"To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." (Lk. 2:11)
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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.
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
Four years ago my mother had a stroke. Now she has vascular dementia. It is not exactly the same as Alzheimer’s. There is a tendency to lump all dementia together as Alzheimer’s, but there are actually several kinds of memory loss. Vascular dementia distinguishes itself because its progress is neither predictable nor consistent. Cognitive changes occur in steps. There are plateaus where the person’s memory holds steady followed by sudden changes. During each plateau I accustom myself until a new step occurs, inviting a new grief.
Most difficult for me has been the loss of abilities that, to my mind, most clearly identify my mother. For example, my mother can no longer remember how to bake the German cakes, which for decades have marked the seasons of our family life – Schwartzwälderkirchtorte on my birthday, Sachertorte on my father’s. These cakes symbolized her love for us. What happens to my mother’s love now that the symbol of that love is gone? Loss of memory can feel like the loss of a person, a death before death. In fact, the social worker assigned to help me calls it ‘ambiguous grief’ because the losses occur repeatedly without finality.
Recently, I attended a liturgical congress for which the theme was anamnesis or liturgical remembering. My earlier reflections on memory had to do with the memorization of liturgical texts and how the things we remember become part of us and identify us with certain cultures and communities. I found myself wondering: if my mother no longer remembers the things that identified her, who and whose is she?
One of the papers at the conference, given by Rev. Prof. Liam Tracey (OSM), was about worship in the age of dementia. Tracey referred to the practical theology of John Swinton, who proposes that we are not what we remember rather, God remembers us. Although it may be satisfying to use memory to construct our own identity and to connect with others, Tracey explained that God’s memory is not a neurological act; we are not as we think. One of the things experts say is that when you visit people with dementia you have to enter into their reality. While I tend to identify my mother in relation to how I remember her, a spirituality of dementia invites me to consider instead how God remembers.
When we recall God’s saving deeds in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, we fulfil Christ’s command to “do this in memory of me.” This anamnesis is distinct from non-liturgical recollection in that it actually makes the past events of salvation present again. It is not our individual memory of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, but God’s memory given to us in the liturgy that continues to save us. Although I grieve the changes in my mother’s cognition, her being is not ultimately determined by what she can remember. Losing memory does not have to mean a loss of identity because, for Christians, it is God who remembers.
Written by Dr. Simone Brosig, Liturgy Consultant / Director, Diocese of Calgary
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What do burst pipes and penmanship have to do with being chosen by God? There are two things I remember about my first Rite of Election as a catechumen. The first is the sound of rushing water at St. Mary’s Cathedral as the backdrop to the celebration. The Rite of Election normally takes place at the start of Lent, the period of the liturgical year that helps Christians prepare to reaffirm their baptismal promises at Easter. In this particular year, the sound of the water came from a pipe in the Cathedral that had burst due to cold weather! No doubt it was memorable for the Cathedral staff, but for me, it was a poignant foreshadowing of the baptism I was preparing to undertake at Easter as a member of the elect, one chosen by God to receive the sacraments of initiation. The second thing that I remember is inscribing my name in the book of the elect, in the rite of enrollment of names. These two things are the namesake of this liturgy, the Rite of Election and Enrolment of Names.
Rite of Election
The Rite of Election is about being chosen by God to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. In this ritual, the Church chooses those who have the dispositions that make them fit to take part in the sacraments of initiation. Before the Rite of Election the priests, deacons, catechists, godparents, and the entire community arrive at a judgement about the catechumens’ formation and progress in the Christian life. In the liturgy, they present the catechumens by name to the bishop and the entire assembly and give testimony about the catechumens’ readiness. The catechumens then express personally their intention to receive the sacraments of initiation and live as missionary disciples.
Enrolment of Names
With these testimonies, the bishop accepts the judgement of the Church and invites the catechumens to offer their names for enrolment. One by one the catechumens inscribe their names as a pledge of fidelity in the book that lists those who have been chosen for initiation: the Book of the Elect. Once the catechumens have inscribed their names, the bishop declares the Church’s approval of the catechumens saying: I now declare you to be members of the elect, to be initiated into the sacred mysteries at the next Easter Vigil. From this day until they receive the sacraments of initiation those who were catechumens are now called “the elect”. Historically they have also been called competentes or co-petitioners because together, they are asking for the sacraments and the gift of the Holy Spirit. They have also been referred to as illuminandi, those who will be enlightened, because in their baptism they will be filled with the light of faith.
Holy Season of Lent
The period between the Rite of Election and the Easter Vigil is known as the Period of Purification and Enlightenment. It is to be a time of intense spiritual preparation for the elect. The time for catechesis has ended, so the elect now join with the entire Christian community in fruitfully employing the Lenten season to prepare for Easter. The readings, music, and prayers for the Rite of Election are generally taken from the First Sunday of Lent. The bishop urges the godparents and the entire community to be an example and support for the elect during this time and then they are surrounded by prayer before being dismissed to “set out with us on the road that leads to the glory of Easter.”
The Grace of Baptism
As for those already baptized who are planning to make a profession of faith and/or complete their initiation at the Easter Vigil, they have already been made ready for discipleship through the dignity and grace of their baptism. These Christians have already been chosen or elected; they cannot be chosen again. Becoming Catholic is an expression of God’s choice and a choice of the individual, but it is not a new choice by God. The community of faith recognizes their desire to be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and take their place at the Lord’s table. At this time, they affirm their readiness to more fully express their election by God that took place at their baptism. Then, with the whole Christian community, they join in uniting themselves more closely to Christ and coming to know in a deeper way the power of his resurrection in us during this holy season of Lent.
Written by Dr. Simone Brosig, Liturgy Consultant / Director
The moment I stepped into St. Bernard’s Church with one small child in tow and one gestating in my belly, I knew I’d be seeing more of the place. At a crossroads between our post-secondary days and life with a family, my husband Joseph and I were looking for a church to call home.
“Let’s go St. Bernard’s,” Joseph said, pointing out its 9 a.m. Mass time, ideal for our small child and in the community we’d moved to.
I entered that Sunday with trepidation. I was a new mom with a toddler son who’d received a few annoyed glances at other Masses. We were elated and a bit surprised when people at St. Bernard’s just smiled at us and told us we were doing a great job, even though our toddler behaved exactly as expected – like a toddler. A smiling woman greeted us after Mass and offered us coffee and a cookie for our son.
That warmth and kindness was what made us stay. For almost eight years, we’ve been parishioners, welcoming three more children into our family and into the Church. It is that welcoming atmosphere that receives a new kind of young family – the church family that will be the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy Centre.
“It will be a tremendous addition to our community,” said longtime parishioner Nancy Steudler.
Nancy and her husband Chris began attending St. Bernard’s as a newly engaged couple in 1982. They too were welcomed by the parish and were married there in 1983. As their family grew to four children, they became leaders in parish ministries, contributing the life of the parish. They and many others expressed joy at welcoming young people from across the city to worship and keep the faith alive in this church.
During an information session for the parish, Fr. Matthew Emmelkamp, pastor at St. Bernard’s/Our Lady of the Assumption and Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations who will oversee the chaplaincy centre answered any questions that parishioners had. Those in attendance seemed hopeful and mindful that young people are the future of the Church.
At the inaugural Mass I had a sense of hope as I watched the pews fill with young people along with parishioners I recognized – a few being founding members of the parish.
Since Bishop McGrattan was a bit under the weather, he asked Fr. Cristino Bouvette to give the homily.
Fr. Cristino cited the Gospel for that day where Jesus says “nobody puts new wine into old wineskins.”
“With the loving concern and care as our shepherd, Bishop McGrattan has seen that this new wine needs a new wine skin” he said, referring to the students and young professionals, along with newlyweds and families who will access the centre.
Drawing again on the Gospel, Fr. Cristino, comparing the crowd to grapes, said “many of you have begun to experience being crushed by various means and methods, because the world has an infinite number of them. And you’re beginning to be strained and purified.
“But contained within you is a power; a power that must be harnessed. A power that must be properly and lovingly cared for and maintained in order that that rich wine will be yielded.
“That power is the power of your vocation; That way in which God from the beginning of time already orchestrated in His mind a plan for your heart that when brought to fulfillment would transform this world.”
It was in this spirit that the nearly-full church celebrated Mass together with the Bishop and many of our priests. Afterward, the narthex was filled with a buzzing, joyful crowd.
The need for the chaplaincy centre has grown apparent as Catholic on-campus ministries at the city’s post-secondary institutions have stretched themselves to capacity, serving the needs of a growing contingent of young people, primarily 18-35-year-olds.
“We’re not going to be a status-quo parish,” said Fr. Cristino, pointing to the transitional stages that students, young professionals and young families are in. The aim of the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy centre is to be an off-campus place of transition and a launching point for the future leaders of the Church.
In order to celebrate the Dedication Mass as well as Masses for Christmas and New Years, the parish sought a temporary occupancy permit from the city. A permit could only be granted after the building passed a safety inspection. On Wednesday the 20th, just two days before the dedication, the building did not pass. Several things needed to be done in order for the building to be considered safe for the public to access the Church. The city is responsible to ensure the safety of anyone who enters a building under construction explained Fr. Avi.
“The pews needed to be anchored down, exit signs needed installing, the roof needed to be clear of all debris, the construction materials like dumpsters had to be fenced and the parking lot cleared of ice,” said Fr. Avi.
On being asked by an inspector if he had a back-up plan, Fr. Avi motioned to the heavens saying, “He is my back-up plan.” Then he, along with the renovation committee and many gracious volunteers set to work.
Finally, on December 21st with just a half-hour before the rehearsal for the dedication would begin, the inspection was complete and the permit was granted.
“There were people crying when I announced it,” said Fr. Avi, “We had all worked so hard. The inspector was surprised that we were able to get so much done in such a short time.”
When the dedication Mass took place, emotions ran high for the people who knew what had occurred in the days before, “I was numb and I was praising the Lord for the miracle that he’d performed,” said Fr. Avi.
Though the walls of the church are still unpainted and there is still work to do, the Dedication Mass was a moving event, especially for those who hadn’t yet seen the new worship space.
Christopher Rappel, renovation committee member who is active in many roles at the parish cited Bishop McGrattan’s homily saying that actually, perhaps it was fitting that the Dedication took place amidst the renovations because the church is a work in progress, and so are all of us.
Sandra Will-Krile who serves as part of the renovation committee among other jobs within the church noticed the awe with which the parishioners entered on the day of the dedication. With newly anchored pews, a high sloping ceiling and lines that point to the altar, the new space certainly made an impact.
She said the renovation committee were constantly updated on the progress, so in preparation for the temporary opening, they saw what needed to be done more than what had already been done. “But when the people walked into the space and I saw their faces,” Sandra said, “it was then that I saw it through their eyes.”
The church was full for the Dedication Mass, which “went so smoothly,” according to committee members, despite the seeming chaos that had ensued in the days prior. It was a beautiful moment for all of the parish to see their work and care come to fruition.
To a few parishioners, the anointing of the altar stood out as one of the most beautiful moments during the dedication Mass. The time and care with which Bishop McGrattan took to anoint the altar and walls was noteworthy, as this is the first time that many in the parish had witnessed a rite of this kind.
The feeling of welcoming within the walls of Ascension doesn’t happen by chance; with nearly seven thousand parishioners, Ascension boasts over 900 volunteers active in the parish who might be called the lifeblood of the community. On top of those volunteers there is an active chapter of Knights of Columbus and of the Catholic Women’s League.
Fr. Avi, along with the renovation committee members are ever grateful to these families for their support both financially and physically as the process of taking the building from two semi-separate spaces to one unified sanctuary.
The community currently celebrates Mass in the hall and downstairs rooms. The Mass is projected on screens for the people not present in the main hall. During this time, the outside perception is that this is a rather painful burden for parishioners, but volunteer coordinator Sharron Robinson, along with renovation committee members are telling a different story.
“I think the sense of community is probably even greater with the renovations,” Sharron said,
“The volunteers step up that much more.”
When asked if the current Mass arrangement feels like fragmentation of the community, both Christopher Rapell and Sandra Will-Krile disagreed saying “No, in fact, I think people have adapted to the space that we have quite well.”
They both spoke of the parishioners as a resilient community pulling together to make the space at the church work rather than attending Mass at a school, which was their alternative.
To that end Fr. Avi who had been through parish renovations before said that it is challenging to maintain the sense of community in a different building, “so I asked the construction company and consultants if we could do this in stages.” Evidently, that approach has worked for the congregation, who have worked together to make not only two parishes one, but two sanctuaries into one unified space.
The big hearts of the community has never been more evident, said Sandra, than after New Year’s Day Mass when the new sanctuary had to be cleared of everything but the newly installed pews so that the work could restart.
“We expected maybe fifteen or sixteen people to help move things back into the hall, but we got fifty or sixty!”
As their pastor and renovation committee members would tell it, the people of Ascension are unafraid of hard work and lending a hand to anyone who needs help. With that spirit pulsing through its veins, they have every reason to look forward with hope to the future.
Written by: Jessica Cyr
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
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers