The domestic custom of the Advent wreath draws attention to the light that Christ brings as Christmas approaches and emboldens us to bear witness to that light in the world. With an Advent wreath at home, we can keep our focus on Christ by reading a passage of Scripture or saying an Advent prayer each evening as they light the candle(s).
Learn about the history and symbolism of the Advent Wreath.
Blessing the Advent Wreath at Home
All make the sign of the cross as the leader says:
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
(R/.) Who made heaven and earth.
Then the Scripture, Isaiah 9: (lines 1-2 and 5-6) or Isaiah 63 (lines 16-17 & 19) or Isaiah 64 (lines 2-7) is read:
Reader: The Word of the Lord.
R/. Thanks be to God.
With hands joined, the leader says:
Lord our God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
he is the Savior of every nation.
Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
The blessing may conclude with a verse from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
O come, desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind;
bid ev’ry sad division cease and be thyself our Prince of peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Prayer taken from the Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers
Prayers for Advent Candle Lighting
All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever. ~AMEN.
God of power and mercy open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. ~AMEN.
Lord God, may we, your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving. We ask this through Christ our Lord. ~AMEN.
Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. ~AMEN.
Prayers taken from A Prayer Book of Catholic Devotions
Advent Calendar resources
The government of Alberta has recently created and distributed a survey asking Albertans to provide feedback on choice in education. It is essential that all who support Catholic education take the time to make their voices heard. Here’s what you can do to support Catholic schools:
Grateful Advocates for Catholic Education (GrACE)
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Fr. Michael Storey knows he might not be able to attend a formal Remembrance Day service this November 11. As a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of Calgary, the Catholic priest could find himself beside a hospital bed when other Calgarians pause in reverent silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But make no mistake. While Fr. Storey may not be able to hear the dying notes of the Last Post, he will feel the lament in his heart. And he will remember. November 11, for this priest, is a matter of country, family and faith.
Fr. Storey’s dad and brother served the Canadian navy in the Second World War. During the same conflict, where 42,000 Canadians died and another 55,000 were wounded, his uncles were soldiers in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).
Having grown up in a family that sacrificed so much for so many, Fr. Storey admits it wasn’t difficult to step up when a friend and Calgary-based reservist mentioned the need for a military chaplain in Calgary. “I realized that military personnel needed spiritual support. I was also working at St. James parish, so it was easy for me to go back and forth between the parish and Currie Barracks.” Fr. Storey served that role in Calgary from 1987 to 1999.
Fr. Sajo Jacob, parish priest at Mother Teresa Syro Malabar Church in Calgary, assumed the military chaplaincy about two years ago. He was introduced to the ministry by students he met while serving as the campus chaplain at SAIT and Mount Royal University, a role he held from 2009 to 2019. Some of the students he met there joined the military and invited Fr. Jacob to bring his ministry there. Two years into the role, he’s grateful for the chance to serve military personnel, many of them young people, as they encounter the challenges of military service in defense of the country. “They are often away from their homes, they face personal crisis, they sacrifice for the country and people, and I felt a calling that I will be able to help them.”
A ministry of presence
Unlike more typical priestly ministries which focus on bringing sacraments to the faithful, military chaplaincy is a “ministry of presence.” As a chaplain, Fr. Storey met military personnel at formal events. He also dropped by places like a military rifle range if he knew soldiers and reservists were there to practise. “You do what you can to remind them that you are there if they need you,” he explains.
His formal role also included being one of two uniformed military officers who made next-of-kin calls to the families of military personnel who died in service to their country. “I was on three of those calls during my 12 years in the service. It was humbling,” he recalls.
The chaplain’s role is akin to “being a guide and mentor,” adds Fr. Jacob. “Sometimes you become a point of contact at a time of crisis and challenges. It is a vocation where you journey with people and you become God’s instrument to share peace and love.”
Whereas parish priests serve Catholic congregations, campus and military chaplains work in secular and interfaith spaces. “Chaplains are there for everyone and we guide and support whoever seeks help, regardless of religion, or orientation,” explains Fr. Jacob. His faithful presence in personal crises has included talking to people contemplating suicide.
There is no question that military chaplains witness Christ for others, adds Fr. Storey. He remembers being touched by the words of a former altar boy who attended an event to commemorate the priest’s 40th anniversary in the priesthood. “He told me, ‘I was so proud of my parish priest when I saw him in his uniform,’ That meant a lot to me.”
He and Fr. Jacob both view military chaplaincy as service to their nation. “It is my role in the nation-building process,” explains Fr. Jacob, himself an immigrant from India. In addition to serving military personnel as a spiritual guide and mentor, Fr. Jacob helps organize religious services and advises commanding officers in matters of religious accommodations and spiritual and ethical issues.
This Remembrance Day, Fr. Jacob will officiate at a November 11 ceremony. He says the events do more than remember fallen soldiers and veterans, they also inspire young Canadians in their message of service.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics converged on St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Oct. 13 for the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. Medical doctor Thomas Bouchard of Calgary was one of many Canadians in the jubilant crowd. A week before the event, Bouchard admitted he was not sure where he’d be seated. “I’m happy to be where ever I’m placed,” said Bouchard, who was grateful to bear witness to the canonization of a saint whose work informs his own intellectual, professional and personal life.
Newman, who died in 1890, will be the patron saint of seekers. He converted to evangelical Christianity as a young man and was later ordained a priest in the Anglican church. Renowned as an Oxford academic, theologian and poet, Newman was received into the Catholic church in 1845 at the age of 44. Newman embraced the Catholic tradition as a call from God, but acknowledged his conversion, a controversial move in the United Kingdom, ended some relationships with friends and family.
Introduced to Newman’s theology at Newman Centre of McGill University, Bouchard attributes his intellectual formation in the faith to the Catholic academics who lectured there. Friends from that period of his life include Fr. Kim D’Souza, a Toronto priest who is studying in Rome. Bouchard was D’Souza’s guest at the canonization.
“The miracle that led to Cardinal Newman’s canonization is incredibly beautiful,” says Bouchard, who says the story has special resonance for him as a family doctor who delivers babies. The miracle involves an American woman who experienced severe bleeding during her fifth pregnancy. Alone with her other four children, Melissa Villalobos realized she was bleeding so badly she was likely to die. Devoted to Cardinal Newman since her days at university, she called out to Newman for help. The bleeding stopped and an ultrasound done later the same day confirmed her placenta was no longer torn.
The miracle, which occurred in 2013, was formally accepted by Pope Francis in February 2019.
To Bouchard, the miracle demonstrates the universality of the saints. “They care about everybody and I just think it’s beautiful that Newman, who is an academic, is also interceding on behalf of this woman.”
St. John the Evangelist
Back in Calgary, Newman’s canonization received special attention at St. John the Evangelist parish in Inglewood. A Roman Catholic parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, St. John offers a special welcome to Anglicans who seek to join the Catholic Church.
Fr. Robert Bengry, who came to the Catholic Church through the Anglican tradition, recognizes a kindred spirit in Newman. “Unless one is entirely an adventurer, it helps to know someone has already successfully made a journey one is about to embark upon. Newman made the journey home to the Catholic Church and gives others the courage to walk in his footsteps.”
Newman teaches that “one must be prepared to lose everything in order to follow Christ,” adds Bengry. “This certainly happened to Newman—loss of friendships, status, identity—but of course one gains everything of what is truly important. Chiefly the salvation of one’s own soul.”
To celebrate Newman’s sainthood, St. John the Evangelist invited Bishop Fred Henry to give the homily at the 10 am Mass on Sunday, Oct. 13.
The parish will welcome a first-class relic of the new saint on Friday, Nov. 29. The relic will be exposed at 6:30 pm with Sung Evensong. That will be followed by individual veneration. The relic will then be placed in view for collective veneration for an hour. During that time, a number of reflections from St. Newman’s writings will be shared. The evening will feature Newman hymns and will end with Sung Compline at 8 pm.
Fr. Bengry says the event is open to anyone who wants to attend. The veneration of a Saint John Henry Newman relic has special meaning for his parishioners since the event marks 10 years since the Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated, providing a process for Anglicans to return to the fold.
Details of Newman’s life and canonization can be found at www.newmancanonisation.com. Dr. Thomas Bouchard encourages people to read Newman’s story. Like Pope Benedict, Bouchard views stories about the lives of saints as a kind of second gospel. “Because they live out the gospel in their lives, reading about the lives of saints is really like reading the gospel.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of St. John Evangelist, Calgary
Calgary’s position on the 51st parallel means daily worshipers at St. Mary’s Cathedral are finding their way to morning and late-afternoon Masses in the near dark. In early spring and late fall, those arriving in time for daily morning prayers and the rosary at 6:30 am will enter the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary as east-facing office towers, and dew- or frost-tipped lawns, reflect the first rays of the rising sun.
Long-time parishioner Lillian Illescas says many of the daily Mass goers resolutely start or end their work days on their knees at the Cathedral. They come to spend time in the sacred space; they return because the priests at the Cathedral anchor a community that makes them “feel so welcome. Here, they see a community that puts faith in action.”
Small parish, big heart
Officially known as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s list of registered parishioners represents about half of the 1,400 people who regularly attend weekend Masses at the Cathedral. Another 500 guests and 100 volunteers fill the parish hall for Feed the Hungry dinners held on Sunday afternoons. Hundreds of other Catholics come to the Cathedral for special events, including The Way of The Cross, Chrism Mass and the Rite of Election. Holy days, like Easter and Christmas Masses welcome regular parishioners, their families and guests to our city. The Cathedral also welcomes its share of convention visitors and tourists who are in Calgary throughout the year and to attend the annual Stampede.
Other Catholics approach the Cathedral to receive the sacraments of marriage and baptism. “We may be small, but I want people to know that we are a community of hospitality and faith,” says Fr. Dielissen.
Fr. Dielissen came to St. Mary’s in 2014 following a year sabbatical that included time in Africa and Rome. He recognizes the Cathedral assignment is remarkably different from his time at other parishes in the Diocese.
A historic and Catholic landmark
History buffs recognize the Cathedral as a cornerstone of Rouleauville, a village that housed Calgary’s French Catholic quarter in the early 1900s. The original sandstone church opened on the site in 1889. It received Cathedral designation when the Calgary Catholic Diocese was established in 1912. Today’s building was completed in 1959 and is a modern Gothic structure that features bells donated by Senator Patrick Burns, stained-glass windows from Germany and a 4.9-metre stone statue of the Virgin Mary with Child sculpted by local artist Luke Lindoe.
Given its role in the Diocese, much of the pastor’s role at the Cathedral is necessarily administrative. Here, Fr. Bob Dielissen oversees a rectory with six resident priests. The rectory also has three additional rooms for visiting priests and is the home parish for several religious communities, including the Faithful Companions of Jesus. Fr. Bob Dielissen is also involved in organizing special Masses for the local schools and the graduation Masses for Catholic High Schools. Other Masses throughout the year include an annual Red Mass for lawyers and others who work in the legal profession, Migrant Mass for all the diverse cultures, Red Wednesday Mass for persecuted Christians and Masses for ministries such as the Couples in Christ, CWL and Knights of Columbus. This year, the Cathedral also hosted Mass for those attending the National CWL convention.
An imposing architectural presence in Calgary’s Mission District (named for its missionary role in bringing the Catholic Church to Calgary), St. Mary’s purpose is welcoming all those who knock on her doors. Fr. Bob Dielissen say it’s common for the area’s street people to seek shelter in the Cathedral by attending services. One of these men, known as Kipper, assumed a kind of protective role, even keeping watch to make sure the morning paper was still there when staff arrived. When Kipper died, priests and religious sisters organized a funeral service that brought his family to tears knowing that he was loved.
Fr. Dielissen has targeted stewardship and its three pillars of Time, Talent and Treasure since he came to St. Mary's Cathedral. Fr. Dielissen has sent staff for ministry training, to help bring parishioners into the stewardship concepts of sharing their gifts. Each year a Stewardship Fair invites people to participate in the parish community with the offering of their Time, Talents and Treasure. This year, over one hundred parishioners signed up for service in ministries ranging in Liturgical, Hospitality and Community Ministries.
Whether it be gathering for a weekly scheduled Mass to a funeral, all are welcomed. Fr. Dielissen invites funeral directors to have coffee and lunch while they’re waiting at the Cathedral. It’s a small act of kindness as Fr. Dielissen is always looking for ways to open the door to welcome people.
To Fr. Dielissen, “it’s about hospitality and the need to reach out with signs of Christ’s ministry. People come from all over Calgary to attend Mass at the Cathedral, and we want this to be a good experience.”
The focus on building a strong Catholic community to serve the corporal heart of the Church in Calgary is paying off, as parishioners come together at the Cathedral for worship and service.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Riley Isaacs, a 17-year-old football player at the school said, "Hearing from somebody who has served in the Canadian Military, really opens your eyes to how much of a sacrifice they made for the rest of us."
Students from the school continue to share a connection with the veterans beyond Remembrance Day. Corporal Hornburg's number has been retired from the team, and every year a student is awarded the Corporal Nathan Hornburg Award. Fuchko has also inspired the football team to wear "Remember Our Troops" stickers on all their helmets.
"It makes you feel inspired to love and support those who have fought for our country, in order to represent the ideals we support--that every human deserves," said student Ben Beaudry, 17, "It's just inspiring."
In preparation for this Remembrance Day, students at Bishop Carroll have come together to collect non-perishable food items for the Veteran's Association Food Bank.
As the Season of Lent begins, it is a good time for us to seek an interior renewal and to face the distracting attachments and preoccupations that have become part of our often very busy lives. These forty days serve to remind us of Christ’s journey into the desert. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that “Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.
By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC, 540)
It is this Lenten discipline of penance, renunciation, and detachment which reawakens within us the awareness of our dependence on God and His great love for each of us. While retreating to the desert might be impossible on a practical level, our Lenten observance of penance, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving helps us to grow in Christ daily and to avoid temptation.
In particular, the psalmist’s refrain, “Be still and know that I am God” invites us to be attentive to our times of personal and communal prayer. One of the Desert Fathers, Amma Syncletica said, “There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.” (Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Cistercian Publications: 1975, p. 19)
Listening to God in prayer is an important part of a life of faith. God desires to speak to us and we have the privilege of listening to the promptings of His Spirit through the consolations and desolations with which He graces us during our prayer. William Barclay’s reflection on prayer and silence is often quoted as follows, “… Prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God's voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him.”
The psalmist writes in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Walter Brueggemann, a well-known scholar of the psalms, says that some psalms were written for the good times while others were written for the times when the future seemed uncertain and perhaps filled with impending troubles. These psalms were written for people living in times of change and uncertainty who were experiencing feelings of anxiety and even dismay. (The Spirituality of the Psalms, Brueggemann, pp. 19-25.) Psalm 46 provides the reassurance that God is stable when all else seems unstable. At a deeply personal and spiritual level, this is important for each of us.
This is the deeper experience of prayer and listening which the time of silence and stillness offers to us.
“In the silence of the heart, God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers)
Let us embrace this season of Lent as a time to “be solitary in one’s mind.” (Benedicta Ward, Ibid.) If we allow God’s grace to renew our hearts during this Lenten season through prayer, then in the solitary stillness of such experiences we will know His great love, wisdom, and charity and be moved more generously to witness and share this with others.
I am a volunteer in a busy, hospital in a sizeable Canadian city. I have been visiting someone that I’ll call Linda. Linda has terminal cancer. Her family doesn’t live nearby and her husband is also ill in another facility. Linda is alone.
I had been visiting Linda for weeks when one day she suddenly confided in me that she has been offered MAID (Medical Aid In Dying, or euthanasia) many times by her doctor. She lay there, frail and alone, with tears in her eyes saying, “It’s not what I want. It is against my faith. But they keep offering it. I feel so depressed.”
Linda is one of many in our country facing the consequences of legalized euthanasia. She is alone. She is vulnerable. And what is our culture offering her during her time of crisis? A lethal injection?
Surely, we can do better. Surely, the answer to someone like Linda is not “Let me kill you,” but instead “Let me help make your last days as beautiful and meaningful as they can be. You are loved. You are valued. You are not alone.” Surely, the answer is to lift up, not to put down.
I have found that it is the little things that restore our dignity and make us feel loved and valued. In Linda’s case, I told her she must never feel pressured to accept MAID. I allowed Linda to express her fears, and she came to the conclusion that God must have a plan for her.
Then, I went to the hospital kitchen and found a plant with bright, beautiful flowers and placed it in her window. “These flowers are here to cheer you up. When you look at them, you will know that someone cares.”
It was a small gesture. It was all I could do, and I continue to visit Linda every week to offer her hope.
The above was written by one of more than 800 volunteers who have participated in LifeCanada’s Dying Healed program since April 2017. The Program effectively trains people to serve in pastoral care settings.
The testimony exemplifies what this program and indeed ALL of LifeCanada’s programs are about giving hope and affirming the dignity and value of all human life.
Did you know that since June 2016, over 8,000 Canadians have been victims of Medical Aid in Dying?
The Dying Healed Program has become a major aspect of our work at LifeCanada and we are continuing to expand into areas all across Canada.
I couldn’t go into labour without acknowledging that we are a family with six children.
I am so grateful for each of my babies; each one an unmerited gift.
Life after loss is incredibly humbling. I thought my womb was the safest place on Earth. I thought I was good at having babies. I thought miscarriage happens… to other people. What value did Jude’s short life hold, or my own? I pondered these and countless other thoughts. I kept coming back to these words:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am made strong.” Corinthians 12:9-10.
And in my weakness, I was met with many new and old consoling friends. To my friends still looking for a husband or wife and wanting to start a family. To my friends who silently struggle with infertility. To my friends who’ve experienced miscarriage, stillborn or infant loss, loss of a child to sickness, suicide, an accident and other kinds of loss. Thank you for opening your hearts to me this past year. Our family and friends loved us back to life with each act of kindness.
Pregnancy after loss is incredibly humbling. I carried distrust of my body and anxiety throughout this pregnancy. I am grateful for the ways my eyes have been opened to the world of hidden suffering.
Nearly a year later, Jude continues to come into my life in the most unexpected moments. I am still his mother and he my son. And he continues to transform my interior life and turn my gaze from ground-level to the glory of God.
As most of us know by now, life isn’t as it appears in a nicely lit, staged snapshot. But it’s good to let our lights shine and to celebrate the joy that triumphs over the woundedness and pain we each uniquely experience throughout life. Here’s to this final stretch of pregnancy (due date Oct. 6). Praying for a safe labour, blessed birth and all the unfolding of life that is to follow!
Written by: Sara Francis
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers