Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance: Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost God, world without end. Amen. - Collect, First Sunday of Advent
The new Liturgical Year has begun with the First Sunday of Advent. Our family altar is draped in purple and sparsely decorated. Our Advent devotions are typically a mix of long held family traditions and perhaps a few new elements here and there. The bare Jesse tree awaits the symbols that will tell the story of our salvation history. The Missal is replaced after its daily journey to Holy Mass, and left open to the propers of the day.
The empty manger awaits its most precious Guest; as we make sacrifices and practice penance we add pieces of straw to prepare a soft bed for the Holy Infant.
The Advent wreath marks the weeks for us as we light it in the evening when everyone is gathered home. We read the Bible story of the day and hang the corresponding symbol on our Jesse Tree and we pray together. We conclude by singing all the verses of O Come, O come Emmanuel, the words turning out hearts towards the final days leading up to the Nativity when we will pray the O Antiphons which the hymn is based upon.
We've started praying the St. Andrew Christmas novena, the beautiful prayer to be said fifteen times a day from St. Andrew's feast day on November 30th until Christmas. There are many ways to do this - some families like to use chaplet beads and say the prayer all at once; a friend at church told me her family says the prayer together five times at each meal. This year we've decided to try saying it together five times at a mealtime or two, and the remainder independently. We are all fond of my practice of placing little prayer cards all around the house as visual reminders to stop and pray and ponder throughout the day. Our old cards were getting rather shabby so we made some pretty new ones with various purple scrapbook paper bits I had.
Additionally, the little ones are enjoying the Advent Adventure videos available through the Holy Heroes website. After watching the video of the day we also read the Bible story again and use our Bible felts to illustrate the passage, and I encourage them to help with the retelling. As Eliza is especially enamored by all things video, this is a great resource for us.
For the 'big ones', we are hoping to work on some Scripture memorization during Advent; those of us who don't already know it are starting with the Last Gospel (John 1:1-14). We are continuing to learn the Angelus in Latin as a family, Josiah plans to teach us the Confiteor, and we'll see where we go from there. Jonathan hopes to teach us some Advent hymns such as Alma Redemptoris Mater (don't miss Jen's post at O Night Divine on Advent music), though he has his work cut out for him as we are not singers.
As for me personally, I am trying to read the day's meditations from Divine Intimacy twice a day with my morning and evening prayers. This is a new book for me. I happened to come across a stack of these books while I was at a party this summer, and while I never got a chance to ask the hostess about it I figured it must be really good if she had a well-worn dog-eared pile of them. So I ordered one right away, but when it arrived and I found the meditations go along with the Liturgical Year I decided to keep it for Advent. My anticipation grew as I came across others who know and treasure this book. I was in love after Day 1. Highly recommended.
And while the penitential season of Advent is not as austere as that of Lent, we do undertake fasting from sweets and treats. I admit I was not really looking forward to another period of fasting as it wasn't long ago that we finished fasting for the 40 Days for Life. But Meredith linked to this article reminding us if we are to feast then first we must fast, so we persevere in resisting the visions of sugarplums and gingerbreads and peppermints until Christmas. We always hold off on the tree and lights until just before Christmas as well. I am very thankful I took a few hints from some other bloggers (thanks Danielle and Susie) and got almost all of my gifts purchased before Advent, something I didn't ever really consider as possible. I have a couple of things to order online, but I shouldn't have to go into any stores and that is such a relief on so many levels. We also plan to wait on the Christmas music, and we are so pleased to be discovering rich treasures of the Church to listen to and (try to) sing instead.
And so we begin our twenty-six day journey towards Bethlehem. We pray for the strength to be faithful to our intentions and to keep our hearts fixed on the One Who is to come. As the world screams a very different message of the season we just need to look to the altar when we enter the church, and the purple speaks for itself. There are no flowers on the altar, and the organ lies silent. Quietly, patiently, simply, we prepare and ponder and wait, just like Mary did.
Loving mother of the Redeemer,
gate of heaven, star of the sea,
assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again.
To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,
Yet remained a virgin after as before.
You who received Gabriel's joyful greeting,
have pity on us poor sinners.
Alma Redemptoris Mater