The Annual Advent Argument

A blessed Advent!

I discussed it with folks visiting me over the weekend, right after Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the First Sunday of Advent.

It’s the yearly debate about Advent, and it goes something like this: The first person began, “Why do we start to celebrate Christmas so early?  The decorations are up in early November; the carols begin before Thanksgiving; the tree goes up now . . . no wonder we’re sick of Christmas by December 26th!”

Another will chime-in, “Yeah, remember fifty years ago when we were kids?  The tree would not go up until Christmas Eve; carols would never be heard till real close to Christmas; there were some added days of fast and abstinence during Advent; even Christmas Eve was a day of penance!  Wasn’t that better?  We so looked forward to Christmas because we waited!”

But – - as the Annual Advent Argument continues – - the next person observed, “But, there’s nothing we can do about it!  Society begins the Christmas season on Thanksgiving, and ends it on December 25; the Church starts preparing for Christmas during Advent – - purple vestments, advent wreathes, no carols or decorations in church – - then begins the Christmas season with Mass on Christmas Eve, and ends it on the Epiphany  (the Sunday after New Year’s).  The Church is out of it and will just have to change.”

What to do?  Well, we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, as much as we might be nostalgic for a very serious Advent.  So, on the one hand, I guess we’ll have to make some peace with our culture’s way-too-early celebration of Christmas.

But we can hardly forget about Advent altogether! Spiritually, it’s part of our Catholic birthright; and, even from a human point of view, we’ll enjoy Christmas a lot more if we wait . . . as the old saying goes, “pleasure delayed is pleasure enjoyed.”

For instance, just last Thursday, I enjoyed an evening at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood.  It was a magnificent Evening Prayer, followed by the seminary Thanksgiving Dinner (a week after the feast itself, since the community had been at home for their own family Thanksgiving.)  Great, I thought:  we’ll have turkey, dressing, gravy, pumpkin pie . . . bring it on!  But, we get to the table for a very delicious meal, and no meat!

“We’ve begun our forty day Advent fasting to prepare for Christmas, and we Orthodox abstain from meat,” my host explained.

They haven’t “lost” Advent. Neither should we!

So, here are a few ideas I might propose to preserve at least some seriousness about Advent:

–last night I was at our seminary for Advent Lessons and Carols.  It was splendid!

For a little over an hour, we had readings from the Bible about all the preparations for and prophesies of the coming of the Messiah, with the classical Advent hymns, and even one or two actual Christmas carols at the end to remind us of our goal.  It was a real concentration on the waiting of the People of Israel for the Messiah, a genuine Advent experience;

–Let’s take the two magnificent Advent feasts of Our Lady – - December 8, the Immaculate Conception, and December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe, – - very attentively;

–don’t forget the advent wreath, the advent calendar, and the Jesse Tree;       

– okay, if you have to, put the tree-up now, but maybe only gradually decorate it, a few more ornaments each day, for instance, so it’s not in “full bloom” until December 24.  I was at Holy Trinity Parish at West Point Saturday, for example, and the trees were already up, but not decorated so there was a sense of expectation; or, even at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the crib is already up – - since thousands visit daily – - but the manger is dramatically empty, with the baby Jesus not arriving until Christmas.  While the visitors admire the crib scene, they realize someone is missing – - Jesus! – - and are reminded what Advent is all about;

–How about fasting from meat on the Fridays of Advent, like we do in Lent?

–A good, sincere confession before Christmas!  (Our Advent Reconciliation Monday, with confessors available for four hours in every parish, is December 17  this year);

–Pay attention to the daily Mass readings for Advent, preferably, of course, at Mass itself; but, even if you can’t attend, get a missalette and meditate on the Readings from the Bible;

–Acts of charity for the poor;

–And, finally, let’s look on the bright side; okay, we admit that society – - including ourselves – - start celebrating Christmas way too soon, usually forgetting about Advent preparation.  But, at least we can thank God that such noble sentiments abound this time of the year:  friendship, generosity, family unity, rallying for the poor and hungry, attention to babies and children, gift-giving, happy memories, goodwill.  I’ll take that anytime of the year!

However, wherever, whenever you do it . . . please do Advent!  It’s too significant to forget!  Christmas will be a lot happier if we prepare and wait . . .

Again, a blessed Advent!

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12 Responses to “The Annual Advent Argument”

  1. JSusan says:

    I have another suggestion to add to your practical and helpful list. Watch the Advent series of programs hosted by Cardinal Dolan on EWTN on Sunday evenings. I watched last night and was enlightened by your words. Thank you for sharing your insights with the EWTN audience. I really enjoyed your presentation. You spoke right to my heart!

  2. Charles J Murphy says:

    Sixteen exclamation marks!

  3. Mary Ellen Werner says:

    Thank you for t his article. I enjoyed it and I will embrace it!

  4. Michael says:

    I find the Church herself very helpful in living Advent. For about 3 years now I have followed the liturgy of the hours, praying morning prayer, evening prayer and night prayer each day. With advent, the prayer of the Church changes radicallly. For example, the reading this evening is from Philippians and begins: “We eagerly await the coming of the Savior…”.

    Yes, the world around me is in large part following a different schedule and trying to create it’s own mood. But, after 3 years of working hard to follow the liturgy of the hours, I am less influenced by the premature sights and sounds of Christmas than by the prayer of the Church.

  5. Steve says:

    Several years ago we began Advent by setting up our tree, putting on white, purple and multicolored light strands. During Advent we only light up the white and purple lights and decorate the tree with purple Advent ornaments. Christmas Eve we unplug the purple and light up the colored lights and strip the Advent ornaments off, put up the Christmas ones, usually all of the family favorites. It has always been a real conversation starter, especially for our Protestant friends who cannot seem to fathom it until we explain. We have also expanded one of our advent wreaths so that in the center we have a statue of a very pregnant Mary being led on a donkey by Joseph!

  6. Blake Helgoth says:

    We put up our tree on the 1st Sunday of Advent, but we decorate it with puprle lights, purple ribbons and purple ornaments. then, each day we put up a Jesse Tree Ornament and read the Scripture that goes with it. A great way to make an Advent home!

  7. Kathy says:

    A couple more suggestions: Because we have very active and curious cats we can’t have burning candles. So, we put up the tree the first Sunday in Advent but decorate it in purple and then rose on the 3rd Sunday. On Christmas Eve we remove those decorations and decorate for the Christmas Season. Since the introduction of battery candles, we can also have a wreath on our dining table. At each meal we turn on the candles according to which week in Advent we are celebrating. This way there’s no danger of fire, and we can enjoy having the Advent wreath.

  8. Fr. Bob says:

    Well done, Cardinal Dolan!
    I said some of the same things this past weekend.
    May God send you His Spirit of courage to always proclaim the Gospel!

  9. I love these ideas. I would even love some encouragement from the bench ;) to return to some Advent penance.

  10. Jon says:

    Your Eminence,

    Excellent suggestions. I belong to an FSSP parish. As you might guess, we have plenty of folks who long for a time when Christmas began, well, on Christmas. I sympathize, as I’m fifty, and remember such a time. However, my feeling is that this is the only time of year when our Lord’s Name, much less His very existence, is publicly acknowledged, even if it is in some quarters under assault. It’s the only time of the year when the Good News of God become man is always in the air, and not merely tolerated, but celebrated. Should in the process we lose some of the unique nature of Advent, I think we can put up with it. If in just a single instance a flicker of memory at “O Little Town” brings a nostalgic soul to the Sacrament of Penance, or back to Holy Mass, that Thanksgiving tree will have been well worth the price.

  11. Don’t forget the use of the “O” Antiphons the week before Christmaa. The Church hollers for days: Come, Lord jesus with every title calling out. the hidden response of Jesus when you read the Latin titles backwards on Dec. 24th is: ERO CRAS: ” I’ll be there in the morning!!!!”