by Julie Musselman
As Catholics it is important that we not only live our faith by going to Mass on Sunday, but that we live it all week long in our homes as well. As a wife and mother of six children, I know how busy this time of year can be. But I have also learned that we do well to slow down and bring easy ideas into our homes so that we mark the liturgical seasons and saints on a day-to-day basis.
Immediately after Thanksgiving, we are tempted to completely get ready for Christmas right away; to put out all our Christmas decorations, mail all our Christmas cards and get all our Christmas shopping done before the end of the day retailers call “Black Friday.” But let’s think Christmas is not until December 25, so as people striving to grow in the faith, let’s conform ourselves with the wisdom of the Church and enter into Advent first.
This year, the Year of Faith, we begin Advent on Sunday, December 2. On this day, which marks the beginning of the new liturgical year of the Church, we change to the “C” cycle of readings, which focus on the gospel of Saint Luke. This gospel contains most of what we know about Mary and is a great companion for prayer during Advent.
The word Advent derives from the Latin word meaning coming. During Advent we recall the history of God’s people and reflect on how the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled with the birth of the Christ Child. In Advent we are not only preparing to remember the birth of Christ but we are also preparing for Christ’s Second Coming. In this four-week season, we look forward to when He will come again, and we pray we will be awake and watchful so He will not find us asleep.
The very first day of Advent, make sure you have an Advent wreath. If you don’t already own an Advent wreath, it is simple to get a wreath of greenery (real or artificial) and place three purple candles and one pink candle in or around it.
At dinner time each evening, light one candle for each week of Advent that we are in. You can say a simple phrase, like “Come Lord Jesus” or you can choose to use one of the readings from Mass for that Sunday. Have the wreath out in a conspicuous place, and it will remind you of the season every time you see it. For more information on the Advent wreath and prayers for Advent, visit wf-f.org/ADVPray.html.
Here are some other ideas to help stay awake in the Christian life and live the faith more fully in Advent:
• Get an Advent calendar for the whole family. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops offers one that includes daily readings, prayer suggestions, and action ideas. See usccb.org/advent.
• Start off with a good confession the best confession of your life. Really prepare for this encounter with Christ through the priest. Pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament to the Holy Spirit to reveal your sins to you. Make a firm amendment to avoid these sins in the future. Bring your family to confession.
• Practice detachment. Go through closets and drawers and give away generously to the poor. If you haven’t used it/worn it in over a year, give it away. Challenge your children to go through their toys and give some away to charities that can reuse them.
• Give up some activities in order to give yourself some peace. Consider turning down one of the many holiday parties or don’t bake as many cookies and sweets. You might reduce the quantity of decorations in and around your home, or have the kids skip a sports practice to have a family night.
• Spend an evening walking around the neighborhood or a downtown park looking at the lights. Go with your children or grandchildren and see the season through their eyes. Sing Christmas songs as you walk especially “O Come all ye Faithful.”
• Send religious Christmas cards with religious postage stamps.
• If you write a Christmas letter, don’t just fill it with details of your vacation trips. Use the annual correspondence to remind your friends and family just how special they are in the eyes of God or about the impact of the Incarnation.
• Welcome the “stranger” who is sitting near you at Mass.
• Become involved in outreach to the poor: maybe help at a soup kitchen, make food baskets for the poor, or gather toys for poor children. At one of your holiday meals, invite someone who has no family in town.
• Adopt a family from the parish giving tree or at St. Vincent de Paul and shop for them.
• Place lights on the outside of your house and in your windows as a reminder that Christ is the Light of the World. Let people see your Christianity from the street!
• Make a Jesse Tree: The Jesse Tree is a way of remembering Jesus’ roots in Israel. Hang from the branches each day a symbol of an important point in Israel’s history. (For more information, see the Jesse Tree article in this issue of Voices, or visit crivoice.org/jesse.html).
• Learn more about our great faith by listening to one CD/MP3 a week during Advent. Hear inspiring talks by great Catholic speakers such as Blessed Mother Teresa, Scott Hahn, Father Larry Richards, Father Robert Barron, and others on the go while you’re driving, cleaning the kitchen, etc. Also, a CD of the Month Club subscription makes a great gift, such as those from lighthousecatholicmedia.org/.
Celebrate these special days in your home:
December 6: Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas is a great Advent saint. Many say the tradition of Santa Claus stems from the real life of this Bishop of Myra. The famous story of Saint Nicholas is that he helped some young girls to be able to marry by throwing gold coins in their stockings that were hanging by the fireplace to dry. In our family we have a fun tradition of putting out our shoes on the night of December 5. Early on December 6, when the children wake up, they check to see if “Saint Nicholas” brought a very small treat. Some ideas are stickers, special bath soap, a book, small toy, or small candy bar.
For more on Saint Nicholas, prayers, and a special Saint Nicholas cookie recipe go to: wf-f.org/st.nicholas.html.
December 8: The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
This day celebrates Mary’s conception, in the womb of Saint Anne, her mother, without the stain of original sin. Mary is given this high privilege of salvation at conception by the forthcoming merits of her son, Jesus Christ. It is proper that she who would carry the God of the Universe in her womb would be sinless.
Today is a holy day of obligation. Be sure to get your family to Mass and offer to drive a shut-in. Be an apologist today; tell or remind someone that the feast is about Mary being conceived without sin. In the evening, pray the family rosary. For more on the history of this feast and the paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church explaining the Church’s teaching, go to:
December 9: Saint Juan Diego and December 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego walked to Mass and met Mary, the mother of God. Our Lady asked Juan Diego to build her a church. Juan, a simple peasant, reported this to his bishop. His bishop asked him for a sign. When Juan met again with Our Lady, she showed him where some flowers were blooming (although it was not the season.) He collected the flowers and put them in his tilma. When he opened his tilma to give the flowers to the bishop, all were able to see the image of Our Lady imprinted thereon. An interesting fact is that the tilma has not rotted after 400 years. Within ten years of this apparition nine million people converted to the Catholic faith. Our Lady brought all these people to the Catholic faith at the same time that many were leaving the faith in Europe during the Protestant reformation.
Display an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in your home. Mary is the patroness of the Americas under this title. She is also the patroness of evangelization. Celebrate by making an easy Mexican dinner or nachos or tacos. Read more about Saint Juan Diego at wf-f.org/StJuanDiego.html. For the beautiful readings of the Mass for today’s feast, see wf-f.org/Guadalupe.html.
December 13: Saint Lucy
Saint Lucy’s name means “light.” She was a young woman who was martyred for her faith during the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian.
Many countries have specific celebrations of today’s feast. Scandinavian girls dress in white dresses with red sashes to symbolize Lucy’s virginity and martyrdom. They carry palms of victory and crowns with candles symbolizing light on their heads.
A Hungarian custom is to plant Saint Lucy’s wheat. Wheat that is planted on December 13 will sprout by Christmas. When the wheat has grown, cut it and put it in the manger of your nativity set. The wheat represents your good deeds during Advent to prepare for the Christ Child.
Light candles at the dinner table and dim the lights so that everyone can see how the light dispels the darkness.
Consider making Saint Lucy’s crown bread or ginger snaps. For recipes, see
December 17-23: The O Antiphons
The O Antiphons begin December 17 and continue through December 23. If you have ever sung the song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” then you are already familiar with the O Antiphons. The seven O Antiphons are prayers that come from the Vesper prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Each Antiphon begins with “O” and addresses Jesus with a unique title coming from the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah. The seven titles and the date they are prayed are:
December 17 Wisdom
December 18 Lord of Israel
December 19 Root of Jesse
December 20 Key of David
December 21 Radiant Dawn or Dayspring
December 22 King of All Nations
December 23 Emmanuel which means God with Us
In the final days of Advent, when the coming of the Christ Child is so near, it is proper to contemplate Jesus under each of these titles. A great family tradition is to pray a Christmas novena. Begin December 17 and pray it for nine days until Christmas.
December 25: Christmas Day
Christmas is the day that the Eternal Son of God the Father became man and was born as a tiny baby. It is a day usually spent attending Mass with family and friends, exchanging gifts, and eating wonderful foods. An entire book could be written on ideas to celebrate the holy day, but I will share just two traditions that have been special in our family and keep the focus on Christ.
The first idea is to take a tip from the Magi on gift-giving. Three gifts per child is a great guideline to keep families within budget and keep the focus not on shopping and commercial ideas but on Christ. I highly recommend a spiritual gift as one of the three. Ideas might be a bible, book on the saints, statue, rosary, or clothing or jewelry with a Christian slogan, message, or scripture.
The second idea is to put the focus on Christ by having the youngest child place Jesus in the manger. In our home we put up our nativity set in mid-December but we do not put out baby Jesus. Mary, Joseph, the animals, and the shepherds are all in place, but no baby Jesus. Then on Christmas Eve or first thing Christmas morning before any gifts are opened we sing “Away in a Manger” while the youngest child takes the Jesus figurine and places it in the manger of the nativity set. At this time, the head of the family can then bless the Christmas Crib. See prayer of blessing at wf-f.org/TreeCribPr.html.
It is also fun to reserve the three kings from the nativity set and put them out on Epiphany, which is celebrated January 6.
December 28: The Holy Innocents
Today’s liturgy remembers the innocent little boys who were murdered by Herod when he was trying to kill the Christ Child. After reports from the wise men that a king had been born, Herod’s army went to Bethlehem with orders to kill all the male children two years old and younger. Through a dream it was revealed to Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt and so Jesus escaped. See Matthew 2:13-18 for the gospel account.
This day can be easily overlooked because of the Christmas holidays and the vacations from school and work. But it is of great importance in our country because it is a day we can make atonement for all innocent life that has been taken. Through the sin of abortion, there are now millions of Holy Innocents who have been killed with the consent of their own mothers and fathers. It is a good day to attend Mass with the specific intention of asking God to forgive our country for all the innocent life that we have taken and to forgive the leaders of our nation and all of us who have not worked to change the law of the land. To begin a novena for the unborn go to wf-f.org/innocents.html for the novena prayers.
December 30: Feast of the Holy Family
Be sure to read the Mass readings before you go to Mass this week, especially the first reading from Sirach. Share them with your children so they can better remember the respect that is due to you as parents. Resolve to be a better son or daughter to your own parents.
Create a photo Christmas tree of your family. Gather pictures from all the cards you have and mount these on heavy paper. Then hole punch a corner of the picture, attach ribbon, and tie around an indoor tree branch. Pray for each friend and family member as you assemble the tree. Today is also a great day to read the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, written by Pope John Paul II in 1981. In it he describes the role of the Christian Family in the Modern World.
December 31: Last Day of the Year
Today is a good day to make amends. Assuming you had a good Advent confession, set this day aside to really make amends with anyone you have hurt or anyone who has hurt you. Call up that person and apologize. Truly forgive from your heart those who have hurt you. Act as an agent of reconciliation between friends or family members. Call or write to someone to thank them for a sacrifice or a gift that they gave you perhaps long ago. The Our Father is a good prayer to say slowly. Pay particular attention to the phrase “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
January 1: Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, the Church commemorates the divine motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother of God. The solemnity falls within the octave (eight days) of Christmas.
In the second reading from today’s Mass, Saint Paul writes, “When the appointed time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” (Gal 4:4) Can we really understand the fact that God decided to become Man through a woman? That the creator of all things became human, like His creatures? And did so through Mary, a young maiden, who gave her “yes” to the mighty plans of God?
When Mary gave her “fiat,” her “yes,” she was launched into a whole new life. How we can imitate Mary and continue to give a yes to God, day in and day out? He has great and wonderful plans for us. We can take them or leave them. But when we do give our yes, with full love and devotion, amazing things happen. We are launched into a whole new life.
I love that on the first day of a new year, the Church gives us this feast with Mary as our model for a fresh start. This enables us to dedicate the entire year to Jesus through Mary. We can start anew.
Mary witnessed glorious things at the birth of Jesus. She saw kings bow down to Him and present Him with gifts. But then she returned into the ordinary. She set out to raise up her son, like millions of other mothers before and after her. Let us, who have witnessed the glories of Christmas, go back into our ordinary lives and raise up Jesus, proclaim Him and make Him known to all.
January 6: Epiphany of Our Lord
Epiphany means “manifestation.” On this day we celebrate the Manifestation of Christ as an infant to the Magi. If you still have your nativity set out, now is the day to add the Three Kings!
Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas, is a traditional day for the annual house blessing. All you need is holy water and chalk. Gather the family and assemble at the front door. All make the sign of the cross and the leader takes chalk and marks above the front door:
20 + C + M + B + 13
The numbers 20 and 13 represent the year 2013, and the C, M, and B represent the Latin blessing CHRISTUS MANSIONEM BENEDICAT (Christ bless this house.) The C, M, and B also stand for the names traditionally given to the three Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The crosses represent each season of the year.
Holy water is sprinkled on the door. Some like to conclude by singing the carol “We Three Kings.”
When we prayerfully remember and observe the remarkably full calendar of holy days within this holy season, we deepen our own faith. This season of the Church year also gives us many priceless teaching moments for our families and helps us witness the joy of our faith to the world. May God bless each of us during this holy season.
Julie Musselman is a wife and mother of six children who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is a region manager for Light- house Catholic Media and loves all things Catholic, especially the Eucharist, the Saints, and the Rosary. When Julie’s not driving carpool, doing laundry, or avoiding cooking, she blogs at juliemusselman.com and lighthouse-catholic.com.
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