Here are some simple to-do's to help you celebrate Advent with a little bit of "why" on each. Advent moves, so it starts as early as November 27th, or as late as December 3rd, and it goes until Christmas Eve. It moves us to meditate on the Second Coming of Christ first, and then the First Coming second.
The USCCB recommended this one back in 1966 as the best way to meditate on Advent Lessons
In the Ordinariate the Introit is prefaced or replaced with the Advent Prose (Rorate Caeli) that begins, "Drop Down Ye Heavens," a very beautiful beginning from Isaiah.
In The Ordinariate you may see The Litany used to process in for Mass
The GIRM (General Instruction for the Roman Missal) also states Advent should have moderated music and flower usage. There is a kind of austerity and simplicitiy to the season. Expect a capella or at least organ only when accompanying voices, but no solos or anthems.
A note on Sundays Masses, you'll notice the Gloria is left out until Christmas -- the angel's song at seeing the Christ child!
The Daily Office: Morning and/or Evening Prayer
Use the Surge, Illuminare (The Third Song of Isaiah) after the First Lesson
You'll notice many lessons about The Second Coming, God's Wrath, and the fear of men
Add on the Confession
Try reciting slower, with extended periods of silence after the lessons. This can help make the prayers more meditative, and the Lessons more contemplative.
The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent (put on the armour of light) can be used after each daily collect until Christmas Eve.
The Litany (from the Daily Office) can be used after The Apostle's Creed. This is especially fitting for Fridays and/or Wednesdays, which are traditional days of penance each week and it has penitential prayers just for Advent!
The Daily Office: Compline
This is a near perfect prayer practice for Advent. It's a dark season that exhorts us to stay awake, be vigil, be sober, be vigilant, and many texts speak of the Devil and his Antichrist. Hear one of the first prayers of Compline, "Brethren: be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist, steadfast in the faith..."
It is traditionally said at 9pm, but anytime around your bedtime is great. A little candlelight makes this a favorite of many people for its brevity, solemnity, and finality it gives to a day.
The traditional Marian Antiphon after Compline in this season is the Alma Redemptoris Mater. It is done from Advent till The Presentation (Candlemas; Feb 2nd).
Vigil with the Scriptures
Desert Fathers, Church Fathers, and Medieval Monks frequently practiced vigil by actually keeping vigil. Go figure. Stay up later than you usually would, or set an alarm, and spend some time in prayer or reading The Scriptures. St. Jerome tells us, "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ."
Writing thoughts on the text is helpful. A simple question is, "Do I have the virtue being discussed in the text? Why or why not? How do I exhibit it? What qualities stop me from having it?"
Mark's Gospel, Isaiah, Revelation, 1 Thess 5, and Daniel are all good for their John the Baptist, Anti-Christ, or Apocalyptic themes which are Advent appropriate.
If you wish to Meditate use the Psalms. Christian "Meditation" is not emptying oneself, but filling oneself with the words of The Eternal Word. Historical and Traditional use of the word "meditate" always has referred to the Psalms by Christians. Read lives of the saints throughout the last 2,000 years to see this.
As we prepare to receive Christ in our homes and souls, the way we do that is to see Christ in others. Here is an easy opportunity to pray with others, enjoy a fire, share some food or drink, and to discuss Christ with others.
Fast and/or Abstain
The prime way is to refrain from eating meat all days of Advent. Even when the USCCB removed the penalty of mortal sin from eating meat on Fridays they explicitly stated that their upheld the noble tradition of their fathers that meat was the first and best way to abstain. Their intent was that all would undertake this noble tradition by their own will and not under penalty. If you let a trained dog off a leash it stays, if you let an untrained one off, it runs off.
Fasting is defined as two smalls meals and a third not equalling the sum of the other two (e.g. if I ate 2 lbs of eggs for breakfast and 2 lbs of bread for lunch then my dinner would be < 3.99 lb.)
Who doesn't like beans 'n rice?
Use what you save from fasting and/or abstaining as almsgiving for the poor.
cut greens off cedar trees and tie in a ring shape, adorn with 3 purple and 1 pink candle
some put a white candle in the middle to be lit on Christmas Eve through Christmastide
You can set this on a table, hang it from your dinner table, or replace your TV with it. You can light it during dinner, say the Collect for the week, a blessing, and enjoy a more sober dinner. Or if you go the living room route this can be a reminder to spend more time in activities more spiritually beneficial to you than an endless stream of videos.
This is a great way to cultivate the ecclesia domestica whereby parents are exemplars of the faith and spend special time trying to encourage each child to their proper vocation (CCC #1656).
made popular by German Lutherans in the 19th c., absorbed by Catholics in the 20th c.
The candles don't mean "Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love." These derive from the angels and shepherd stories and were made popular by German Lutherans and Reformed Evangelical folks. But those characters do not show up in Advent. The Angels song Gloria is omitted at Mass throughout Advent and won't return till Christmas. It doesn't make any sense to do one thing at Mass but something contradictory to it at home. Beware Protestant influence here!
You just put it up. Everywhere. Inside. Outside. Around your bookshelves, on your railways, around the stove or the bottom of the toilet if you want to bother your wife. On the hearth. Be creative.
This is an old Anglo-Saxon custom during the winter. The evergreen which never dies was said to foretell of greener tomorrows when spring came. It was said to cheer up people when the dark season came. A friend told me that during this season, in England, the sun goes down at 4:30 pm. Whew. Depressing. Ours went down at 5:25pm. I guess we're not that much better.
After the Anglo-Saxons converted the greens took on new meaning. Evergreens which 'never die' came to mean Christ, who is with us, even in the season of darkness.
Candles in the Windows
Be careful. We use jars outside and make sure the area around is clear.
You probably thought this was a "Christmas" thing, but it's a way to keep a candle lit for Jesus, since one of the Advent readings is "Behold, I knocketh" or that he'll come like a "thief in the night" therefore "Be vigilant," and keep oil in your lamps on the ready. The candles signify the inner readiness of our souls for death and judgment but also that our homes (souls) are ready to receive our master.
If you're reading or praying this is sufficient light and, I find, more conducive to prayer.
Sing Hymns and Listen to Advent Music
While Mass music is mitigated down a bit there are fitting hymns to use at prayer or anytime.
E.G. On Jordan' Bank the Baptist's Cry, Lo He Comes on Clouds Descending, Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Rejoice Rejoice Believers, Wake Awake For Night is Flying, Creator of the Stars of Night, Hark The Glad Sound!, O Word That Goest Forth on High, Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding, The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns
E.g. O Come O Come Emmanuel is actually made to be sung Dec. 17-23. There are 7 verses and each matches one of those seven days. Don't jump the gun! Enjoy other stuff, and you'll notice the readings will transfer from Second Coming to First Coming on Dec. 17th. Patience is one of the key Advent virtues. If the prophets waited this long, we can wait a couple weeks :) You'll enjoy the seasons more with the virtue of temperance.
Here is a personal Spotify playlist with Advent music. It's 3.5 hours with 75 songs and is always being added to.
Get a tree. Resist turning it into a Christmas Tree. Lookup Jesse tree ornaments, print them off, paste them on ornaments of your choice.
Read the Scripture on each ornament for each day of Advent and add the ornament to your tree. By the Advent you have a full Jesse tree that has given you a salvation history of how Jesus came up out of Jesse's 'stump.'
For a more 'moderated' Advent flavour, resist adding lights. The Mass is required to moderate music and flowers in Advent to reflect the season's spirit. Channel that into your home. Remember, Advent is a season of darkness, the Light has not yet come into the world which happens at Christmas. Try burlap as ribbon.
I believe these were made by Protestants but quickly absorbed by Catholics.
After the Babylonian Captivity it was thought King David's Line was annihilated, thus the Covenant with David, 'That his throne should reign forever' was destroyed. Jesus being a King hearkens all the way back to the Books of the Kings and Samuel. No Jesse's line, no Christ the King. Advent shows us how important Kingship of Israel is.
6. Zealous Christians have striven to keep alive or to restore the spirit of Advent by resisting the trend away from the disciplines and austerities that once characterized the season among us. Perhaps their devout purpose will be better accomplished, and the point of Advent will be better fostered if we rely on the liturgical renewal and the new emphasis on the liturgy to restore its deeper understanding as a season of effective preparation for the mystery of the Nativity.
-Statement on Fasting and Abstaining; USCCB; 1966.
Keep a Holy Advent, and you will have a Merry Christmas, Rev. Gregory
Q: I thought Advent was not penitential?
A: It is penitential. But it's not frequently practiced as such. The USCCB's document on Fasting and Abstaining has a section just on Advent:
5. Changing customs, especially in connection with preparation for Christmas, have diminished popular appreciation of the Advent season. Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to be anticipated in the days of the Advent season. As a result, this season has unfortunately lost in great measure the role of penitential preparation for Christmas that it once had. 8. If in all Christian homes, churches, schools, retreats and other religious houses, liturgical observances are practiced with fresh fervor and fidelity to the penitential spirit of the liturgy, then Advent will again come into its own. Its spiritual purpose will again be clearly perceived.
Q: Well, we could change Advent practices right?
A: The USCCB could change that document, but they haven't. Furthermore, Advent began in the 400's as a period of fasting to prepare for Christmas. This is because one of The Church's general liturgical principles is, "Every Feast is preceded by a Fast." We prepare to receive grace by fasting. Think about it, Lent comes before Easter, and we fast for at least one hour before receiving eucharist every Sunday. Every week we have to go through a Friday of abstaining or penance to get to Sunday. The only way to everlasting life is through the cross, that's the lesson. The same holds for Advent. This is why eventually Advent went purple just as Lent is, to signify penance. Many homilies are preached about how it's "not Lent," and has its own character. This is absolutely correct. But to then to suggest because it's particular it cannot also be a penitential season would be as dumb as saying, "I know Christmas is white like Easter, but it has its own character, therefore Christmas is not a festive season." Particular differences between two things does not mean they can't be in the same category. Advent is penitential and the simple answer is as all the lay faithful sense, the purple says so. We don't need to spell it away, just embrace it. We fast with Christ in Lent, and in Advent we do so with John the Baptist who blazes the path in the desert for The Son of Man. Don't forget what John preached, "Repent!"
Q: So why do so many folks say Advent is not penitential then?
A: Reread statement #5 above, "Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to be anticipated...As a result, this season has unfortunately lost...the role of penitential preparation for Christmas..." If we actually held to this it would wreck our current cultural way of preparing for Christmas. Goodbye Santa, goodbye cookies, goodbye Christmas carols on December 1st, goodbye Black Friday sales, goodbye jolly spirits, and so forth. A lot is at stake here and many of us, if we're honest, aren't all too interested in losing our 20, 40, or 60 year old customs of how we do Advent or Christmas. We don't really want The Church to tell us what to do in our homes or in public. But we do want to gripe about "the world going to hell in a hand basket" and all that :) The second answer is because some other prevailing idea about the liturgical seasons is culturally popular. This quickly becomes ironic if you listen to the readings.
Q: What readings suggest Advent is penitential?
A: The Ordinariate Collects focus on judgment, putting on the armour of light, needing purified minds, our disobedience, our sins, our wickedness, etc. from Advent I through Advent IV. Our Mass has an Appendix with allows us to recite The Litany as a processional text. The Litany is used in penitential times like Lent and Ember Days. The Gospel of Mark is read in The Office because it begins with John the Baptist as a desert wildman preaching "Repent!" Revelation is read. The First Sunday of Advent last year had a reading about sinners being in the wine press and blood running up to the height of the horse's bridle and this year was Matthew 24, the Apocalyptic chapter, where the unfaithful slave is punished. Scary stuff, but sobering. Whereas Lent focused on penance to recieve the grace of Baptism or to be renewed in it to receive eucharist on Easter, Advent's penance focuses on its need for Judgment Day, when the God "from whom no secrets are hid" shall judge every careless word we've spoken.
Q: What about Canon 1250?
A: Canon 1250 says "The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent." This text is frequently used to say 'Because Advent isn't listed it's therefore not penitential.' But consider, if I said, "The red fruits and vegetables in the universal store are every strawberry of the whole year and the season of apples." Now suppose red radishes or beets show up in the store. And you say, "Wait! You didn't mention these!" I might say, "I didn't say the only ones were those. I just mentioned some." Thus some use a logical fallacy when reading Canon 1250, but "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."