By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Advent is the season of anticipation. A time to set off on a journey, walking alongside Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, while awaiting the birth of Jesus.
“The function of Advent is to remind us what we’re waiting for as we go through life too busy with things that do not matter to remember the things that do,” said Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister in “The Liturgical Year.” “Without Advent, moved only by the race to nowhere that exhausts the world around us, we could be so frantic with trying to consume and control this life that we fail to develop within ourselves a taste for the Spirit that does not die and will not slip through our fingers like melted snow.”
Begin those first steps at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette on pilgrimage to the Christmas Festival of Lights, where the message is proclaimed: “Jesus, Light of Life.”
“As you arrive at the Shrine grounds, you are first drawn to the Chapel of Light where the Beautiful Lady invites everyone to pray,” said Shrine Director Father Cyriac Mattathilanickal, M.S. “Renewal always begins by coming home to oneself, and Mary paves the way to her Son.”
Under star-lit skies, countless illuminated colored lights quell the darkness of cold winter nights as pilgrims from around the world are led to the Christ Child, just as the Magi were 2,000 years ago.
St. Gabriel is the messenger angel, who announces the Incarnation of Christ and the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who was believed to be barren.
“The angel Gabriel left Mary with these stirring and powerful words: ‘Nothing will be impossible with God,’” said Liz Kelly in “50 Reasons I Love Being Catholic.” “I can’t help but believe that this message was more for us than for Mary.”
Traditions, rituals and customs are a part of our Advent observances. Often traditions have a religious origin which has been forgotten by commercial use.
“The challenge during these four weeks is not to be distracted by the commercialism of Christmas,” said Father Michael Racine, pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Assonet. “Only we can do that in our individual lives by taking time each day to stop, breathe, pray and reflect on this Holy Season and its beauty.”
Often the first sign of the season is the Advent wreath, a circle of evergreens symbolizing God and eternity, with no beginning and no end.
“The Advent wreath and its candles represent the hope, joy, peace and love of Christ in our lives,” Father Racine said.
The four candles, symbolizing Christ the Light of the world, stand for the four weeks of Advent — three purple, the Church color of the season, and one rose, which is lighted on the third Sunday. Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing because it marks the halfway point of Advent.
A prayer is said each week at the candle lighting in our parishes and at home before dinner.
A European custom, an Advent calendar is another way to mark the passing of the days, awaiting the birth of the Christ Child. A window in the calendar is opened each day from the first day of Advent to Christmas Day. This ritual also teaches children about the season and is a good way to welcome Jesus into the celebration.
We place lights in the windows of our homes, following an old Irish tradition remembering the journey of Joseph and Mary. A candle was placed in the window on Christmas Eve to welcome any traveler. We make amends. There is room at the inn.
Poinsettias, the traditional flower of the Christmas season, decorate our homes. The arrangement of its petals calls to mind the star of Bethlehem, while the red color symbolizes the love of the Redeemer.
We sing and listen to Christmas carols, as well as attend concerts and Nativity plays. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with popularizing Christmas caroling as a way to draw villagers into the Christmas Spirit.
Candy canes were created by an Indiana candy maker who made them in a “J” for Jesus. The white represents Christ’s sinless nature. Three thin red strips show the scourging, while the large red stripe is the blood shed on the cross to give us the promise of eternal life.
Crèche is the French word for crib. St. Francis of Assisi re-enacted the first Christmas scene using live persons and animals 800 years ago. A Nativity scene is the most important part of our homes at Christmas.
Originally brought home by pagans trying to please the spirits which they thought dwelt in them, live Christmas trees became a symbol of the everlasting life to which we are called through the birth and death of Christ. Martin Luther is credited with the idea of decorating the Christmas tree. He attached candles to emphasize the tree as a sign of Salvation and light.
“(Advent) is a period that focuses us on joy,” said Sister Chittister. “We come to realize more each year how great are our blessings, how beautiful is a life lived in concert with the Jesus Who came to show us the way. We learn the joy of anticipation, the joy of delighting in a sense of the presence of God all around us.”
For a calendar of events listing Advent Liturgies, concerts and special programs at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, visit www.lasalette-shrine.org.