The Taize Community of France, known for their rhythmic hymns, which encourage contemplation on lines from scripture, has a beautiful chant paraphrasing from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden before his arrest. They hymn repeats: “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray.”
This exhortation from Jesus is similar to how our Advent will begin with the gospel telling us to watch because we “do not know when the lord of the house is coming.”
Advent is the season of longing and expectation. We sing, “O, Come Divine Messiah,” “Maranatha,” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The one whom we are waiting for is the Lord of the House. He is the long expected one, the Messiah. He comes to us on December 25th, not as some political or military leader, but instead as a humble, little child born in a stable.
Our Advent season begins with an exhortation to watch and wait. Like the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, we watch and pray that we will be ready to welcome the Lord into our hearts and lives.
What can we do this Advent to prepare for Christmas? Here are ten suggestions:
Pray a Christmas Novena
This year the First Sunday of Advent falls on November 30th, the feast day of St. Andrew. Many people begin a novena on St. Andrew’s feast day and repeat the prayer several times (15x) a day until the feast of Christmas.
It is probably the most popular novena prayer, even though it is longer than your traditional novena. The prayer helps to keep before one’s eyes the real meaning of Christmas. It is an excellent preparatory prayer for Christmas:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.
Two other Christmas novenas I can recommend that are your traditional nine days of prayer are St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s Christmas Novena or USCCB Publishing’s A Christmas Novena with Benedict XVI.
Pray the Angelus
I like to think of the Angelus as a nice Advent devotional. Advent is about keeping vigil for the great feast of Christmas. When we pray it, we call to mind the Angelic salutation and the mystery of the incarnation.
Devotees of the Angelus make a reverential gesture during the third versicle and response: And the Word became flesh, And dwelt among us. Some may bow, but others, if standing, might genuflect. The act of genuflection anticipates the liturgical genuflection on Christmas day, of bending the knee during the Creed, “and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”
With Mary, who waited nine months for the birth of the savior, praying the Angelus is a way we keep watch with Mary for the dawn of our salvation.
Pray the Dominican Rosary or the Franciscan Crown
These Marian devotions are excellent ways for us to prepare for the birth of Christ as we reflect on this joyous season of expectation. The Dominican rosary is the most traditional form of the rosary, comprised of four mysteries: joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious.
The Franciscan Crown contains seven decades consisting of the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Finding of Jesus in the Temple, the Resurrection, the Assumption, and the Coronation of Mary. Four of the seven mysteries reflect on the childhood of Jesus, making it a fitting prayer for Advent.
Observe the O Antiphons
The verses to the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” are the antiphons from Vespers of the Church’s liturgical prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, in the days leading up to Christmas (December 17-24). Each antiphon precedes the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise during her visitation to Elizabeth.
If there is a religious community like the Benedictines or Franciscans, see if their Vespers or Evening Prayer is open to the public, and join them for prayer. If not, download the ibreviary app and pray Evening Prayer by yourself, with family or friends.
Develop Family Advent Rituals
As a boy, my family always had an Advent calendar, which served as a countdown to Christmas. If your family does not have any Advent traditions, consider beginning some. Purchase an advent wreath and place it in a prominent place, e.g. on the dinner table. Before meals, light the candles and say a prayer together.
Some families like to bless their Christmas tree. A small ritual can be found online. As Catholics we love rituals, so why not begins some for your family during the Advent season!
Go to Confession
Many parishes during the Advent season host communal penance services (not to be confused with general absolution, Form Three). After the Liturgy of the Word, individuals are invited to make individual confessions with one of the many priests scattered throughout the church. Going to Confession in anticipation of Christmas prepares our heart for the coming of Christ.
Use Advent Devotional Booklets
Many parishes provide complimentary Advent aids. The most popular one is the little blue devotional booklet, popularized by the late Bishop Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw. The popular monthly devotional magazine Magnificat publishes an annual Advent companion featuring the writings of many of their contributing writers.
These little booklets often are inspired by the daily Mass readings. Since the majority of Catholics cannot attend daily Mass, these booklets provide one way you can break open the scriptures in your daily life. Magnificat offers their booklet for purchase on the Kindle.
Advent with the Church Fathers
The publishing house of the USCCB released a series of books containing snippets of the Church Fathers. Their wisdom is inexhaustible as the author indicates at spiritual, moral, dogmatic, and ascetic. Readers will be introduced to the treasury of wisdom of Chrysostom, Hilary of Potiers, Eusebius of Caesarea, Caesarius of Arles, among others. The book is available on Kindle or search for it at your local Catholic bookstore.
Come Lord Jesus, by Mother Mary Francis
The abbess of the Roswell, New Mexico provides reflections for the Advent season on the art of waiting. Written originally for her religious community, these collected reflections can help people of all vocational paths. Her reflections will surely help us prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas. This book is also available on Kindle.
Read Benedict XVI’s, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
Benedict XVI offered his reflections on the life of Christ in three separate volumes. Benedict brings together many thinkers of the Catholic tradition, from Augustine of Hippo to modern biblical exegetes. His theological reflections will help the reader to delve deeper into the gospel texts related to Christmas and arrive at new insights.