How Are You Preparing for Advent?

In preparation for Advent, Joan Vos, Associate Director for Formation on the staff of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, has written a helpful series on preparing the worship space. The articles offer solid basics that are a good refresher for volunteers and professionals alike. Anyone who has suffered through well-meaning but mistaken approaches to seasonal decoration will appreciate her sensible and well-grounded advice.

In the first installment, she recommends the formation of a team to work on environment. Not only it is necessary to invite gifted people to work in this area, it’s also important that they prepare by learning and understanding good principles, and knowing their worship space:

One or two individuals will need to take leadership of the environment team and spend a considerable amount of time studying the principles of liturgical design. They will need to study their worship space and get to know its visual lines, spatial proportions and color scheme lighting. Their research can be shared with the team and provide the formative direction the group will need.

She names several liturgical values that always need to be keep in mind, such as this:

The primary purpose for our church buildings is for the celebration of Sunday Mass. Therefore, when we enter the building, our eye and attention should be drawn to the points in our spaces that serve this purpose. In other words, the primary focal points of our worship need to be visually strong.

In the second installment, which deals specifically with Advent, she follows up on this insight with respect to the Advent wreath — a home custom which now finds a place in churches. The wreath, she argues, may be seen as a link between the parish church and the domestic church, and fostered as such. Contrary to some who favor making the Advent wreath a visual “wow” she suggests instead that:

When preparing the wreath for the worship space, keep in mind that it should never dominate the assembly’s visual attention. The focal points of our liturgy should still have visual priority: the altar, ambo and font. These are the points to which our eyes are to be drawn.

Not all of her tactical suggestions can be practiced in every parish (subdued lighting? having the congregation dress in seasonal colors?). But that is OK. The articles are discussion-starters rather than recipes to be followed in detail.

Finally, the article challenges planners to remember that Advent is not only a preparation for celebrating the Babe of Bethlehem. It is also about the Second Coming that still awaits us. In Advent we hear again our call to conversion in preparation for the final coming of the Lord. In the words of Meister Eckhart:

“What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? … What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.”


      1. Apparently prepping for their Holy Name Society’s Christmas Lights ceremony on the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving (I suspect whoever organizes it assumes the Sunday after Thanksgiving is always Advent I when of course it’s not whenever there are 5 Thursdays in November, as is the case in 2017 and 2018):

        St Vincent de Paul conferences also tend to sponsor Giving Trees that are erected in advance of Advent because of the need to provide a purchase/return/pickup window before Christmas.

        When I was growing up in suburban NYC in the ’60s and ’70s, one rarely saw homes with *lighted* Christmas lights before the second weekend in December – and they tended to stay lighted through Epiphany (though I do vividly remember the energy crisis years when people dramatically cut back on that practice, and largely limited to electric candles in windows). When I moved to the Boston area almost 35 years ago, I was surprised by the cultural norm that moved that practice up almost two weeks. I wondered if it had to do with earlier onset of winter – wanting to get lights up before the advent (pun intended) of severe cold and lights down before the advent of serious snowfall.

    1. I suspect it’s got lighting of some sort, too.

      Don’t get me wrong – it would definitely raise my eyebrows to have seen that.

      I love Advent and I love Christmastide – and would love to actually celebrate both when they are supposed to happen, instead of the current march to treat Christmas Day itself as the end of Christmastide. (Hey, I still strongly prefer to attend Mass on Christmas morning rather than the Vigil. And I’ve never attended a Midnight Mass.)

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