Christmas: A Light of Faith, Hope, and Love in our World
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… (Isaiah 9:2)
This Christmas Eve we will hear the words of the prophet Isaiah ring out “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. How does one begin to describe the experiences of this past year? It is as if a shadow has been cast over our lives by a “pandemic of darkness”. Many here and across the globe have lost their lives to COVID-19 with their families left to mourn their passing, many have survived the virus with lasting effects, and others have risked their lives to provide medical care and to conduct the scientific research leading to a vaccine. It has left many marked by profound sadness, isolation, and fear.
There is also some understandable impatience with the health precautions and restrictions that place limits on our normal ordinary human interactions such as work, social activities, family interactions, and religious gatherings. Yes, we all have had to make sacrifices.
It is into this world, here and now, that God’s love is being revealed. It is a light that comes to us in darkness.
The Nativity of Christ which we celebrate at Christmas is not merely a recollection of an historical event or of a birth which took place in the past. It fixes our gaze on the future, on his second coming at the end of the ages while acknowledging His presence here and now in our lives, each and every day. With the challenges that we have faced this year we might be tempted to give up, to not see Christmas and its celebration through this light of faith, hope and love.
A prayer to the Immaculate Conception beautifully captures the action of God and the docility of our Blessed Mother, “Father, the image of the Virgin is found in the Church. Mary had a faith that your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin, for you kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our heart her readiness of faith”. God has traced the lines of Mary’s readiness of faith and love through our lives during this Advent season in the acts of love and sacrifice which each of us have freely accepted for the good and the wellbeing of others. They have probably gone unnoticed in the eyes of the world, much like Mary’s “fiat”, which was a simple response of yes to accepting the will of God. In our Catholic tradition, Mary has always been a type or model of the Church’s response to the will of God. As Mary came to believe, to conceive and to give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, this same action of God tracing His grace and love in our lives can come to birth this Christmas with a renewed sense of hope.
As St. Ambrose said, “You also are blessed because you have heard and believed. Home - I am Blessed 2020A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works. Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of God” (Office of Readings, Monday of the 4th Week of Advent). This year as we approach the celebration of Christmas, the I Am Blessed campaign of the Diocese is once again an opportunity to witness to our faith despite the suffering we may be experiencing, to recognize the blessings from God in the midst of our daily reality, and to seek out opportunities to be a blessing for others through prayer, giving, and in our acts of service for others.
As we prepare for Christmas, and the octave of this feast, let us rediscover how connected we are to one another. I invite us to experience in this coming year the hope that is found in the promises of God as did Mary. In the words of Pope Francis, Christmas is the feast that “returns us to the horizon of hope, a horizon that does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God” (Angelus, 1st Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013). The incarnate Word, the nearness of God which we celebrate on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Jesus, has transformed human history and can restore in each of us this profound gift of hope.
In this time of pandemic when we look for that light in our darkness, I offer my Christmas greetings and heartfelt best wishes to all the faithful of the Diocese.
I express my gratitude and esteem for the witness of pastoral charity exhibited by the priests and the deacons who exercise the role of Christ the Servant, the presence of the religious communities that offer their unique charisms and a witness to holiness, the co-responsibility of the lay faithful - including the volunteers and parish staff - as a living sign of Christ in the world, the role of the teachers and catechists in our schools and parishes, and the essential gift of family life that is shared so readily in an expression of sacrificial love and an openness to new life. Finally, to those who have both in the past and now serve at the Catholic Pastoral Centre, I am grateful for the dedication and cooperation that is expressed in our desire to be of service to the parishes of the Diocese in these challenging times. May God bestow his blessings upon all of us as we look forward in faith, hope and love to the coming year.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ William T. McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
Download Letter in PDF
Though we all have new restrictions being put into place for the pandemic, it need not be the same for our preparations for Advent. Advent still remains a joyful season. A time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of infant Jesus. What is more simple than a child? God Almighty presents himself to us in the form of a child, approachable, little and simple. God works outside of time, He sees all things and knows all things. He has known that we would go through this season with a different approach and perhaps that is precisely how He intended it.
To approach this season without the hustle and bustle we typically endure, the endless wrapping, the loud and busy households with tons of visitors coming in and out for the holidays. We have been permitted such a time as this, peeling away at what has become the norm of chaos, back to the simplicity of our nuclear families or even just our single households. This season may have a different feel to it, more solemn, more quiet, but all the more able to be attentive. Attentive to the details of your home, relationships with people and especially to the coming of infant Jesus.
If you have yet to decorate your home or begin your Advent preparations, here are a few great local resources:
Written by Rikka Borras, Beloved Daughters YYC
Christmas time is such a beautiful time. I think of Mary often and wonder about the night she gave birth to Jesus. Did she look at him with awe? Did she stare at his button nose? Did she tickle his little toes? Did she put one finger in his little hand as his fingers wrapped around hers? Did she rub his hair and hold him tight? Did she cry? Did she say out loud, “This is my boy!”?
I am so blessed to be a mom of four beautiful kids. With each one I remember just staring at them through the night in awe of God and his blessings. Thinking that Mary was a mother just like me puts the very first Christmas in such a different light. Do we consider the anticipation that Mary and Joseph felt while waiting for the birth of Jesus? And the joy they experienced when he was born! As a parent, I know that this waiting time was very special.
A book that I read to my Kindergarten students is Little One, We Knew You’d Come, by Sally-Lloyd Jones. I invite the children to bring a baby picture to class and encourage parents to have a conversation with their child about the anticipation they felt as they waited for their child to arrive.
Do we take the time and look at the children we teach as the blessing that they are?
My sister (a doctor) just told me about a funeral she attended recently, for an eight-year-old girl. Fifteen hundred people were there. She loved school so much that she came hooked up to an oxygen tank to help her breathe. The principal moved his desk outside the teacher’s door in case the little girl needed help. Her parents spent the days at the school reading books and newspapers while their daughter was in class. Any moment could be her last. Everyone waited. Just like her parents had waited for nine months for her to be born – although this waiting was going to end with a goodbye. She went to school Friday, blueish because her lungs were failing. Her dying wish was to go to school. She would never miss the Remembrance Day Assembly. She LOVED school. She died two days later.
Staff and families did not know that Friday would be their last day with this eight-year-old girl. The principal was asked to give the eulogy at the funeral. Everyone in the school was there. She loved stuffies, and her parents brought every stuffy she owned. When the children came in the church, they were offered a stuffy to cuddle. One last act of love… to love the things she loved most!
This Christmas, let us be mindful of the impact and privilege we have to be a teacher or work in a school. We play such an important role in bringing joy to the families of the students we teach. Families send their precious little ones (or big ones) to us daily to love, teach, support, help and nurture. Each child is a gift. God’s gift. Our mission is to look into the eyes of every child we teach and see the face of God. It is a blessing to be a teacher, a coach, a support worker, an administrator and custodial staff. We all have an opportunity to celebrate the life of a child.
Many Calgary Catholics are pushing through the coldest week of the new year by holding onto fond memories of the Christmas past. Others in the city’s East Asian communities keep themselves warm by anticipating the opportunity to celebrate the Lunar New Year on Saturday, Jan. 25. Ditto for parishioners at other ethnic parishes in the Diocese, where being Catholic and Canadian means you can commemorate important secular events with festivities that include prayerful appreciation of the cultural traditions that moved to Canada with their families.
Calgary’s Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese communities celebrate the Lunar New Year on the second new moon after the winter solstice. At St. Anne’s Korean Catholic Church in the community of Ramsay, parishioners will welcome the Lunar New Year with special prayers at the 11 a.m. mass on Sunday, Jan. 26, says parishioner and parish spokesman Nes (Luke) Noh. That service will be followed by a traditional New Year’s Day meal of rice cakes and soup in the parish hall. The rice cakes will come from a Korean market, the soup from parishioners. “We expect about 300 people,” says Noh. “No matter what the weather, people like to get together to celebrate. It’s tradition.”
Culturally, the Lunar New Year is also a good time to honour the memory of ancestors, so Korean Catholics will also offer prayers for their deceased family members, says Noh.
Week of Prayer about a shared faith
This year’s Lunar New Year falls at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, says Theodoric Nowak, Director of Social Justice and Outreach Ministries with the Calgary Catholic Diocese. This year’s Week of Prayer, set for Jan. 18 to 25, calls for Christians to move from shared prayer to shared action. The theme also challenges Christians to show greater generosity to people in need. “In a Diocese as diverse as Calgary’s, it’s always important to remember the different backgrounds which people come from and the traditions they hold,” says Nowak. “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us that despite the differences which exist between cultures and denominations, we find unity in our love of Christ and commitment to achieving the common good.” In addition to prayers for the faithful being offered for Christian Unity, the FCJ Centre and Ascension Parish will each host prayer events, adds Nowak.
Cultural and spiritual traditions
New Year celebrations at St. Stephen Protomartyr Church also reflect cultural and spiritual traditions, says Fr. Gregory Faryna. The Jan. 1 liturgy at this Ukrainian Catholic church in Glamorgan, celebrated the naming of Jesus and the feast of St. Basil the Great. An early Church father who defended the orthodox faith, St. Basil the Great is especially important to Albertans of Ukrainian heritage. At Fr. Albert Lacombe’s request, St. Basil sent Basilian priests to the Edmonton area to serve European Catholics who came from the Byzantine tradition, explains Fr. Faryna.
As the Ukrainian people historically followed the Julian calendar, Fr. Faryna’s parish also marked the Ukrainian New Year. While the actual date was Jan. 13, St. Stephen held a Ukrainian New Year banquet and dance on Friday, Jan. 8. About 200 people filled the parish hall for the event, which included a performance by a local Ukrainian dance group. Since many parish families are compromised of Ukrainians who married outside that ethnic group, events like these are an important way of sharing cultural traditions, says Fr. Faryna.
The Ukrainian New Year was also part of the Sunday liturgy on Jan. 12. There, the community offered special prayers for world peace and prayers for lives lost in the Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran earlier this month.
Ukrainian Catholics approach each new year with prayers that honour the past year and help people prepare for the year to come, adds Fr. Faryna. Some families also commemorate the new year by performing or attending a traditional Malanka (which means new year) play. The play reminds people living through the long nights of winter that spring is on its way. “It’s that anticipation of new life that’s coming around the corner,” says Fr. Faryna.
Over at Ste.-Famille Church just south of the downtown core, Msgr. Noel Farman says the arrival of 2020 got him thinking about how important his parish is to the local francophone community. Ste.-Famille is the only French-language parish in Calgary. Many of the children Msgr. Farman met when he arrived at Ste.-Famille 11 years ago are now adult parishioners attending post-secondary schools or working. “This Christmas I told them, ‘I consider myself as your grandfather.’”
As with Korean-speaking parishioners at St. Anne’s parish, Msgr. Farman knows many of his parishioners make a special effort to attend a French-language mass for special events, including Christmas and New Year’s. At this year’s Christmas Eve mass, children gathered around the priest’s chair and treated mass attendees to a special performance. “It was like a dialogue between three candles representing faith, hope and love,” says the priest. The recitation ended with the candles representing faith and love declaring that hope brought them together to help each other.
This Christmas season, Ste.-Famille weathered the deaths of four people with close ties to the parish. Msgr. Farman says he was touched by how so many of his parishioners travelled to funerals in Edmonton and Claresholm to show their solidarity to each other and to their faith. “I was thinking, this is how we show our belief in eternity, we pray for those who have passed.”
For more information on this 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian unity, please download this poster.
By: Joy Gregory
An early family Christmas weekend this year brought special blessings to our family. My three children, their spouses, our seven grandchildren, my husband and I gathered at our family cabin at Pigeon Lake for some time together, exchange of presents and Christmas fun. On the agenda was mass at 10 a.m. Sunday morning at St. Theresa’s Church in Mameo Beach. Even though the little ones (seven children under five years old) were up at 6 a.m., it was still a scramble to get us all dressed, strapped into car seats and to the church on time. With just minutes to spare, we walked through the doors of St Theresa where the ushers met us with warm smiles and a sincere welcome. “Would you like to bring up the gifts?” they asked. My husband agreed and said he would bring the four boys (all 3-4 years old) with him.
We seated ourselves at the front in the hopes that the kids would be more attentive. Armed with coloring pages, stickers and some goldfish snacks we settled in. Mass was beautiful and the gathering of parishioners was intimate. There were a few squawks and cries from the front row but all in all the kids did pretty well. During the offertory, my husband took the four boys to the back of the church. Never one to be left behind, within seconds little Abby (19 months) was on her way as well, so her mom moved quickly to follow her.
The parishioners beamed as my husband and daughter walked up the aisle with the bread and wine. The kids followed. During communion, Father blessed every child individually as he placed his hand on each little head and said, “May the Baby Jesus bless you.” As mass came to a close, the usher came to the front and asked if there was anyone with an upcoming birthday. One of the ladies raised her hand, and he responded that we would now sing the blessing song to the birthday girl. In the same breath, he turned to us and he added, “And I think we should bless this family and all the little ones who have brought us such joy this mass.” The entire congregation raised their hands and sang the blessing song to us and the special parishioner. Amazing!
As Father began his closing prayer he turned to our family and said, “These children are the future of the church, and we are so glad that you brought them all to mass today.” The entire congregation applauded, and we were invited to stay for cookies and coffee and the decorating of the Church for Christmas. As a mother and an educator, I know that early childhood experiences form children. I also know that children are spiritual beings who instinctively love God and all of His creation. Having my whole family together at this mass and to be so warmly welcomed by St Theresa’s community was a gift beyond words. Thank you, St. Theresa’s for embracing us and blessing us so kindly.
By: Bonnie Annicchiarico
With the disappearance of decorated Christmas trees from bay windows and the appearance of dried up evergreen trees free of ornaments, tinsel and lights now lying on our curbs we can easily perceive an atmospheric change in focus. However, Liturgically, Christmas ends with the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on Sunday, January 12.
So, even if your Christmas trees have come down and decorations have been returned to storage, we invite you to consider keeping out the Christmas crèche a while longer and placing it in a prominent place in your home where you can gather with family and pray.
You may light a candle (mindful of everyone’s safety) and pray these words…
“O God, who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practising the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity, and so, in the joy of your house, delight one day in eternal rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. ”
Did you know that the Vatican has their life-size nativity scene up until February 2?
Just as the Blessed Virgin spent 40 days contemplating the Divine Fruit of her womb before going to the temple to fulfil the Law, we also can ponder, explore, and live out the fruit of the Incarnation in the period of Ordinary Time leading up to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2. While this feast day is not part of the Christmas season, it is a feast that points back to Christmas and leads us forward to Easter.
And so, building on the #I Am Blessed campaign, we invite you and your family to keep in mind the words of Pope Francis: “The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman” Pope Francis, Admirabile Signum.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The holy days of the Christmas season are upon us.
This year, at the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of Our Lord, we hear the familiar narrative from Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus’ humble birth among us in fulfillment of the scriptural promises. Joseph, a “righteous man” is faced with a situation he does not fully understand and yet in the simple words of the Gospel, “he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.” And in that moment, Joseph becomes a model of trusting in God and following His Will.
These inspiring events of Mary and Joseph, annunciations and dreams, angels and shepherds, stars and adoring magi serve to captivate our imaginations and invite us to celebrate the profound simplicity of God’s presence among us as a humble and innocent child. The Son of God is born into the human world and gives flesh to God’s saving power. These scripture passages announce hopeful messages of “Peace on Earth,” “Good will to all,” and the absolute steadfastness of God’s promise to save His people. Indeed, such messages of “Good News” are welcomed among the poor, the vulnerable, and all of us who recognize the need for God’s salvific love in our lives.
This year Pope Francis, in speaking to the United Nations, offered the following reflection about Christmas:
“These are days in which we raise our eyes to heaven and commend to God those people and situations that are closest to our heart. In this gaze, we acknowledge ourselves to be sons and daughters of one Father, brothers and sisters. We give thanks for all the goodness present in this world, and for all those who freely give of themselves, those who spend their lives in service to others, those who do not give up but keep trying to build a more humane and just society. We know well that we cannot be saved alone. … May Christmas, in its authentic simplicity, remind us that the most important thing in life is love.” (Pope Francis, December 20, 2019.)
As our communities in Faith look heavenward at Christmas, let us invite the Christ child to be born into our hearts spiritually, to transform our lives, and to strengthen the witness of our faith so that we might grow in humility and confidence as missionaries of charity for our brothers and sisters. May we proclaim His Birth with great joy and announce the saving love of Jesus Christ in the daily living of our lives.
I offer you the assurance of my prayers as you gather with family and friends to celebrate these holy days of Christmas.
Yours in Christ,
+ Most Reverend William McGrattan
Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary
December 24, 2019
Close to the celebration of Christmas, after the Nativity scene has been set up, gather around to bless and praise God for sending his Son, Jesus. Here is a blessing prayer you can use at home with your family:
Sing a Christmas hymn or carol.
Leader: Glory to God in the highest.
(R/.) And peace to God’s people on earth.
Leader: Let us listen to these words of Scripture.
A reader proclaims one of these readings from Holy Scripture:
Leader: Let us praise our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, who was born for our salvation. Our response to each intention is “Glory to God in the highest.”
(R/.) Glory to God in the highest.
Leader: Eternal Word, you have scattered the darkness of sin and death. (R/.)
Word made flesh, you have made us children of God most high. (R/.)
Incarnate Son, you have united heaven and earth. (R/.)
Lord Jesus, you are the revelation of God’s love. (R/.)
Eternal Son, you are the light of the nations. (R/.)
Emmanuel, you are fullness of God’s glory. (R/.)
Son of God, you were born of Mary with Joseph as your protector. (R/.)
Bread of life, you were laid in a humble manger. (R/.)
Son of David, the shepherds came to worship you. (R/.)
Light of the world, the Magi brought you gifts. (R/.)
Prayer of Praise
Leader: Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation:
you have sent your Son
as the promised Saviour of the world
so that he might share with us your divine life.
Bless us as we prepare this crib,
and let it be a reminder of the Lord Jesus,
who was born of the Virgin Mary in the City of David.
Grant that we may always serve you in faith
as did the angels,
praise you for your saving deeds
as did the shepherds,
and surround you with the warmth of our love,
as did the animals of the stable.
Glory and praise to you, eternal God,
through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who lives with you and the Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.
Conclude by singing a Christmas hymn or carol.
From Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family.
Ottawa: Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004.
Written by Bishop William T. McGrattan | December 5, 2019
"To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." (Lk. 2:11)
You are invited to spend the Christmas season with Our Lord Jesus Christ with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. Check out the Mass times for the Christmas Season in parishes throughout the Diocese of Calgary. Click here.
While shops, television, and radio are filling our ears with Christmas music during the “holiday season”, for Catholics most of the worldly festivity does not take place during Christmas at all. It falls rather, during the liturgical season of Advent.
Unlike the red and green of the secular season, the liturgical colour of Advent is violet – the colour of a penitential season. We use candlelight to soften, not eviscerate, the darkness to invite prayer and introspection. We cease singing the Gloria and our hymns reflect the twofold character of Advent.
One of the most popular Advent hymns is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. The text of this hymn originates with the medieval O Antiphons, one of which is prayed each day in Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and as the verse for the Alleluia verse of the Gospel Acclamation in the Mass from December 17 – 23.
The O Antiphons introduce us to several names given to the Messiah in the Old Testament. Each of the seven antiphons has three parts:
O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation.
O sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush,
who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.
O Radix Jesse
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all people;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
O Clavis David
O Key of David,
O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
come, break down the prison walls of death
for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
and lead your captive people into freedom.
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
O Rex Gentium
O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.
O Emmanuel (“God is with us”)
king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people,
come and set us free, Lord our God.
Tonight, as I was driving by a parking lot in the bleak and snowy weather, feeling downcast and discouraged by difficulties from recent weeks, I saw a guy dumpster-diving in a clothing donations bin in the dark. Pulling over to ask if there was anything I can do to help, I was shocked to see a guy probably in his 30's, not older than me.
He said what he needed most was a warm pair of gloves to make it through the cold night, as his was full of holes. Since all the stores were closed, I offered him mine, though they were rather worn. He hesitated, but I insisted that he tried them on – they fit. The look on his face was one of genuine happiness and gratitude, over just my old worn pair of gloves. My heart ached. We made a run to Tim’s to get some food, and I let him know about the Feed The Hungry program every Sunday at St. Mary’s. He shared with me that he went to a Catholic school growing up, so I asked him if there was anything I can help pray for. Looking away, he stood silent for what seemed like a minute, neither speaking or moving. Then, with tears in his eyes, he asked me to pray for his two kids whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. I promised I would pray for him, and in your charity, I ask that you please pray for Mike and his kids too. He was so grateful, but to me he was the real blessing tonight, as he snapped me out of focusing on myself and my own problems. God bless Mike, and may he receive all the graces and help needed to be reunited with his kids. #iamblessed
Shared by Dr. Thomas Fung, parishioner of Holy Spirit Parish in Calgary, Vice President of Calgary Catholic Medical Association. Photo credit: Dr. Thomas Fung
During the 2018-2019 school year, Shannon Griffin, principal of St. Damien School, a Calgary Catholic Elementary School contacted me about how her school could partner with the Christian Life Centre and the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus to do something good for our Church and world. I knew that the Centre offers a special retreat each January, free of charge, for unemployed people, and that finding funding for that retreat is a challenge, given the current downturn in Calgary’s economy. The retreat does nothing to help people find a job; rather, it is a “heart-helping” retreat to offer support, encouragement and a renewed appreciation of each one’s personal gifts in a time when people feel quite vulnerable and often depressed. The weekend experience is called “The Gift of Hope”.
Together, the principal and I devised a plan: I went out to her school and met with all the students, by grade-level groups. I told them about the unemployment retreat and asked, “If people do not have enough money to pay their bills, would they have money to go to a retreat centre and attend a retreat that’s meant to help their hearts?” “No,” they chorused. So, I invited them to go home and offer to do four little jobs that are NOT their ordinary chores and to ask their moms to give them 25 cents for each job. When they had earned four quarters, they were to trade them in for a looney and bring it to school. If every child at school was able to bring in a looney, the school could pay for someone to make the retreat. They would be retreat sponsors!
Then, Ms. Griffin wrote a letter home to the families, explaining what we were trying to do and giving the target date for the looney collection. And a few weeks later, I went to the school, and they held an assembly and presented me with a cheque for $1,103.55! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had no sooner received the cheque when a teacher came up and asked, “How much more would we have to give to pay for four retreatants?” When I told her, she took out her cheque book and wrote another cheque for $36.45 right on the spot! What a blessing!
When I returned home and told the Sisters and the others who work at the Christian Life Centre, there was such joy. So many were touched by the children’s and families’ generosity. We feel a real sense of being partners in hope with the school community at St. Damien School!
Written by Sr. Madeleine Gregg, fcj
Photo submitted by Sr. Madeleine.
During the Advent season many parishes will gather together to hold either Reconciliation or Penitential Services, to facilitate and encourage celebration of God's mercy.
Here is a link to a schedule of Parish Advent Penitential and Confession times and places, submitted by a number of parishes in our Diocese.
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 lineup for a free hot meal organized by the Diocese of Calgary often begins an hour before the doors to St. Mary’s Parish Hall open at 3:30 p.m. Rain or shine, wind or snow, people come by the hundreds. Most arrive on foot, some aided by canes or walkers. Others come alone. The adults will all take a seat beside others gathered at the long communal tables, but some will never speak.
Those with children walk around to the hall’s back entrance. Pushing strollers, carrying toddlers, holding the hands of shy children and smiling at the antics of tweens and teens, they will be seated in the family section of the weekly supper known as Feed the Hungry (FTH). At one dinner held this past summer, a young mother travelled 90 minutes—taking three city buses—for the opportunity to take her three boys out for a meal. Illness keeps her from working. Her boys keep her from giving into despair.
Faith, hope and charity
A modern-day version of the Christmas story plays out near St. Mary’s Cathedral nearly every Sunday night of the year. Here, the menu includes a hot meal served alongside a good helping of faith, hope and charity.
A downtown Calgary institution since 1994, FTH welcomes as many as 500 people to its Sunday suppers. The event gives many of its guests temporary respite from emergency shelters. They are joined by parents with low income who welcome a break from meals made with items found in emergency food hampers; seniors parenting grandchildren; single people, couples and families couch-surfing through their wait for affordable housing; working parents for whom a couple of days off work to nurse a sick child means the month’s pay cheque no longer covers rent and food. Other guests may like to sleep “rough,” but welcome a tasty hot meal made and served by kind people.
Across the room from the family tables sit the less-than-sober. Every guest, regardless of age or situation, will receive table-side service of salad, a hot meal, beverages and desserts. Guests are welcome to ask for seconds and it’s not uncommon for the volunteer servers to step in when they see a young eater who’s not happy about the night’s fare. “Your little boy doesn’t like tonight’s entrée? Let me check with the chef. We’ll find him something.”
For a few hours once a week, there is always room at this inn.
It takes a village
Every FTH meal is sponsored by a parish, company or community group, says Program Manager Sartre Jean-Gilles. Sponsors donate $5,000 and agree to supply up to 100 volunteers. To keep everything running smoothly, another set of regular volunteers serve as Team Leads and oversee specific stations. The menu is managed by other rotating teams of volunteer cooks. Some cooking teams are organized around parish links. Others are staffed by groups of friends.
Bishop William McGrattan likes the way FTH garners widespread community support. While many of its benefactors are Catholic, others participate simply because they seek to serve the less fortunate. The Bishop is also a fan of how FTH enables children to serve alongside their parents.
On Dec. 16, an anonymous sponsor will treat dinner guests to live entertainment. Each of the diners will also receive a $10 gift card for a fast food restaurant. Those cards were donated by parishioners, FTH sponsors, vendors and volunteers.
Watching the first group of diners enter the hall, one of the Dec. 9 volunteers smiles. He’s been here before and he’s pleased to be back. “I’ve learned not to judge.” He doesn’t need to know why his guests are there. He’s just grateful they have a place to come.
Written by: Joy Gregory
In the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus the names of the historical figures Caesar Augustus, Quirinius and Herod stand out. These men do not enter into the manger scene. They generally escape our imagination and interest, even if they played significant roles in the ruling Roman Empire. Yet the Evangelist, St. Luke, makes a special effort to link them to the birth of Jesus. The references to these men ground the events of the Gospels in world history. They emphasize the point that the birth of Jesus really happened, and it happened at a specific point in time, around the time of these rulers of the Roman Empire. So the birth of Jesus is more than just a heart-warming story. It is a world event.
The names of Augustus, Quininius and Herod also hold a different, far greater significance in light of the Nativity of Christ. Some years ago at the Synod on the Word of God a recent Holy Father indicated that the birth of Jesus is not simply another world event, but the event that gives meaning to all events. He states:
“The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing, which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature.”
When we celebrate Christmas and hear the account of the birth of Christ, may we be fully aware of how this is not just one more event in world history. It is the climax that gives meaning to our lives, our actions and our events, as it does for all peoples and all times.
By: Fr. John Kohler
The liturgical year in the West begins with the Season of Advent on the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew on November 30 and lasts about four weeks until the eve of Christmas. The word Advent means “coming” and as St. Bernard of Clairvaux explains:
We know that there are three comings of the Lord . . .
The first and second “comings” are visible. The third “coming” actually comes between the first and second, like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last, is invisible, and is where St. Bernard focuses our attention for the season of Advent.
The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. . . Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
The birth of Jesus and the End Times are two dramatic events. Yet we live out our discipleship in the time and space between. As St. Bernard explains, the “middle coming” of Jesus is hidden; it takes place deep within each one of us as we progress along our spiritual journey. In stark contrast to the sensory overload we experience in commercial culture during this season, the liturgical character of Advent cultivates the stillness and quiet that enables us to experience Jesus as our rest and consolation in this middle coming. While we do well to remember our redemption by commemorating the birth of Jesus and to express our faith that Christ will come again, Advent invites us to prepare our spiritual lives and hearts to receive Jesus within ourselves.
By: Dr. Simone Brosig
In the cold and dark days of our January and February, there are three feasts accompanied by sacramentals that especially help us to bring the light of Christ into our lives and to know that God is with us in a very personal way throughout the year.
• Blessings and Prayers Through the Year: A Resource for School, Parish, and Home, Elizabeth McMahon Jeep
• Blessings and Prayers for Home and Family, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
By: Dr. Simone Brosig
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers