The time we spend with our families incorporating the rich traditions of the Church will ingrain in our children a love of our Holy Religion. We are creating a legacy that will be passed on through generations…
by Helen McLoughlin
Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year. It is a season of spiritual preparation, marked by eager longing for the coming of the Savior through grace at Christmas, and for His second and final coming. It is also an ideal time to establish in our homes liturgical customs which will restore our children to
In our family we use these age-old Advent practices to help our children live closer to Christ and His Church during the pre-Christmas season. Time-tested and proven, the customs teach the doctrines of redemption and develop a generosity with God and a coordination of the family’s spiritual efforts as effectively now as they did for our forebears. Their strong and living faith will be the heritage of our children if family religious practices, centered in the Liturgy, “the normal school of sanctity for the laity,” become established in our homes.
Secularism has invaded our households. The Bishops of the United
States have warned us that “the Christian must make his home holy–the Christian must realize the Christian ideal.”
Father Edgar Schmiedler, O.S.B., in his three excellent pamphlets, “Your
Home a Church in Miniature,” says of family customs and blessings: “They are a relatively simple, but highly important, means of union between altar and home. They are a media for channeling from one great spiritual reservoir, given into the Church’s keeping by Christ, the living and transforming waters of grace from the Saviour’s fountain.”
Children, who love the beauty and simplicity of family religious practices, make the traditions easy to establish. As a rule it is best to begin with one or two customs and add others in years to come.
It is also highly desirable that families develop their own special customs, at least by adapting traditional ones to their personal circumstances. Once established, customs recall to older members of the family long forgotten practices of their own childhood. These have a special appeal because they belonged to our forefathers and link us to the wealth of national customs now fallen into disuse.
Most popular of the Advent customs handed down to us is the Advent wreath made of evergreens, bound to a circle of wire.
German in origin–it was taken, so we are told, from the pagan fire wheel–the wreath represents the cycle of thousands of years from Adam to Christ during which the world awaited the coming of a Redeemer. It also represents the cycle of years since then that we have been awaiting His second and final coming in glory.
It bears four candles, equally spaced, three purple ones to be lighted on the “penitential” Sundays, and a rose-colored one for Gaudete, the joyful Sunday in Advent. Candles may be placed inside or outside the wreath.
Any kind of Christmas wreath such as those hung in windows may be used. It may be set on a kitchen or dining room table, on an end table in the living room, or in a child’s bedroom. However, it is most appealing when suspended by four purple ribbons from a light fixture in the ceiling.
When our children were small we bought a large, permanently preserved pine wreath and used it year after year. Now that they are going to school they help to make a new one each Advent.
Inexpensive and easy to assemble is the wreath we make from a bunch or two of laurel leaves bound to a circle of wire from coat hangers. The evergreens are secured by fine wire to the circle.
Candles and ribbons are added as the wreath is put together. Laurel is practical because it does not shed when suspended over the dining room table. Moreover, laurel is a symbol of victory, and thus reminds us that Christ’s coming means victory over sin and death.
Loveliest of wreaths and fragrant, too, is one of fresh princess pine. When we use that type, we hang it in the living room and add a single silver star to it each evening inAdvent when the candles are lighted for prayers. Stars are cut from metallic paper.
City dwellers may make an attractive wreath of fireproof green paper, while country folks will find a metal barrel hoop ideal as a frame for whatever evergreens are at hand. In our children’s classrooms in Corpus Christi School, New York City, Advent greens are sometimes kept fresh in inexpensive plastic rings.
The home ceremony for use of the Advent wreath is simple. It consists of Collects, hymns and prayers proper to the Advent season. We have put it together as follows. On the first Sunday of Advent, our family gathers for the blessing of the wreath by father, who begins:
Father: Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
All answer: Who made heaven and earth.
Father: Let us pray. O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Through Christ our Lord.
He sprinkles the wreath with holy water. Then Myles, our youngest child, lights the first candle, and the prayer for the first week is said.
Father: Let us pray. Stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, O Lord, and come, so that we may escape through Thy protection and be saved by Thy help from the dangers that threaten us because of our sins. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.
During the first week one candle is left burning during the evening meal, at prayers or at bedtime.
Two candles are lit on the second Sunday and allowed to burn as before. The prayer for the week is:
Father: Let us pray. O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure souls. Through the same Christ our Lord.
Three candles, including the rose candle, are lit on Gaudete, the third Sunday, and during that week. The following prayer is said:
Father: Let us pray. We humbly beg Thee, O Lord, to listen to our prayers; and by the grace of Thy coming bring light into our darkened minds. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.
All four candles are lit on the fourth Sunday and allowed to burn as before. The prayer said the fourth week is:
Father: Let us pray. Stir up Thy might, we pray Thee, O Lord, and come; rescue us through Thy great strength so that salvation, which has been hindered by our sins, may be hastened by the grace of Thy gentle mercy. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.
At the end of Advent, candles and ribbons are changed to white, evergreens renewed if necessary, and tiny Christmas balls added to decorate the wreath. We hang ours in the entrance hall where it adds a festive note to the house and gives us a chance to explain the wreath to neighbors and tradespeople who have not seen it previously. The wreath, unless it sheds, is kept until Epiphany.
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