The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.” (CCC 524)
While the Church calls Advent “the long preparation” for Christmas, it can feel like the shortest preparation ever. The busyness and the secular aspects of the “holiday season” make time fly by. Often, we wake up on Gaudete Sunday wondering where the first three weeks of Advent went.
So, before the crush, it might be time to pause for a moment and think about how we can help our parish families be intentional about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. (Hint: technology can help.)
Parishioners may associate “the big three” with Lent, but prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are also important parts of doing Advent well. So, a good first step is to make sure to communicate the importance of these practices early so that they can make plans. Then, offer them options to choose from. Often, Catholics are bombarded with choices for prayer and giving, and a little help from the parish could make the decisions simpler. Then, set your own communication plan for Advent so parish staff are feeling confident and prepared, not rushed or overwhelmed.
It may seem rather obvious, but prayer in Advent is important because it allows Catholics to deepen their relationship with God by focusing on the significance of the Incarnation. Two excellent options to add to one’s daily prayer practice are the Advent Wreath prayers and the O Antiphons.
Advent Wreath–invite parishioners to incorporate these prayers into their family prayers, adapting and personalizing them as they like to make them more meaningful for their spiritual journey. Using your communications tool, send each prayer in advance or text them to parishioners who have opted in.
- First Week of Advent (First Candle – The Prophecy Candle)
“Lord, as we begin this Advent season, we light the first candle, the Prophecy Candle. We thank you for the prophets who foretold the coming of your Son. As we prepare for His arrival, help us to open our hearts to receive Him with joy and expectation. Amen.”
- Second Week of Advent (Second Candle – The Bethlehem Candle)
“Lord, as we continue our Advent journey, we light the second candle, the Bethlehem Candle. We remember the humble town where Jesus was born. May our hearts be like the stable—simple, unassuming, and ready to receive the King of kings. Amen.”
- Third Week of Advent (Third Candle – The Shepherds Candle)
“Lord, as we move further into this Advent season, we light the third candle, the Shepherds Candle. Just as the shepherds were called to witness the birth of your Son, may we also be open to receiving your message of hope, love, and joy. Help us to share this good news with others. Amen.”
- Fourth Week of Advent (Fourth Candle – The Angel’s Candle)
“Lord, as we approach the final week of Advent, we light the fourth candle, the Angel’s Candle. The angels proclaimed the good news of Christ’s birth to the world. Help us to be messengers of your love and grace, sharing the light of Christ with all we encounter. Amen.”
- Christmas Day (The Christ Candle)
“Lord, on this holy day of Christ’s birth, we light the fifth candle, the Christ Candle. We rejoice in the fulfillment of your promise and the coming of your Son into the world. May the light of Christ shine in our hearts and guide us in all we do. We give thanks for the gift of your Son. Amen.”
O Antiphons–this set of seven ancient liturgical antiphons is used in the Catholic Church and some other Christian traditions during Advent. They are traditionally recited or chanted from December 17th to the 23rd. Each antiphon focuses on the titles of Jesus and reflects on the prophecy of his coming. You may want to send the antiphons as a daily text or email starting December 17th to encourage parishioners to unite in prayer.
- Dec. 17 O Sapientia (O Wisdom): “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”
- Dec. 18 O Adonai (O Lord): “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”
- Dec. 19 O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse): “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”
- Dec. 20 O Clavis David (O Key of David): “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and lead your captive people into freedom.”
- Dec. 21 O Oriens (O Dayspring): “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
- Dec. 22 O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations): “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humanity: come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”
- Dec. 23 O Emmanuel (O God with Us): “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.”
Parishioners may not think of fasting as important during Advent–after all, the Church does not prescribe “meatless Fridays” in Advent. But while it’s not as prominent or rigorous as fasting and penitential practices associated with Lent, it is still a solid way for Catholics to prepare spiritually for Christmas. Advent is a season of preparation and penance, so fasting can help us focus on the spiritual, overcome temptations, and identify with the sufferings of Christ.
Fasting should be a personal and spiritually meaningful practice. Before beginning a fasting regimen during Advent, ask parishioners to consider consulting with a spiritual advisor or the parish priest for guidance and support.
Offer your parishioners a few ideas for things they can fast from or spiritual practices they can “add-in” to enrich their Advent.
- Partial Fasting: Advent fasting typically involves some form of partial fasting, such as abstaining from certain types of food or reducing the quantity of food consumed. For example, parishioners may choose to abstain from meat on Fridays like we do during Lent.
- Abstaining from Treats: Some people use Advent as a time to cut back on indulgent treats like desserts, sweets, or rich foods. This can help to cultivate a sense of self-discipline and simplicity.
- Alcohol and Caffeine: Abstaining from alcohol or caffeine during Advent is a form of fasting; it can help increase attentiveness to the spiritual aspects of the season.
- Digital Fasting: Giving up even a few minutes of phone or screen time is another way to fast. Parishioners could decide to put away their phones during family dinners or conversations or declare one day a “phone-free day” in Advent.
- Shopping Fast: Another way to fast that fits with the spirit of Advent is to limit purchases to only what is necessary. Limiting shopping for oneself is a way to practice self-discipline.
- Charitable Fasting: Some people combine fasting with the practice of almsgiving by using the resources saved from reduced food consumption to help those in need. This can be a way to link personal sacrifice with charity.
Almsgiving is a significant and meaningful practice during the Advent season for Catholics and other Christians. Almsgiving, which involves giving to those in need or performing acts of charity, aligns with the themes of generosity, compassion, and sharing that are central to our faith. It is a way to express the spirit of generosity that reflects God’s love for us and encourages us to be more giving, compassionate, and selfless. It’s also a way for families to find balance in a world that is increasingly materialistic.
Parishioners may go online to find ideas for charitable giving. There are many causes that Catholics may choose to donate to that align with their personal values. Homeless shelters, food banks, children’s homes, education and scholarships, healthcare–the list is long and can be a bit overwhelming.
We suggest it may be helpful to provide your parish with a curated list of causes that the parish actively participates in and supports, particularly efforts that impact your local community or region. Rallying around these during Lent can help parishioners feel they belong, and that they make a difference.
Here are some ideas you can customize and share.
- Parish and Church Collections: During Advent, it is normal and expected that you would offer special collections or do additional fundraising to support the needs of your parish community. Make it easy for parishioners to find and donate to these funds. For instance, make a QR code and have it displayed in your parish so families can easily scan the code and donate directly from their phones.
- Advent Charities: Initiate or expand on your specific Advent charity programs that support local families in need. This may include providing food, clothing, and gifts to those who are less fortunate, especially around the Christmas season.
- Missionary Work: Catholics may want to support missionary organizations that work to spread the Gospel and provide assistance to underserved communities, both locally and abroad. Suggest one or more of these organizations that align with your parish’s mission and vision or that parishioners have participated in, and link to them from your website.
- Diocesan Initiatives: Your diocese may have its own Advent fundraising campaign that supports specific charitable causes, such as aiding refugees, addressing poverty, or promoting pro-life initiatives. If so, make it a point to notify your parish families.
- Pregnancy Resource Center: Some parishioners may want to contribute to a pregnancy resource center that offers support and assistance to women facing unexpected pregnancies, especially during Advent. Link to a local center from your parish website, and include a mention in the bulletin. You may also wish to include a special collection for your local pregnancy center.
- Religious Orders: If your parish has a relationship with a religious order or community, parishioners may want to make donations to support their various forms of ministry and service, such as education, healthcare, or spiritual guidance. A special pulpit appeal could be effective and appreciated.
With everything going on in our world right now, we think it’s a good time to bring back and emphasize these core Catholic practices during Advent. The intention isn’t to add “one more thing” to the lives of already very busy parishioners. Instead, the intention should be to give them tools to find and maintain interior peace, the antidote to the chaos the world offers.
Fr. Jacques Philippe wrote, “God is a God of peace. He does not speak and does not operate except in peace, not in trouble and agitation.” It is in the quiet and stillness–through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving–that Catholics will hear him speaking and respond.
About Polly King
Polly King has over 30 years in the marketing and communications field, the last 12 in Catholic publishing. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she has a deep passion for helping parishes engage and evangelize their communities. This led her to join ACS Technologies as part of their mission to serve the Church with technology and solutions that support their ministries. Polly currently resides in Indiana with her husband Bob and their 14-year-old Australian Shepherd, Riley. Her commitment to her faith and dedication to her profession make her an inspiring figure for those looking to make a positive impact in their communities.