Here is a great Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Salt Lake City...Enjoy!
Waiting in Joyful Hope! A Pastoral Letter to the Church of Salt Lake City on the season of Advent
My dear brother priests and deacons, my dear religious, and my dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Few would disagree that we live in a busy and rushed society. We rush from one thing to the next; in the end, many of us are restless and tired, yearning for stability and peace in our community and family. You may have noticed that in our hurried society many stores have already decorated for Christmas, radio stations are sneaking in a Christmas song here and there, and even some of our own parishes have begun preparing for Christmas parties for early December. In the midst of all this hurry, the Church teaches us to slow down, to be patient, and to wait.
What is the rush? Are we really so eager to get all the decorations up, celebrate the event, and quickly dismantle all the decorations so we can move on to the next event? If we truly believe the Church is the sacrament of Christ in the world (Lumen Gentium, sections 1, 9, and 48), then we must authentically celebrate the story of salvation as it unfolds in the liturgical year so that we can witness God’s profound love and mercy to the world. In these final days of Ordinary Time, I want to take an opportunity to write to you about our celebration of the seasons of Advent and Christmas.
The Church’s year begins with the season of Advent. Advent is a season of preparation, although it has come to be neglected in many places. Too often, the season of Advent is overshadowed by the “holiday season” as we move too quickly into celebrating Christmas. By the time that the actual solemnity of Christmas arrives, many of us are burned out. We are already tired of all the “Christmas hype.” Christmas has become anticlimactic.
The word advent comes from the Latin for “coming” or “arrival”. What arrival are we waiting for? The General Norms for the Liturgical Year helps us understand the season a little bit better by explaining:
The season of Advent has a twofold character: It is a time of preparation for Christmas when the first coming of God’s Son . . . is recalled. It is also a season when minds are directed by this memorial to Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is thus a season of joyful and spiritual expectation. (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, 39)
You will notice that this is not a penitential season. It is a season of joyful hope, a time of preparation and waiting. “Thus the Sundays of Advent, while commemorating [Christ’s] birth and anticipating his return, celebrate in word and sacrament his coming now in the midst of this world.” (Normand Bonneau, The Sunday Lectionary: Ritual Word, Paschal Shape, Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998, 131.) This season is not just about preparing for the birth of Christ at Christmas, but for the Christ who is continually being born in our midst and transforming the Church ever more into his body in the world.
Here are some particular examples of what this will entail. Schools should not decorate for Christmas, but can decorate with simple wreaths and greenery. They might celebrate “Gaudete parties” before departing for Christmas break. I encourage each home to display and bless an Advent wreath where the family can gather for prayer either in the morning, at dinner, or some other practical time. I urge you to hold-off on displaying a decorated Christmas tree until the season of Christmas begins. You may want to incorporate a Jesse Tree in your family’s observance of the season. (More information on Jesse Trees can be found at: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=545 or http://www.loyolapress.com/our-jesse-tree-advent-activity.htm.) As the season draws to its close, I also invite you to discover the beauty of the O Antiphons, which are sung as part of evening prayer from December 17th to 23rd, and are most familiar to most of us in the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
Once Christmas comes, the season stretches far beyond the 25th of December. It continues until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on January 9, 2011. We should leave the decorations which are testimonies to our joy up for the entire season. There is plenty of time for us to celebrate our joy at Christ’s birth and we should make the most of it. You might consider having a Christmas gathering in the parish, or at home with family and friends during this time.
First, though, before we celebrate, comes a necessary time of waiting and of preparation. The season of Advent refocuses us and reminds us that Christ has changed the world. Darkness has covered this hemisphere, and the world itself is quiet. Because we know that Christ reigns over all of creation, we strain in the darkness to see the light of Christ, our coming King. May our observance of this season renew us and be an example of patience, silence, and joy to our hurried and anxious society.
With profound gratitude for your service in this local Church and with my promise of prayer as we enter into this holy season of Advent, I remain,
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Most Reverend John C. Wester
Bishop of Salt Lake City
Given on November 24, 2010
Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, Martyr, and His Companions, Martyrs