Living by church’s calendar at home draws families closer to saints, Mass

By Maria Wiering
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) – Growing up in St. Louis, Susanna Spencer loved her family’s Advent tradition of adorning a Jesse Tree with Old Testament symbols leading up to Christ’s birth.
She continued the tradition while in college at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where she met her husband, Mark.
“After seeing (Advent traditions) in my childhood, I thought, I want to do this the whole year, not just for the short four weeks before Christmas,” said Spencer, 31.
Even before they were married, Susanna and Mark both felt “drawn to liturgical life” and began incorporating more aspects of the Catholic Church’s calendar into their daily lives, from praying the Liturgy of the Hours to observing saints’ feast days. Now parents of four, ages 2 to 8, and parishioners of St. Agnes in St. Paul, the Spencers are intentional about shaping their home with the rhythm of the church seasons.
“A lot of the things that we’ve done are taking the Advent wreath idea and conforming it to the other liturgical seasons,” Susanna said.
The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of a new church year, and for some Catholic families, the liturgical “New Year” is tied to special traditions at home. This year the first Sunday is Dec. 3.
While enhancing a family’s “domestic church” through aspects of the liturgical calendar is nothing new, Catholics who are interested in liturgical home practices can find an increasing wealth of information online, where Catholics share ideas on blogs dedicated to the practice, such as Carrots for Michaelmas,, and Catholic All Year,
Spencer noted that Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, used a set of 15 books dedicated to the annual cycle of feasts and fasts in their 19th-century French home; Spencer has an edition on a shelf in her own living room.
In the Spencer’s West St. Paul home, the church’s season is regularly reflected in two spots: the dining room table centerpiece and the family’s small prayer table. The latter contains candles and a few icons, statues and artworks of saints and devotions, some of which change to reflect certain feasts or seasons.
The family prays there together daily, often noting that day’s saint or memorial. Sometimes, they mark a saint’s feast by attending daily Mass, where the saint is commemorated in the liturgy.
The Spencers’ centerpieces range from an Advent wreath, to a crown of thorns during Lent, to fresh flowers during ordinary time. Susanna anticipates feast days while meal planning, serving spaghetti on an Italian saint’s memorial or a blueberry dessert on days honoring Mary, which the church traditionally symbolizes with blue.
“One of the ways that you can learn about holiness is living with the saints,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “If we never think of them, we … can’t benefit from their intercession.”
She realizes that observing the Catholic Church’s calendar can feel like another task on the to-do list, and therefore potentially overwhelming or discouraging. She encourages Catholics who want to try it to keep it simple.
That’s also the advice shared by Beth Morgan, who was inspired to incorporate the church year into her home after becoming a mother. Now with two girls under age 4 and a baby due in January, she said the practice helps her teach her children the faith.
“It’s hard to engage (children) in Mass if you don’t make it tangible, and I think having (aspects of the liturgical year) at home makes it tangible,” said Morgan, 28, a parishioner of Transfiguration in Oakdale.
Like the Spencers, the Morgans try to reflect the church season with their dining table centerpiece, because it’s a daily focal point in their home. The Advent centerpiece includes a purple cloth to help her daughters connect their home to what they see at Mass, she said.
“The church has a beautiful tradition, and everything we do in our life goes to that same cadence,” she said. “We want to instill that Jesus and God are part of everything we do.”
Morgan also rotates some of her daughters’ bedtime books to correspond with Christmas, Lent and Easter; celebrates the feast days of the saints for whom her daughters were named; and changes the family’s prayer routine to reflect the season or devotional month, such as adding Hail Marys to their evening prayers in May, the month the church especially honors the mother of God.
The Morgans’ Advent will include a Jesse Tree and special daily prayers paired with their meal prayer. On Christmas Day, Morgan will swap her Advent wreath’s purple and pink candles for white, and she’ll place the Nativity scene’s Baby Jesus in the center to await the arrival of the Magi – whose figurines Morgan plans to move closer to Jesus each day until Epiphany.

A lit candle is seen on an Advent wreath. Advent, a season of joyful expectation before Christmas, begins Nov. 27 this year. The Advent wreath, with a candle marking each week of the season, is a traditional symbol of the liturgical period. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review)

Near St. Joseph in West St. Paul, Heidi Flanagan’s family has developed an Advent tradition that has connected its members more intimately to the communion of saints.
On the first Sunday of Advent, Heidi; her husband, John; and their six children – ages 2 to 12 – select a slip of paper from a shoebox. On that paper is the name of a saint who becomes their patron for the liturgical year.
Heidi, 43, received the box – and the idea – about eight years ago from a friend who does something similar in her home. St. Joseph parishioners, the Flanagans say a small litany of the saints daily, asking each member’s patron saint for that year to pray for them. They also celebrate their feast days throughout the year.
“I feel like it’s given them this buddy in heaven – this sense of security – that we’re not alone, that they have these superheroes rooting for them and praying for them in heaven,” Flanagan said of her children. “They develop friendships with these saints.”
The tradition has provided an opportunity to learn more about the saints’ lives, and the saints have helped all of the Flanagans grow in their spiritual lives. Before they select their saints, the Flanagans also pray that the saints selected would also “choose” them.
“It’ s been so cool how often we look back at the year and say, ‘Oh, I can totally see how this saint chose me,'” because different challenges or opportunities seemed suited to that saint’s intercession.

Christmas invitation: open celebration to all

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
In the fullness of time the Word became flesh, full of grace and truth, and the darkness then, now and for nearly two millennia could not overcome Him. On this Christmas night and day and throughout this Christmas season two weeks in duration, may we, like Mary, deepen our ‘yes’ to God and, like Joseph, awake to God’s faithful presence and action in our lives.
Mary and Joseph expended considerable labor to give birth to the Christ child, the light of the world, at peace in their sojourn to Bethlehem but anxious on the road, trusting in their God through the assurance of the angel, but fearful for the wellbeing of their unborn child. We can only imagine that this exceptional refugee family, after the birth of their first-born son, the child of the promise, collapsed from exhaustion in their earthy home away from home, that stable out back maintained warm and temporarily safe by the attending animals. “All you beasts wild and tame, bless the Lord. Praise and exult him forever!” (Daniel 3,81)
The prophecy fulfilled pierced the clouds and returned to earth so that those dwelling in the heavens and on the earth, could be the heralds of the Good News. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9,6). “From heaven, Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2,14)
And who hears the message, but of course those who are compelled to work the night shift, the shepherds keeping watch over their vulnerable charges. Pope Francis cites them as the first cluster of those living on the margins of society, the dregs who smell like the animals they safeguard. Like King David who slew Goliath with an accurately slung stone, these hill people could take down a mountain lion, or wolf, or two-legged night crawler in the same manner if need be. These are not the typical folks that any one of us is likely to invite to visit a new born family member. With no disrespect intended, they might be likened to the fringe bikers of Hell’s Angels in our modern society. Yet, they represent the sinners, prostitutes, lepers, outcasts and tax collectors that received so much attention from Jesus in his public ministry. They were evangelized by the angels on that first Christmas night and after their encounter with Jesus Christ in his mother Mary’s arms with Joseph nearby, they became the first evangelizers. “The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2,16-20)
In all our Christmas celebrations, we with the Church throughout the world, also give glory to God through inspiring liturgies with hearts and minds open to God’s loving and saving mercy for our families, parishes, communities, nation and world. And with the angels and shepherds may no physical structures contain our joy and zeal to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to our world, often shaped by darkness and the shadow of death. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, recently concluded, but ever ancient and ever new, is a constant reminder that after receiving God’s mercy through faith in Jesus Christ, we are empowered and sent into our world, as living signs of hope, justice and peace. We recall that King Herod, whom the Magi recognized for what he was, has many faces in our world and the lust for power, wealth and domination still corrupts God’s creation and the Lord’s dreams for human life. The world needs the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ. (2Cor 4,6)
How do we labor to make our God’s dreams for our world a living reality? There is much to be done beyond our shores and in our country. The world needs to experience our faith in the Lord through our merciful, just and loving service to the most vulnerable. “He has told you, O people, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6,8) Charity does begin at home, but the destitute, the oppressed, the victims of abortion, human trafficking, war and terrorism, refugees, the unjustly incarcerated, the abandoned and neglected, immigrants, the unemployed, underinsured, mentally ill and our fragile planet all cry out for justice and mercy. Christmas reminds us that spiritually as the Lord’s disciples, we will never be unemployed or underemployed. Once the gift of the Christ child has been received we do not live by fear and hopelessness, but rather by faith in the Son of God.
May our God of encouragement and endurance (Romans 15,5) strengthen our faith, hope and love to know that fear is useless. (Mark 5,38) What is needed is trust and prayer and the conviction that God has given us his Spirit of power, love and self-control. (2Timothy 1,7) Merry Christmas to all and to all a good life in service to the Light who shines in the darkness.

Ancient songs bring new meaning to season

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The Roman Catholic Church has been singing the “O” Antiphons since at least the eighth century. They are the antiphons that accompany the Magnificat canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17-23. They are also incorporated at the opening Antiphons for the daily Mass from December 17 through December 23. They are a magnificent theology that uses ancient biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament to proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of Old Testament hopes, but present ones as well. Their repeated use of the imperative “Come!” embodies the longing of all for the Divine Messiah. With joyful hope in the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, they take us to the pinnacle of the Advent season in anticipation of Christmas Eve and the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophesy and promise in the Incarnation.
December 17
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
December 18
O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
December 19
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
December 20
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
December 21
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.
December 22
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save mankind, whom you formed from the dust!
December 23
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!

We are most aware of their inspiration in the beloved Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Often the hymns we sing instruct us in the faith with exactly this level of magnificent theology and biblical imagery.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Verse 1
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Verse 2
O Come O Wisdom from on high, who orders all things mightily.
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
Verse 3
O Come, O Come Great Lord of might, who to your tribes on Sinai’s height.
In ancient times once gave the Law in cloud and majesty and awe.
Verse 4
O Come O Rod of Jesse’s stem, from every foe deliver them.
That trust your mighty power to save and give them victory over the grave.
Verse 5
O Come, O Key of David, Come, and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery.
Verse 6
O Come, O Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Verse 7
O Come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of humankind.
O bid our sad divisions cease, and be for us our King of Peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel.
Through the prayerful proclamation of the “O” Antiphons at Mass, or their recitation during the Evening Prayer of the Church, or their use as a personal prayer, or through the singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel in Church, or at home, or through the quiet humming as we go about our Christmas preparations, know that we are praying with the Church throughout the world.
We are the faithful ones who hold are torches aloft, the wise who still seek him, and the angels who proclaim his birth. Indeed, the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There is much in our contemporary world that obscures the light of faith, or strains mightily to extinguish it, but Emmanuel, God with us, until the end of time is the Lord’s personal promise that prevails. May our spiritual journey and preparation not fade or grow dim as we prepare in the knowledge of faith and hope in the coming Messiah.

Canciones viejas pueden traer nuevo significado a la temporada

Por Obispo Joseph Kopacz
La Iglesia Católica Romana ha estado cantando las antífonas “O” por lo menos desde el octavo siglo. Son las antífonas que acompañan al canto Magníficat de la oración de la tarde del 17 al 23 de diciembre. También son incorporadas en la antífonas de apertura de la misa diaria del 17 al 23 de diciembre.
Son una magnífica teología bíblica extraída de las esperanzas mesiánicas del Antiguo Testamento para anunciar la venida de Cristo no sólo como el cumplimiento de las esperanzas del Antiguo Testamento sino las actuales. Su uso repetido del imperativo “¡Ven!” encarna el anhelo de todos por el Divino Mesías.
Con gozosa esperanza en la venida de nuestro Señor y Salvador, Jesucristo, nos llevan a la cima del tiempo de Adviento en anticipación a la víspera de Navidad y el cumplimiento de todas las profecías del Antiguo Testamento y la promesa de la encarnación.
17 de diciembre
O sabiduría de nuestro Dios Altísimo, guiando la creación con poder y amor: ¡ven a enseñarnos el camino del conocimiento!
18 de diciembre
O líder de la Casa de Israel, dador de la Ley a Moisés en el Sinaí: ¡ven a rescatarnos con tu gran poder!
19 de diciembre
O raíz del tallo de Jesse, signo del amor de Dios por todo su pueblo, ¡ven a salvarnos sin demora!
20 de diciembre
Oh Llave de David, que abres las puertas del Reino eterno de Dios: ¡ven a liberar a los presos de la oscuridad!
21 de diciembre
O Radiante mañana, esplendor de la luz eterna, sol de justicia: ¡ven a iluminar a los que viven en tinieblas y en la sombra de la muerte!
22 de diciembre
O Rey de todas las naciones y piedra angular de la Iglesia: ¡

ven y salva al hombre, a quien formaste del polvo!
23 de diciembre
O Emmanuel, nuestro Rey y dador de la ley: ven a salvarnos, Señor Dios nuestro!
Estamos más conscientes de su inspiración en el amado himno de Adviento, “O Ven, O Ven, Emmanuel”. A menudo los himnos que cantamos nos instruye en la fe exactamente con este nivel de magníficas imágenes teológicas y bíblicas.
Oh ven!, ¡Oh ven, Emanuel!
Versículo 1
O ven, O ven, Emmanuel, y rescata a Israel cautivo. Que llora aquí en el exilio solitario hasta que el Hijo de Dios aparezca.
Versículo 2
Oh Sabiduría que viene de lo alto, que ordena todas las cosas poderosamente. Nos muestra el camino del conocimiento y nos enseña en sus maneras de ir.
Versículo 3
O ven, O ven gran Señor de la fuerza, quien a tus tribus en la altura del Sinaí. En tiempos antiguos una vez dio la ley en nubes, en majestad y reverencia.
Versículo 4
O Come o vara del tallo de Jesse, de cada enemigo líbralos. Que confíen en tu poder para salvarlos y darles la victoria sobre la tumba.
Versículo 5
Oh Venid, oh Llave de David: Ven y abre nuestro hogar celestial. Haz seguro el camino que conduce a lo alto y cierra el camino a la miseria.
Versículo 6
Oh Venid, Oh Aurora celestial y ánímanos con tu noche. Dispersa las oscuras nubes de la noche y a la oscura sombra de la muerte ponla al vuelo.
Versículo 7
O ven, deseo de las naciones, junta en uno los corazones de la humanidad. O invita a nuestras tristes divisiones a cesar, y se para nosotros nuestro Rey de la paz.
¡Regocijaos! ¡Regocijaos! Emmanuel vendrá a ti, oh Israel.
¡Regocijaos! ¡Regocijaos! Emmanuel vendrá a ti, oh Israel.
A través de la proclamación de las antífonas “O” en la misa, o su rezo durante la oración de la tarde, o como una oración personal, o a través del canto de O Ven O Ven Emmanuel en la iglesia o en casa, o a través del susurro tranquilo mientras hacemos nuestros preparativos para Navidad, sabemos que estamos orando con la Iglesia en todo el mundo.
Somos los fieles que mantienen las antorchas en alto, el sabio que todavía lo busca, y los ángeles que anuncian su nacimiento. En efecto, la luz brilla en la oscuridad, y la oscuridad no la ha vencido.
Hay mucho en nuestro mundo contemporáneo que oscurece la luz de la fe, o se esfuerza poderosamente para extinguirla, pero Emmanuel, Dios con nosotros, hasta el fin del tiempo es la promesa personal del Señor que prevalece. Que nuestro camino espiritual y preparación no se desvanezca o se debilite a medida que nos preparamos para el conocimiento de la fe y la esperanza en la venida del Mesías.

Embrace light, purpose of Advent

By Elsa Baughman
I remember reading years ago in a religious column that the only place where Advent has not disappeared is in the church. It usually begins at the end of November or early December, when people are thinking more about Christmas presents, parties and activities than  preparing themselves spiritually for the coming of Christ. This liturgical season of anticipation can be very noisy, surrounded by secular music, lights, and television, newspaper and radio ads urging us to buy gifts for this or that special person.
When we go to church on the four Sundays of Advent we are reminded of the true meaning of this season by the Scripture readings which reflect on the coming of our savior.

COVINGTON – On October 25, 2014 Father Brian Kaskie, pastor of McComb St. Alphonsus, led a group of about 30 members from his parish to St. Joseph Abbey. The group attended Mass, ate lunch and had a tour of the Abbey, which has undergone recent renovations to mark its 125th anniversary this year. Diocesan seminarians attend the college there.  (Photo submitted by Ruth E. Phillips)

COVINGTON – On October 25, 2014 Father Brian Kaskie, pastor of McComb St. Alphonsus, led a group of about 30 members from his parish to St. Joseph Abbey. The group attended Mass, ate lunch and had a tour of the Abbey, which has undergone recent renovations to mark its 125th anniversary this year. Diocesan seminarians attend the college there. (Photo submitted by Ruth E. Phillips)

Here in the Diocese of Jackson parishes and missions observe Advent with a variety of activities. Some  schedule time for silent prayers and reflection, others hold retreats, candlelight vigils or celebrate daily Mass, and the majority offer penance services.
Just as last year, Pearl St. Jude Young Apostles will pray an illuminated Advent rosary in their rosary garden. In Corinth St. James Parish children brought ornaments (symbols of a Bible story or figure) to place on a “Jesse Tree” while hearing a short story about each character from the ancestry of Jesus during Advent last year.
New Albany St. Francis of Assisi Parish has spiritual reflections on Wednesdays. Every year, Madison St. Francis of Assisi Parish holds an Advent Fair where children make Advent wreaths for their homes.

Carmelite Sisters L. J. Therese Lazard (left) and Mary Jane Agonoy arrange the display of the Advent wreaths at the Carmelite Gift Shop. The store carries a wide selection of wreaths, candles and pamphlets for the Advent season. The open house weekends and bake sales run from Nov. 15-Dec. 21. (Photos by Elsa Baughman)

Carmelite Sisters L. J. Therese Lazard (left) and Mary Jane Agonoy arrange the display of the Advent wreaths at the Carmelite Gift Shop. The store carries a wide selection of wreaths, candles and pamphlets for the Advent season. The open house weekends and bake sales run from Nov. 15-Dec. 21. (Photos by Elsa Baughman)

The church does its best to encourage all of us during these four weeks to center our lives, minds and hearts on the coming of Christ. It’s up to us to hear the message and anticipate his coming, not with fanfare but with a quiet, humble heart, a burning heart.
For me, this year is special. I wanted to do something different to really immerse myself in the “coming” of our King. I bought an Advent wreath! I have been wanting to participate in this tradition for years, but always put it off for one reason or another.
The wreath is an old tradition meant to remind us of the coming of the light of the world. It has three purple candles, symbolizing penitence and preparation, and one pink candle, used on Gaudete Sunday, to symbolize hope. As the days of winter get darker and shorter, we light another candle each week until we welcome Christ, the real light of the world, at Christmas. There are many prayer books and online resources with prayers you can use with  your Advent wreath.
As I light each candle on my Advent wreath, I am preparing my heart to receive Christ with a new purpose in life.

This Advent wreath is on sale at the Carmelite Gift Shop. The wreath is an old tradition meant to remind us of the coming of the light of the world.

This Advent wreath is on sale at the Carmelite Gift Shop. The wreath is an old tradition meant to remind us of the coming of the light of the world.

I might also try to do something similar to what my sister does during Advent. She makes a list of simple things to do each day during the season – just one per day. For instance, one day she would pray for the intentions of the pope; another day she buys a small toy for a needy child, or calls a friend who is sick or going through a hard time in life. They are all very small sacrifices but with a kind, loving purpose.
During this Advent season, let us prepare our hearts to hear the message of our savior and receive him in all his glory.
(Editor’s note: see page 2 for Advent services and programs in parishes.)