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November 20, 2002
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders. The focus is parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. We hope this e-newsletter will be a support to you in your ministry by offering encouragement as well as practical help. Each month we will offer a different topic, with applications for adult and family catechesis.
I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I'll offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey will offer video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship will suggest 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

p.s. You're receiving this either because you signed up, or because you're a loyal customer of St. Anthony Messenger Press. We will never send you unwanted e-mail. There is an unsubscribe link at the bottom of this page.
More about the book
Advent: A Catechetical Moment
Years before the General Directory for Catechesis was published, Dr. Maria Harris talked about the community as catechist and the curriculum as everything that goes on in the Church’s life. Maria tells us, “The Church does not have an educational program; it is an educational program” (Fashion Me A People: Curriculum in the Church, Westminster/John Knox Press, p. 47). That means that at this time of the year, Advent is our textbook and the whole parish is our classroom.
Advent: When and what
The commercial world begins preparing for Christmas in early fall, and celebrates Christmas all through December, pulling the plug on the 25th. That’s not how we do it in the Church. For us the Christmas season begins on the 25th and goes on, just like the song says, for 12 days—and then some! Advent, our season for getting ready, begins four Sundays before the big day. It is a season for waiting and preparing. While it anticipates the Christmas season it is not the Christmas season. So how can we make this point in our ministry?
Parish parties
We make the point first of all by not scheduling any parish Christmas parties before the 25th. Encourage catechists and Catholic schoolteachers to involve their youngsters in planning the parties during December but actually to celebrate Christmas after winter break.
Better still, plan a big parish-wide children’s party to happen during the break (the actual Christmas season). Assign different grades various responsibilities: making placemats and decorations, designing and sending invitations, planning entertainment, etc. Teach adults and children about waiting and preparing by spending Advent getting ready for the party. Bring gifts to the party for folks in need and celebrate Christ in the world by being Christ to others. It could be a good lesson for teachers and students.
Celebrating Christmas
Finally, make a point to celebrate Christmas as a parish at the appropriate time. Plan faculty or staff Christmas parties for after the 25th. You might be surprised to find people grateful for not scheduling one more thing during those hectic pre-Christmas days. The atmosphere is more tranquil, and it sure is easier to book a restaurant!
Throughout Advent set a tone of prayerful waiting by gathering groups together for quiet reflection or active contemplation. Decorate with the purple of the season, and encourage small acts of penance by suggesting ways parishioners young and old can share their time, talent and treasure with others. Most important, remember to take time for yourself, to breathe in the season and enjoy this time of quiet preparation and anticipation.
More about the leader's guide
Family Faith Formation
Advent is a great time to bring family members together to pray and learn more about their faith. This can happen at the parish with a number of families or at home within the family circle. Consider sponsoring a mini-book sale during Advent. Invite parents to encourage quiet reading time during this special pre-Christmas season. Choose faith-related reading material appropriate for all age groups. Include Advent calendars and wreaths or materials for families to make their own.
Plan a family Advent gathering. Bring families together to learn more about the season and send them home with some new ideas on how to celebrate it. You might begin by asking family members to talk about some of their favorite family Christmas traditions. Ask them to introduce themselves to the whole group by telling everyone about one of these favorite traditions. Have them make Advent wreaths, write a family Advent prayer or design a Christmas card to send to friends and relatives. Consider decorating a Jesse Tree for the whole parish to enjoy.
It is so easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of the commercialized Christmas and forget what Advent and Christmas are really about. Take every opportunity to remind parents and children to enjoy this special season by spending time together. Remind parents that their time and full attention is worth more than anything any catalog can offer.
More about the video
More about the video
Video Resource Ideas for Advent
The Christmas crib, also called a crèche, manger or nativity scene, is a familiar sight in our homes, churches and classrooms throughout Advent and Christmas. The tradition of these displays is credited to St. Francis of Assisi. Share the story of the first Christmas crib and the rich meaning of this custom at an Advent gathering of families. Or, encourage parish families and catechists to share this video in their homes and classrooms as they set up their crèches. Click here to view a video clip from The First Christmas Crib: A Story of St. Francis of Assisi (Windows Media Player required). Share the following ideas from the leader’s guide with parents and catechists.
Enrichment ideas for family or class
• In the spirit of St. Francis whose first Christmas crib showed Jesus’ humble beginnings, discuss ways that your Christmas preparations and celebration might be simplified in order to better focus on the true meaning of the season.
• The hay in the manger provided some comfort for the baby Jesus. Discuss and commit to bringing some comfort to the poor and/or homeless this Advent and Christmas (i.e., donating blankets to a homeless shelter; collecting coats, gloves and hats for an agency serving the poor; collecting funds to help pay the winter heating bill of a poor family; donating food to and/or serving food at a soup kitchen, etc.).
• Discuss what it means to provide a dwelling place for Jesus in your heart. Write “There is room for you in my heart, Jesus” on construction paper hearts, sign them and hang them on your Christmas tree.
• Place an electric candle in a window of your home or classroom as a sign that there is room for Jesus there and in your hearts.
Some other video ideas  (click on the video title for more information)
• Use Advent: Celebrating the Season to introduce children and families to the meaning of Advent and some of its traditions (12 minutes, ages 8-13).
Jesus Comes walks young children through Advent, Christmas and Jesus’ early life and helps them discover the joy Christ’s birth brings (15 minutes, ages 6-10).
Preparing for Christmas and Preparing for Christmas II provide 15-minute reflections for each week of Advent. Share these before or after Mass or within weekly sessions to challenge parishioners to slow down and prepare their hearts for Christmas.
• Share The Mouse in the Manger, a Christmas classic about friendship and sharing, with young children and their parents (19 minutes, all ages).
Preview the full text
More about the book
Advent Reflections/Nurturing the RCIA
Parish-wide formation
The holiday season, in most people’s experience, is not the most reflective time of year. Advent invites us to spend a little time reflecting on our Catholic faith: its origins in Jesus and our reasons for hope. Why not consider offering a tool for simple daily reflection to everyone in the parish? Each Advent, Catholic Update offers simple, day-by-day reflections for personal use. This year's offering, by Phyllis Zagano, is Advent Day by Day: Search for Light. (You can sample the full text at our Web site.) Consider distributing these simple reflections to your entire parish, as a kind of gift for the season.
Meanwhile, back at the parish...
Advent is the major focus in December, but there are other things going on in your parish at that time. Right about now your RCIA team might be looking for an opportune time to introduce into the parish community a new group of Inquirers ready to celebrate the Rite of Becoming a Catechumen. That usually means there are new sponsors who need formation. A nice seasonal gift to those new sponsors might be a new little booklet from St. Anthony Messenger Press: Handing on the Faith: When You Are an RCIA Sponsor, by Rita Burns Senseman. Becoming a sponsor is a journey in itself, and most sponsors will appreciate the encouragement that this little booklet will provide. The experience of their catechumens will be that much richer as a result.
Study guides from St. Anthony Messenger magazine
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Faith Formation Forum
How is Advent a catechetical moment in your parish? Our editors will screen and post your ideas on our online bulletin board at You can check the board from time to time to see others' ideas. Submit your ideas by clicking here.

If you're looking for further ariticles and inspiration for Advent and Christmas, including free Advent and Christmas e-cards, visit the Advent-Christmas feature at
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