Advent is a blessed time for Lisa and Michael Roder of Sanford, along with daughters Taylor, 10 and Madison, 12, students at All Souls Catholic School. Since their daughters were young, the family has put the birth of Jesus at the forefront of their pre-Christmas celebrations.
“All too often, the real meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is forgotten in the gifts, the cookies, and the family celebrations,” Lisa said. “While these things are good, we want to put the emphasis on Jesus.”
In addition to displaying an Advent wreath prominently in their home, as well as a crèche, the family tries to participate in a charitable event each year. Last year they lent a hand at the Million Meal Challenge as part of a pre-Advent offering. In addition, they spend more time in Eucharistic Adoration, which gives them quiet time to center on Jesus.
“We want to teach our girls to focus on the true meaning of Christmas,” Lisa said.
For families longing to build Catholic traditions of their own, Advent, which began Dec. 1, is a time that holds great promise. As the sights and sounds of Christmas fill the air, parents have the opportunity to share their faith by teaching their children the prayers, symbolism and songs of the season.
While the Advent wreath – with the progressive lighting of the candles symbolizing the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son — is one of the more popular Advent customs of the Church, there are other traditions that play an instrumental role in our seasonal preparations.
One such custom is the “O” Antiphons, seven antiphons (see text box) that are recited preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23.
According to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, the Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. The repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah.
Bruce Croteau, director of the Diocese of Orlando Office of Liturgy, said unbeknownst to many, the classic Christmas song, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” is derived from the O Antiphons and he said starting this tradition is a great way to celebrate the days leading up to Christmas.
“During Advent we focus on the birth of Christ,” Croteau said. “The O Antiphons help usher that in. Still, we must remember that we don’t celebrate Advent as though Christ is not with us. We celebrate the implication his birth has on us today and that is because he came a long time ago, he is with us now. We always have to be cognizant that Jesus is with us even as we commemorate his very birth.”
Those who prefer to tap into technology to help them prepare for the arrival of the Christ child might find a new Advent app helpful. It was developed by Family Rosary, a branch of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which was founded by Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton who is a candidate for sainthood.
The free app (www.FamilyRosary.org/MobileXmas) strives to help people stay focused on keeping Christ in Christmas. Featuring meditative music with scripture and reflections, the app is designed for iPhones, iPads, Androids, and all other Smartphones. The mobile app will feature a new prayer each day to help keep the focus right where it needs to be.
Computer apps are fast emerging as a means of enhancing not only one’s Advent preparations, but one’s faith journey as well. Father Jorge Torres, director of the diocesan Office of Vocations said that the Church needs to be where people are interacting, and nowadays, people are using apps.
“In a sense, it is our modern marketplace,” Father Torres said. “It is a place where ideas are exchanged and people interact with each other through Social Media, so we need to be there as well so that we can be the voice of the Gospel in that venue.”
When using an app as part of one’s faith journey, Father Torres urges the faithful to seek apps created by legitimate Catholic authors. In addition, he said not to lose sight of the true encounter with God by going to and kneeling at a church alongside fellow believers.
Bishop John Noonan encourages the faithful to embrace tradition this Advent season.
“Traditions are important because they come from many cultures, they enrich the lives of the people, they bring more meaning into our belief and practice of our faith,” he said. “Traditions are part of our celebration of the birth of Christ.”
The “O” Antiphons embrace the imagery of our Divine Messiah.
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!