During the weeks before Christmas, Catholic churches stand out for what they are missing.
Unlike stores, malls, public buildings and homes that start gearing up for Christmas at least by Thanksgiving, churches appear almost stark save for Advent wreaths and maybe some greenery or white lights.
“The chance for us to be a little out of sync or a little countercultural is not a bad thing,” said Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
By the same token, he is not about to completely avoid listening to Christmas music until Dec. 24 either. The key is to experience that “being out of sync feeling in a way that is helpful and teaches us something about our faith,” he told Catholic News Service.
Others find with the frenetic pace of the Christmas season it is calming to go into an undecorated church and sing more somber hymns like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” But that shouldn’t be the only draw, noted Jesuit Father Bruce Morrill, who is the Edward A. Malloy professor of Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee.
He said the dissonance between how the church and society at large celebrate Christmas is that the church celebration begins, not ends, Dec. 25. The shopping season and Christian church calendar overlap, but don’t connect, he added.
And even though Catholic churches – in liturgies at least – steer clear of Christmas carols during Advent and keep their decorations to a minimum, Morrill said he isn’t about to advise Catholic families to do the same.
My father-in-law has grumbled for years about the gloomy hymns of Advent and wondered why we don’t sing Christmas carols, like some other churches (and like they do at the shopping malls!)
This explains it well:
It is important, in terms of the purpose of Christian Holy Days as teaching tools of the Faith, that Advent and Christmas be different, with different emphases, especially on the first two Sundays of Advent. These need to emphasize expectation and longing, a preparation for celebration much as Lent is a preparation for Easter. Without that, the season becomes one long celebration without any context for that celebration and with little contact with the reality of life that gave birth to the season in the first place.
…What the world needs now is, not love, but hope. Without hope, without some sense that this is not all there is, that there truly is a God who will come and restore all things, there will never be much love, at least not the kind of love that is truly Christian. And it is this hope, this expectation moving toward faith, that Advent properly observed as a preparation for Christmas can express so well.
A happy, holy Advent to one and all.
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