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November 8, 2004
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Welcoming in a New Liturgical Year
At the end of this month in churches across the world, Catholics will celebrate a New Year. We do it without top hats and confetti, noisemakers or party favors. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, we quietly slip out of Ordinary Time and into a new year and another Advent. Or as Sandra DeGidio, O.S.M., (Catholic Update “The Liturgical Year: How Catholic Celebrate Time”) might phrase it, we spiral into a new liturgical year. But more about that later.
Consider holding a New Year’s Eve party at your parish the night before the first Sunday in Advent to celebrate the new liturgical year. Since this falls on the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend, you might suggest a potluck supper where parishioners can share their tasty leftovers. The party offers an opportunity to remind parish members what Advent is all about and to help them learn a little more about the liturgical calendar.
Each New Year brings its own calendar, one of fixed readings. Like all calendars, the liturgical calendar has set seasons. Through each season of the year the Scripture readings unfold for us the Mystery of Christ. We listen, recall and celebrate Christ’s birth, life, death, Resurrection and Ascension and, finally, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The story ends (or just begins) on the first Sunday of a new Advent as Scripture recalls for us the joyful expectation of Christ’s second coming.
In the Catholic Update she authored on the liturgical year, Sister DeGidio describes our journey through the liturgical year as an ever-enlightening cycle. (Click here to find out more about “The Liturgical Cycle.”) While we often picture the liturgical year as a circle—one colorful season leading into the next—Sister DeGidio sees it as a spiral. Her vision gives the year a new depth and dynamism.
Sister DeGidio notes that the Sunday readings “make Christ present NOW!!” The Gospel stories we hear are not just a historical reading to help us remember who Jesus was. They are supposed to shed Christ’s light on our own contemporary setting. What does this Sunday reading say to me today, at this point in my life, with all that is happening in the world? Each Advent finds us older, hopefully wiser and certainly in a different place. And each new liturgical year is an invitation to find new meaning in often-heard, familiar Scripture readings.
Celebrating Advent
Unfortunately, most Catholics (like the rest of the American public) seem to believe that the Christmas season begins when Santa arrives at the mall. Most of us merge the seasons of Advent and Christmas and, in effect, lose the Christmas season altogether. In most Catholic homes, January 2 becomes “ordinary time” weeks before the Church celebrates it.
One way of educating people about the Christmas season is to help them understand Advent and the liturgical calendar. Invite the parish to an intergenerational Advent rally. (Click here to find out possible activities for your rally.) Take some time during the rally to talk about the Church’s calendar as well as the 12 days of Christmas.
In the article above I talk about spiraling into a New Year. Consider asking folks to take time this Advent to reflect on how they have grown spiritually since last Christmas. Have them think of some New Year’s resolutions they can make that might help them in their relationship with God, their families or communities. Ask them to be concrete in how they will live out their resolutions. Suggest writing some of this down and sealing it in a Christmas card to be opened and shared on Christmas Day.
Finally, talk about really celebrating the Christmas season this year. Keep the tree up. Have at least one festive meal after the 25th. Go caroling at a friend’s house and bring along some Christmas cookies. We all know how busy we are getting prepared for Christmas. Doesn’t it just make sense to stretch the celebration out as long as we can?
Video Updates on the Church Year
Most of our lives are governed by a calendar—whether a traditional planner or an electronic version. While my husband carries his electronic one and “syncs” it with his computer, I manage quite well with my paper versions. My purse is a bit full right now, though. For the next couple of months I’m carrying two calendars: one ends in December ’04 and the other begins with January ’05.
Soon my husband and I will be looking back over our family calendar at the events of this year as we prepare our annual (and much-anticipated!) Christmas letter. There have been births and deaths, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, Girl Scouts meetings, dentist appointments, parish events and car repairs. Looking back over the events of the year, we see the story of our family’s life.
The Church’s calendar is full of stories as well: stories of Jesus and the Church, and our own stories of faith. Far from being artificial or imposed, the Church year is a structure that grew out of the experiences of real people—from Abraham and Sarah in the Hebrew Scriptures, to Jesus himself, through the earliest Christians, down to our present day.
As we prepare to begin a new liturgical year, it is good not only to prepare our hearts for the Advent-Christmas season but also to enter into the experience of the Church’s calendar with new openness for the ways God speaks to us through the biblical stories read at Sunday Mass throughout the year. The most important of those stories is the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection is the center of our faith, making Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, the center of the liturgical year. Every Sunday—which we call the Lord’s Day—the Church keeps alive the memory of the Lord’s Resurrection as we gather to celebrate the Mass.
The Catholic Update Video The Church Celebrates: The Liturgical Year and Sunday provides an overview of the Church’s liturgical year and an explanation of Sunday’s importance within it. In the teaching segment, Father Tom Richstatter, O.F.M., emphasizes and explains that “The Church year is the way we read the Bible.” Click here (RealMedia | Windows Media) to see a video clip from the witness segment of The Church Celebrates: The Liturgical Year and Sunday. These everyday Catholics share their personal understanding of some aspect of the Church year.
Use this video with those participating in the RCIA and with other adults who have an interest in learning more about the Church’s liturgical year (e.g., worship commissions, liturgy planners, small groups). The story segment can also be used as a marriage preparation or enrichment resource.
May you experience God’s grace and peace in the story of your own lives as we come to the close of one Church year and embark on another.
Advent in the Parish
Keeping the parish community focused on the true meaning of the Advent season—beyond the shopping and holiday parties—is always a challenge. This year St. Anthony Messenger Press offers a quality, inexpensive pocketbook-sized booklet of daily reflections on the Church’s readings for the Advent season: Daily Reflections for Advent 2004: The Lion and the Lamb. This is an excellent resource to make available to your whole parish family, to encourage everyone to take just a couple of minutes a day to focus their attention on the true meaning of the Advent season.
Also avaliable from St. Anthony is a prayerful Servant Book by Father Benedict Groeschel: Behold, He Comes: Meditations on the Incarnation. Father Groeschel provides Insightful reflections on Christ’s coming in history, in our personal lives and at the end of time.
And here’s a unique seasonal item to remind parishioners of the message of Advent: a door hanger with the Advent message, “Wait in Joyful Hope!” Consider giving the door hangers as an Advent gift to each family in your school or parish school of religion program. Not only are these attractive reminders of Advent’s message, but on the reverse side they contain a short “family Advent prayer service” suitable for use at family gatherings throughout the season.
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