Oh yeah, you read that correctly: the First Sunday of Advent is less than forty days away. While time has become a strange thing for me, that still feels unbelievable. No doubt, many of you also feel like we just finished Easter. However, the good news is that this gives us time to consider how we’ll spend our Advent and Christmas seasons.
Prepare for a Time of Preparation
The Advent liturgical season marks the time of spiritual preparation by the faithful before Christmas. This time of expectant waiting looks forward to the Nativity of Christ while making room in our hearts for Him. As well, our participation in Advent also looks forward to the return of Christ at the end of time. Our faithful participation in Advent prepares our hearts and minds to welcome Christ in all three of His comings. Reflecting on the meaning of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI said, “God is here, he has not withdrawn from the world, he has not deserted us. Even if we cannot see and touch him as we can tangible realities, he is here and comes to visit us in many ways.”
Advent is always a time of hopeful anticipation. We live through a dark season until we celebrate the arrival of Our Lord, whom the darkness cannot comprehend. This year, that symbolism seems to be especially salient. It’s also a symbol that can be forgotten as department store pumpkins are replaced by Santas. However, you can make your Advent journey more impactful with just a little bit of preparation.
In the spirit of helping our Catholic brothers and sisters have a holy Advent, I’d like to offer a few resources for this time of spiritual awaiting. While I wouldn’t suggest starting Advent (or Christmas) early, the following are some things that will enrichen the holy season in your life while your hearts prepares for the Nativity of Our Lord.
1. Learning About Advent
Advent is a season full of rich imagery and numerous lessons. Saints have been contemplating the holy season for centuries. We have articles here about the history of Advent and the symbolism of the Advent wreath. Those two articles will give you a short overview of the season and one of its more popular traditions.
If you want to get a deeper look at Advent, you can find endless lessons in the masterwork The Liturgical Year by Servant of God Dom Prosper Guéranger. While not a casual read, the book gives you the meaning and historical development of Advent and the rest of the Liturgical Year. You can find it for free through Google Books and Sensus Fidelium.
Dom Prosper’s work has also inspired the incredible artwork in the The Illustrated Liturgical Year Calendar. These 18×24 posters illustrate parts of the liturgical year, with the first one being dedicated to Advent. Each day is illustrated based on the feast, saint of the day, or a reflection on Advent. The Church has long used art to educate and enlighten Christians for centuries and it is a powerful tool.
As you can see from below, these illustrations tell a story and are based on centuries of Christian imagery. They are great for children who are learning the faith but also for adults. Even as somebody with a background in history, I have really enjoyed how much each day’s art reminds me of a long-forgotten fact about the saints. Follow Michaela Harrison, the artist, and her husband, Jerimiah, at their website, LiturgyoftheHome.com. You can also preview the calendars at SophiaInstitute.com.
If you work retail, you know how much commercial Christmas music will sink deep into your memory. And while my retied mom loves Christmas music by several pop artists, even she gets exhausted when she hears the same songs everywhere on repeat. This is mostly just annoying at times, but I think it also contributes to the all-too-common late-December burnout.
I know I’ve found a great respite in listening to the great music from Catholicism’s rich tradition. You’re unlikely to hear sung matins or Latin chant at work or in a store. This gives the ancient music a renewed freshness and further allows my small home to be a sanctuary away from the glitzy commercialization that permeates so much of our culture.
Thanks to streaming, you have a plethora of free resources for sacred music for the upcoming holy seasons. We’ve covered the work of the YouTube channel OPChant (“Two Seminarians Are Teaching Latin Chant on Youtube“). This channel is the work of two Dominican seminarians in Switzerland who are passionate about teaching the traditional songs of the Church. While the music is beautiful, they are also fantastic teachers. They have an Advent playlist and frequently release new videos.
Some new music
Some other seminarians who are passionate about the sacred music of the Church are the men of the International Seminary of St. Peter in Wigratzbad, Germany. Their love of this sacred music even inspired them to record in the historical St. Magnus Abbey of Bad Schussenried. It’s 13th century Romanesque abbey church provide the ideal acoustics and the baroque art adds to the setting (you can see the church in this video). The result of that recording is the album Sancta Nox: Christmas Matins from Bavaria.
The album premiered at #1 on Billboard Traditional Classical Albums chart and it is a lovely addition to your seasonal music. You can stream the album on Spotify and YouTube Music. The CD is a available through Sophia Institute Press and most music stores. You can also watch the trailer below, which features the music and the stunning abbey church.
3. Books for the Journey through Advent
There are so many fantastic books on Advent. Spiritual reading is a great way to enrich your Advent and Christmas season that I cannot recommend enough. Even if you only devote a few minutes each day or each week, your sacred time will be enriched the longer you devote your time to spiritual reading.
Catholic Exchange publishes excepts from some fantastic Catholic books. We’ve also shared Advent mediations through our podcast. We’ll continue to do both as we get closer to the First Sunday of Advent.
I also recommend St. Augustine’s Sermons on the New Testament for your Advent journey. St. Augustine is a lot to take in, so if you want to dive into this book (found for free at New Advent), stick to the first two sermons for Advent through Epiphany. The words of this Doctor of Grace are worth your the few minutes you can give.
Another Church father I love reading is On the Incarnation of the Word by St. Athanasius of Alexandria (available for free here). It would be hard to give a summary of this book. It is a cornerstone of the Church’s theology. No doubt, it can be challenging on the first read, but you are not going to find anything that brightens Christmas like learning about the Incarnation of Christ.
If you would like a complete book that makes the Advent season approachable, I recommend the following books:
Meditations for Advent by Jacques-Benigne Bossuet
I cannot recommend this book enough. Bishop Bossuet is not a name that is too well known today, which is a shame. In his own time and in his own language, the great bishop was regarded as one of the finest orators in history. His sermons are passionate and informative, filled with the beauty and skill of a great preacher.
Meditations for Advent is a daily devotional with short mediations translated from his sermons.
Check out some free excerpts of this book on Catholic Exchange:
- The First Promise of a Redeemer
- His Name Will Be Emmanuel: God With Us
- Jesus Promised to the Patriarchs: An Advent Meditation
Advent with Our Lady of Fatima by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle
If you have a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, this book is essential for your Advent season. With stories from the Fatima visionaries and six other saintly figures, the book gives you daily learning and prayers for Advent.
Check out some free excerpts of this book on Catholic Exchange:
- Our Lady of Fatima Guides Our Advent Prayers
- The Miracle of Hope a Priest Found in Fatima
- Mother Teresa Encourages Us to Be Loving Like Mary
Books for Children
Bestselling author Anthony DeStefano has two lovely new books for children. Joseph’s Donkey tells the fictional story of St. Joseph’s faithful donkey throughout the Nativity story. His other new book, The Beggar and the Bluebird, tells the story of sacrifice through a modern winter fairytale. The illustrations are are a work of art and each tells an engaging story with Christmas and Advent themes throughout.
Last year’s bestseller, The Spider Who Saved Christmas, is another fantastic story for children. In these pages, Raymond Arroyo tells the tale of a Golden Silk Orb Weaver who uses her precious web to help the Holy Family during the Flight to Egypt. The colorful illustrations by Randy Gallegos add to the rich story.
5. A Prayerful Advent
No matter what you commit to for Advent, I hope you make time for prayer. The Advent wreath and the many traditions we’ve inherited should always move your heart in prayer. Each person’s Advent will be different, but prayer will always make your journey to Christmas more fulfilling.
I’ll be praying for you all and hope you’ll include Catholic Exchange in your prayers. If you have other resources, feel free to share them here or on our social media pages.