Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Catholic Christian Celebration of Advent and Christmas

A Truly Christian Christmas

Rev. Mr. Matthew J. Albright, M.A.

It seems that every year the holiday shopping season begins earlier. The retailers no longer even wait for Halloween to pass. Ghost and goblin costumes, Thanksgiving pilgrims, and Christmas Trees occupy the same aisles in stores. Decorations pop up in October and often disappear well before New Year’s. Many “continuous Christmas” radio stations begin in early November but then only keep the seasonal music playing through the evening of December 25th. The world is in a hurry to celebrate Christmas, and then to get it over with. In stark contrast stands the tradition of the Church, which looks forward to Christmas Day in a special way for several weeks, and then celebrates it with great joy for weeks thereafter.
Catholics begin the new church year with the Season of Advent (from the Latin adventus, which means “coming”), a time of joyful anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ that begins four Sundays before Christmas. While anxiously preparing to celebrate the coming of the newborn Savior, the Church also looks ahead to the end times when Christ will come again in glory. The spirit of this season offers the people of the Church a moment to reflect on their readiness to receive Jesus who comes to us in the Eucharist. This season has a somber tone, and a penitential spirit, as reflected in the purple vestments of the priest, which stand in contrast to the white and gold of Christmas.
Among the beautiful customs of the Advent Season is the Advent Wreath. This is originally a popular home devotion that has now found a place in every parish church. A wreath of green foliage is often decorated with red flowers, which anticipate the blood of the crucified Savior; and white flowers, symbolic of hope in the Resurrection. Inside the wreath are placed four candles: three purple and one rose. Rose is the color of the wreath’s candle, and the vestments, for the Third Sunday of Advent, for it symbolizes the theme of that Sunday: “Gaudete Sunday,” from the Latin meaning “Rejoice!” As the Church journeys toward Christmas, the candles are lit each week and the light increases, driving out the darkness.
The final seven days of the Advent Season, December 17th – 24th, are celebrated with particular devotion, including special music which joyfully anticipates the imminent coming of the Savior. The ancient Latin chants have been adapted into the popular Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!”
Christmas Eve is celebrated with great solemnity, as the Manger Scene or Creche is blessed in church. Often churches are decorated in stages throughout Advent, so that only on this holy night do worshippers see the full splendor of the Christmas Trees and poinsettias. The prayers of Christmas proclaim the glorious news of the angels in Sacred Scripture: “This day a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord!”
In the Church’s tradition, Christmas does not end the night of December 25th. Instead, for eight days the Church celebrates with the same joyful spirit as Christmas Day itself. The “Christmas Octave” culminates on New Year’s Day, which in the Church calendar is a feast honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The Christmas Season lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which celebrates Jesus’ Baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
The Church has a valuable lesson to teach all people: take time to really savor the Christmas Season, the sights and sounds, the music, the worship, the gathering of family and friends. Above all, give thanks for the tremendous gift of God’s love made present in Jesus Christ. Instead of hurrying up Christmas and then getting it over with, approach Christmas with anxious expectation and celebrate it with abundant joy for many days.

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