“Arise, shine: for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60: 1).
During this season of Advent, as we wait for the day when the Light of the World was born, we prepare ourselves and our candidates – First Communion, Confirmation and RCIA – in significant ways.
At Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish, San Fernando, our catechists link the traditional events of the season to our faith. One such example is the explanation and preparation of the Advent wreath for each home. Each candidate is charged with this responsibility, and the meaning and purpose of each item in the wreath is thoroughly discussed in the context of sacred tradition.
Each week we light a new candle, as we await the Glory of the Lord’s birth. In the first week, we light our purple candle of Hope, for we know the Lord will be our salvation and our pathway to eternal life. The pace picks up around us in the second week, with the commercial aspects of the season being promoted far and wide – gifts, decorations, parties and so on. Yet we patiently light our second candle, another purple one, the candle of Peace, for Jesus is coming with a message of peace for all mankind, peace for our souls, wherein our sins are forgiven and we are united and secure in His love for us and for one another. In the third week, we light our candle of Joy since the wonderful event is very close and the promises of God will soon be fulfilled. “The Word was made flesh, He lived among us” (John 1:14). We light the third purple candle in the fourth week of Advent – the candle of Love. Just as God so loved us that he gave his only son, so we too can show God’s love by loving one another. This gift of love far outweighs the value of all the expensive gifts that money may buy and which may be exchanged during this season.
Our patience, our love and our behaviours should all point others to the Light, just like the angels who heralded the birth of the Saviour.
Another tradition is the decoration of the Christmas tree, a custom which, in Western Europe, predates Christianity. The decoration of the Jesse tree was adopted by the early Church, in order to tie in this custom with Christianity and the events leading to Jesus’ birth. Jesse was the father of King David. “A shoot shall come out the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11: 1).
The ornaments represent people, prophets and the events in the Old Testament, leading up to the birth of the Saviour, linking God’s love and faithfulness to the season of Advent. For instance, Adam and Eve are depicted by an apple; Noah, an ark; Father Abraham, stars; Jacob, a ladder; and so on.
Candidates are encouraged to construct a Jesse tree in the home, which displays not only Old Testament genealogy but their more immediate ancestry, linking past to present, Old Testament to New, signifying the universality and unity of the Church, the Body of Christ.
Every home should be a manger. As we construct the Nativity crèche, we are encouraged to open our hearts and homes to our Lord and Saviour. He should be welcomed into our homes through the things we do to prepare for His coming. Not only do we sweep our homes clean, but our hearts, through confession, loving words and actions, forgiveness and kindness, prayer and attendance at Holy Mass. The heart, therefore, becomes a manger where Christ is welcomed and received with great joy, open to all His gifts and the wonders of His unconditional love, linked through this, as well as His Body and Blood, to the members of His universal Church.
It is very important that these sacred traditions take their rightful place in Faith Formation and that the significance of each is carefully explained and explored in relation to our legacy of faith. These should not just be pretty decorations, but should testify to our understanding of and witness to our faith, our love for God and our fellow man.
– Submitted by Confirmation catechists of OLPH, San Fernando.