Restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 means that long-held holiday traditions will be altered significantly this year. Most people will not be able to experience the familiar liturgies and music inside the sacred space of a church. On Nov. 17, the state ordered that no indoor Masses are to be held. People who celebrate Mass outdoors in parking lots must cover their faces and stay six feet apart from one another.
Yet the season of Advent and Christmas need not be any less important or meaningful. Mass services have already been streaming by most parishes so that everyone can connect with the Church and participate from home—and this will continue through the holidays. “A lot of people say this is a very satisfying experience considering the limitations,” says Lesa Truxaw, director of the Office for Worship. Though receiving the Holy Eucharist is not possible, she says, viewing services “helps us to enter into prayer in a time of worship.”
The Diocese of Orange has launched a website to help Catholics celebrate Advent. Visit rcbo.org/advent
“Advent is a season of hope and waiting,” says Truxaw. “As Catholics we’re asked to linger in this time and prepare for the birth of Jesus, just like any family preparing for a new baby.” The Advent season begins on Nov. 29 and “it ties in with what we’re expecting this year—we are waiting for this pandemic to be done. We are hopeful that we won’t get sick. We are waiting for the time when we can gather again with family and friends. Advent fits very much with our experience right now,” she says.
Katie Dawson, director of Parish Evangelization and Faith Formation, suggests delving into Advent in a variety of ways. Reading Scripture during the week before Sunday as a family is one way, helping children to understand words they might not recognize.
Another Advent practice is to read Scripture using Lectio Divina or “divine reading.” This story by Devon Wattam from the Catholic Sistas website (catholicsistas.com/lectio-divina-grow-closer-to-god-this-advent-through-divine-reading), a collection of blogs from Catholic women around the world, offers a step-by-step guide to this meditative reading practice.
Advent prayers can be found on the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions) as well as the website of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Orange (rcbo.org).
Family activities such as constructing a crib scene together or helping a local parishioner in need are described in another story on the Catholic Sistas site by Antonia Goddard (catholicsistas.com/being-the-living-crib-2/). The group called Abiding Together has made available reflections on the meaning of the season in a series of four podcast talks about Advent with noted Catholics (abidingtogetherpodcast.com/advent-series).
For parents, Dawson also recommends the book called Around the Year with the von Trapp Family by Maria von Trapp, the singer whose story was the basis of “The Sound of Music.” In this book, she provides hymns, recipes and activities she shared with her children every holiday. They made Advent wreathes and calendars and studied the lives of saints—activities that strengthened family bonds.
Truxaw recalls an Advent tradition in her husband’s large family in which each person secretly prayed someone else in the family, did their chores and bought a Christmas present for them. “The sense of anticipation and goodness that is exhibited makes this a great way to prepare for Christmas,” she says.
It’s also helpful to remember that previous generations suffered through poverty, war and disease and still celebrated Christmas.
“Two books from my childhood, ‘Little Women,’ and ‘Five Little Peppers,’ come to mind,” says Dawson. “Both are about families that endured hardships and found ways to create special celebrations. It is the very important task of parents to dig deep and help children to see we have many things to be thankful for. We have the great gift of Jesus, the source of our true hope. If we take a pause, say a prayer, light
a candle, and hold hands and have some silence with our children, we could find this Christmas truly a special celebration.”
Christmas can be emotionally difficult for some people, especially for those without families or who feel alone and isolated. One antidote is to reach reach out to help others, and for Catholics there are many ways to do this, such as helping distribute groceries at the Cantlay Food Distribution Center. “Even now in this time there are still opportunities to connect by hope and healing,” says Katie Dawson. “Volunteering is a great way to contribute time and energy to benefit others and connect with other people who have the same interest in serving. We have to ask, ‘How can I make life better for someone else’?