Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
There are lots of ways to prepare for Christmas: cards to be written, travel reservations to be made, gifts to be purchased, decorations to be hung, favorite foods to be cooked or baked — just to name some of the more significant examples. But we Catholics have our own very particular way to prepare. We call it “Advent,” and I ask you, please, amid everything else, don’t neglect it.
The four weeks before Christmas are a time of intense prayer. The focus is on our preparing for Christmas by preparing ourselves for keeping the Feast. So that we can all do this better, let me offer here a few observations on the nature of Advent and Advent prayer.
Prayerful preparation for Christ’s birthday entails both looking back beyond that great event and looking ahead to the day that will come bringing to fulfillment what began in the stable at Bethlehem.
In looking to the time before Christ’s birth, we recall that his coming was promised right from the time that Adam and Eve fell, and that again and again God reaffirmed the promise and foretold the Savior’s coming through his prophets. And so, essential to our Advent prayer is listening once more to those promises and prophecies, so that we can respond anew with thanksgiving to God the Father, who “sent his Son into the world … that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
The consummation of these prayers of gratitude will come on Christmas Day when the Church explodes with hymns of praise to glorify God for the coming of his Son as “a man like us in all things but sin.”
However, our Advent is not only the “looking back” that would seem so obvious a move to prepare for Christmas. What might seem a surprise to some is that we begin Advent by looking ahead. Preparing to celebrate the First Coming of Jesus Christ involves preparing for his Second Coming at the end of the ages. At Bethlehem he came into the world poor and weak; he will come again on the clouds of heaven in power and glory.
Our prayerful response to the proclamation of Jesus’s Second Coming during the first part of Advent is, to borrow Fr. Solanus’ phrase, “to thank God ahead of time.” God’s fidelity to his promise to send us the Savior is the ground for our firm assurance that the Savior will, as he foretold, come again. And so, our Advent prayer should be an expression of that same trusting expectation that burned in the hearts of God’s people from creation until the Nativity.
Thanksgiving and trust, expectation and watchfulness — all the right sort of prayers for Advent. Of course the model for our Advent prayer is the Blessed Virgin Mary. All the prayers which the Church invites us to offer in Advent live to an eminent degree in the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady. She, then, is, we might say, every Catholic’s “prayer partner” during Advent. Saying Our Lady’s Rosary is an excellent way to prepare for Christmas. And I invite you parents to say at least a part of the Rosary together with your children. The family Rosary is an excellent way to make our homes places for the New Evangelization.
Please pray that I have an Advent full of grace, and know that I make that my prayer for you.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit