St. Joseph Grade School, such as an eighth grader explaining their Summons community service project or a faculty member showing creches from different countries.
On Wednesdays, a Scripture was read and the parish choir directed by Theresa Slott, director of music and liturgy, sang an appropriate hymn.
Since the parish has eucharistic adoration every Thursday, that was the Thursday theme. On Fridays, the focus was penitential and on Saturdays it was Marian, sometimes with links to prayer resources.
Parishioners whose voices are seldom heard were been invited to give many of the short reflections.
It’s hard to quantify how many people made use of this resource, but Driscoll has received very positive feedback and hopes the calendar will appear again in 2021, perhaps with recycled and repurposed resources and incorporating in-person events.
“Our forced separation has definitely had a silver lining,” he said. “We’ve had an opportunity to rethink how to evangelize this community in a fresh new way.”
Access the calendar via the parish website, stjoeparish.com.
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