Advent: Preparing the way of the Lord, in our hearts and homes

Photo: CNS/Tom McCarthy Jr. Photo: CNS/Tom McCarthy Jr.

When my wife and I were expecting our first child, we made many preparations as we awaited her birth. Setting up a crib, securing anything that might fall from a wall, and learning about infant development were the mainstays of those 40 weeks. Doing all this not only prepared the way for our daughter, but also refashioned our lives.

As we took on the practices of parenting, our marriage was reoriented toward the establishment of our household as a “domestic church.” Our excitement and preparations were the realization of those promises we made as we entered into holy matrimony — to receive the gift of children and raise them in the practice of our Christian faith. Those months were a time for us, husband and wife, to prepare ourselves to take on a new role, a new relationship — to become truly father and mother.

Each year the church gives us the gift of the Advent season to prepare our hearts and homes to receive anew the gift of God. Advent invites each of us, like expectant parents, to prepare the way of the Lord. Like a family preparing to welcome a child, the preparations we make during this Advent season are about the profound transformation of ourselves, which we welcome through our acceptance of the great self-gift of God to us.

During Advent, the church offers us many ways to prepare the way of the Lord, and to prepare ourselves to take on the new role of missionary disciples. Our encounter with the Lord — made possible by Jesus’ first coming to us, celebrated in the Nativity of the Lord at Christmastide, and awaited in the fullness of time at the end of the age — is something worth preparing for! Here are a few ways to do that:

Make an Advent wreath with your family and light it nightly. You may use the blessing on the next page each evening when your family gathers around the dinner table, the center of the domestic church. Let the light of Christ dispel any darkness that can crowd out our patient waiting for the Lord.

Share your expectant joy with others. As you welcome family and friends to your home, invite those who have not yet experienced the joy of encountering Christ to share their hopes during this simple prayer by lighting the candles as we pray for the coming of our Savior. Perhaps invite those who do not have a church to join you at Mass during Advent to prepare for Christmas.

Switch off the radio and switch on prayer. When adding prayer into your busy routine gets tough, recall the quote attributed to St. Francis de Sales: “Half an hour’s prayer each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” I try to use my morning and evening commutes to pray the Liturgy of the Hours using my smartphone. Advent music can help create a prayerful atmosphere. A few albums I would suggest adding to your queue include Advent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, The Cherry Tree by Anonymous 4 and Mysteries by Danielle Rose, especially the joyful mysteries.

Practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. When we are expecting the birth of our children we make changes to how we spend our time, what we eat and drink, and the rhythms of our sleep so that our children can share in these good habits to facilitate their thriving. As we begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy and Archbishop Sartain guides us into the works of mercy (see page 4), practice and celebrate these habits that allow Christ’s advent to thrive in our hearts and homes. You might invite members of your family to add a figure to your crèche or a piece of straw to the manger when they’ve undertaken such practices and share the story of their work of mercy.

Trouble listening? Head to our SoundCloud stream directly.

Blessing of an Advent wreath

Light Advent wreath
Photo: CNS/Lisa A. Johnston

The use of the Advent wreath is a traditional practice which has found its place in the church as well as in the home. Customarily the Advent wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which are inserted four candles. According to tradition, three candles are violet and the fourth is rose. However, four violet or white candles may be used. The candles represent the four weeks of Advent, and the number of candles lighted each week corresponds to the number of the current week of Advent. The rose candle is lighted on the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete (or Rejoice) Sunday. When the blessing of the Advent wreath is celebrated in the home, it is appropriate that it be blessed by a parent or another member of the family.

All make the sign of the cross as the leader says:

Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R/. Who made heaven and earth.

During this season of Advent, as we await the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we mark our waiting in joyful hope by lighting this Advent wreath. This year, as we mark the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are especially aware of our need to prepare ourselves to receive the tender mercy of our God. Let us listen together to the words Mary spoke while visiting the home of her cousin, Elizabeth:

The Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) Luke 1:46–55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

With hands joined, the leader says:

Almighty and everliving God,
we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
he is the fulfillment of your promise of mercy,
he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
he is the Savior of every nation.

Lord God,
let your blessing come upon us
as we light the candles of this Advent wreath.
May the wreath and its light
be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us mercy and
May he come quickly and not delay.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R/. Amen.

The blessing may conclude with a verse from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

O come, desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of humankind;
bid ev’ry sad division cease
and be thyself our Prince of peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.

Adapted by the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Liturgy Office for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, from "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers," published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Northwest Catholic - December 2015

Andrew Casad

Andrew Casad is the director of the archdiocesan Liturgy Office and a member of St. John Vianney Parish on Vashon Island. Contact him at