Lent and Advent are my two favorite times of the liturgical year. Both are seasons of anticipation, calling us to reflect on the mysteries we are preparing to celebrate, and to purify ourselves so as to be worthier of them.
The guidelines for Lent are a bit more clear-cut. During Lent, we fast and give alms, receive ashes on our foreheads, partake in the sacrament of reconciliation. Without a major holiday to prepare for–Easter has largely resisted commercialization, except for the occasional chocolate bunny–and with the rough weather of March to force us inward, we’re generally pretty good at reflecting and repenting.
But Advent seems to have fewer traditions, so it’s easier to get distracted during this season, especially with the flurry of Christmas shopping, holiday parties, and travel plans.
I think one good way to focus on preparing for Christ’s birth–apart from the obligatory Advent wreath and calendar–is to find a good Advent-themed book and work through it. For many people, Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscover Advent will serve that role.
For each day of Advent, the book offers one of the daily Mass readings, a short reflection on the reading, a meditation question, and a prayer. (There’s one prayer per week, repeated on each day of that week).
The meditations are the main attraction of the book. I haven’t read all of them yet–I don’t want to spoil my Advent surprises–but the ones I’ve looked at seem relevant. They reiterate the same points that all Christians know, but so few of us do. For instance, the reflection for Monday of the fourth week of Advent says: “If you can tell me what your habits are, I can tell you what sort of person you are . . . Our lives change when our habits change.” I know by hard-won experience that my thoughts are more easily directed towards God when I arrange the outward details of my life such that I’m forced to think of Him, rather than waiting for a spontaneous inclination towards prayer. The solution is so simple, but also so easy to neglect.
The prayers, like the meditations, offer simple truths rather than difficult theological concepts. If you dislike the collects in the Ordinary Form Mass, you might not like these either, since they’re pretty short and direct. For instance, the first week’s prayer is as follows:
God of hope, I look to you with an open heart and yearning spirit. During this Advent season, I will keep alert and awake, listening for your word and keeping your precepts. My hope is in you, as I wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
In my opinion. the best way to enter fully into a liturgical season is to attend daily Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. But if you haven’t the time to do that–or if you’re already doing that, but want to do something more for Advent–this little book might offer just the solution.