Although my wife and I are now in Arizona – we used to live in Colorado and I received deacon formation at the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization in Denver. In the campus chapel was this picture of Our Lady of the New Advent – Jesus blessing us from inside the icon image of His Mother Mary. This picture was in the sanctuary and it spoke so much of what we believe as Catholics – that Mary is the reason for the season of Advent because it is she that helps bring about the Father’s will. It is Mary who holds Christ as does a tabernacle. So, this is another way of saying, “Mary is the reason for the season.”
So if I put together a column about what Catholic families might do for Advent – one first statement of focus would be on Mary. Last year at this time, I wrote a Catholic Family (Podcast) column on Las Posadas.
I’d like to repeat a bit of Las Posadas here again. Note in the explanation that the first name mentioned is Mary. You, dear Catholic parents can accomplish wonderful formation for your children if you let the ‘Spirit’ of the Advent season come alive in your hearts and in your home.
There is a tradition in Mexico called Las Posadas. There can be variations on how it is done – but the most common begins nine days before Christmas. These nine days symbolize the time it took for Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. For each of the nine days, the experience of Mary and Joseph looking for lodging at the inns of Bethlehem is reenacted. Participants are divided into two groups which are the ‘pilgrims’ and the ‘innkeepers.’ Pilgrims go from ‘house to house’ (or room to room in your home) carrying lit candles (or flashlights if that’s safer) and singing requests and looking for a room for the Holy Family. This can be done with your own musical ‘creation’ or I’m sure you can find words of a song that begs to be let in and given a room for shelter. At every inn or house the innkeepers refuse the pilgrims. “No – no go away, into the night for we have no room for you at this inn!” This can be done dramatically or it can be done in song…. On Christmas Eve, the pilgrims are welcomed in at last. They enter and everyone joins in singing a joyful carol. Children and many adults love this festive teaching idea. Children are great at enacting what is part of our Biblical understanding of Christ being shut out. And it often forms a tradition that will endure for years and years – perhaps into generations in families.
Dad can be in one room and speak gruffly: “Go away, you have no money and there is no room here.”
Mom can be in another room as she sweetly sings ‘go away because it is too late and I can’t open the door.’ You can write your own songs or script as you wish. You and your children could act this out once a week – Sundays for example. There should always be an expectant Mary and husband Joseph in this play. In a small family, mom and dad could be the Holy Family and the kids could be the innkeepers.
Okay – some might say, “Well that’s fine and well for some families; our kids are too young or that wouldn’t go for that.” While I really wish you’d give it a try – how about a once-a-week family rosary saying the Joyful Mysteries together? You could write little plays – the Angel Gabriel coming to visit Mary and telling her she’s going to be the Mother of God. Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth; Elizabeth saying that she recognizes that Mary is going to be the Mother of the Savior. The birth of Christ with wise men and cattle coming to adore Him. Jesus being lost. Ooh – isn’t this scary? You could add lots of drama in this Mystery. But always, returning to pray the Our Father and the ten Hail Mary’s.
Finally – and this is so simple. Instead of setting up your complete Nativity set, here’s what some Catholic families do. Put the manger scene under the tree for Advent – except it should be without the Holy Family – obviously without Jesus present. Each Sunday – have a little Advent ceremony consisting of the following. Pick out an Advent song (O Come O Come Emmanuel, Ready the Way, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, etc.). Sing the song as you and the children light the next Advent candle. And as this is done, let one of the family members ‘move’ Mary (on a donkey) and Joseph closer to the Christmas tree.
Children love this visualization – an easy teaching method that Mary brings Christ to help make Christmas Day. And of course, on Christmas Day, before gifts are opened – Baby Jesus is placed in the manger with a little ceremony.
Jesus came to be the Christmas gift – Jesus gave Himself to the entire world. Your Advent practice might consist of some aspects of giving that involve your family. When Mary became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit – the first thing she did was an act of charity! Mary went to visit her cousin. We know there are many seasonal programs… Coats for Kids, Christmas Giving Trees… If your children are old enough to help make cookies – don’t forget folks in a nursing home or a lonely widow down the street. If your church or community offers a Nativity Play – make sure to involve the kids or at least attend the play. In all of these, Mary, the Mother of Christ is the reason for the (Advent) Season. I hope your children hear this message.
And – may Christ come once again into your heart and into your home. An Advent spent with focus on Mary will most certainly prepare you for a truly Merry and blessed Christmas.