Liturgical Guidelines for Advent and Christmas Season
Advent has a two-fold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, n. 39).
The season of Advent begins with Evening Prayer I for Sunday, November 30, 2014, and closes before Evening Prayer I for Christmas.
The weekdays from December 17 to December 24 inclusive serve to prepare more directly for the Lord’s birth (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, n 42). During these days, both the Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of the Eucharist include the traditional “O Antiphons,” which express the meaning and spirit of the season. These antiphons, as well as the Lectionary readings from the Gospel of Luke highlight the importance of Mary in the season of Advent.
The Gloria is omitted on the Sundays of Advent (GIRM n.53).
In Advent, the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season’s character and which does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity (GIRM n. 313).
During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of the season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. Any floral decorations are placed around the altar, but never on the altar itself (GIRM n. 305).
The Advent wreath is a very meaningful part of our Advent tradition. Ideally, the wreath is made of evergreen branches, which symbolize everlasting life. The four candles, representing the four weeks of Advent, symbolize prayer, penance, sacrifices and good works undertaken during the season. Usually, three candles are purple and one is pink, or rose colored. The rose colored candle is lighted on Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing, because the Church has arrived at the mid-point of Advent, when preparations are half over, and Christmas is coming nearer.
The progressive lighting of candles symbolizes the hopes and expectations surrounding the first coming of Jesus, and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary
Patronal Feast of the United States
In 2014, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is celebrated on Monday, December 8. In keeping with liturgical norms established by the USCCB, December 8th is a holy day of obligation in all dioceses of the United States.
The Christmas Season
The Christmas season begins with Evening Prayer I of Christmas, and concludes on the Sunday after Epiphany or after January 6, inclusive (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, n. 33). In 2014 the Christmas season concludes on Sunday, January 11th, the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.
The Mass of the Vigil of Christmas is used in the evening of 24 December, either before or after Evening Prayer I. (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, n. 34).
On the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day), all priests may celebrate or concelebrate three Masses, provided the Masses are celebrated at their proper times of the day; the Mass at Midnight, the Mass at Dawn, and the Mass during the Day (General Norms for the Liturgical Year, n. 35 and GIRM n. 204,c).
Some parishes have had questions concerning Christmas pageants at the Vigil Masses on Christmas Eve. While the liturgical life of the parish must be attentive to the needs of children, this attentiveness is not intended to overshadow the character of the Mass itself (see GIRM no. 21 and note). This means that a vigil Mass celebrated on Christmas Eve afternoon is first and foremost a parish Mass. Pageants or other activities which might overshadow, distract from or disrupt the parish Mass are more appropriately scheduled at other times, perhaps before or after the Vigil Mass.
The following points might be helpful in planning parish liturgies for Christmas Eve afternoon.
From the Directory for Masses with Children
(Congregation for Divine Worship, October 22, 1973)
Chapter One: Introduction, N. 11: The Christian communities to which the individual families belong, or in which the children live also have a responsibility toward children baptized in the Church. By giving witness to the Gospel, living communal charity, and actively celebrating the mysteries of Christ, the Christian community is an excellent school of Christian and liturgical formation for the children who live in it.
Chapter Two: Masses with Adults in Which Children Also Participate, N. 16: In many places parish Masses are celebrated, especially on Sundays and holy days, at which a good many children take part along with a large number of adults. On such occasions the witness of adult believers can have great effect upon the children. Adults, in turn, can benefit spiritually from experiencing the part that the children have within the Christian community. The Christian spirit of the family is greatly fostered when children take part in these Masses together with their parents and other family members.
N. 19: If the number of children is large, it may be suitable to plan the Mass so that it corresponds more closely to the needs of children. In this case, the homily should be directed to them, but in such a way that adults may also benefit from it.
Chapter Three: Masses With Children in Which Only a Few Adults Participate, N. 21: It is always necessary to keep in mind that these Eucharistic celebrations must lead children toward the celebration of Mass with adults, especially the Masses at which the Christian community must come together on Sundays.
N. 22: In all this, it should be kept in mind that external activities will be fruitless and even harmful if they do not serve the internal participation of the children. Thus, religious silence has its importance even in Masses with children. The children should not be allowed to forget that all forms of participation reach their high point in Eucharistic communion, when the Body and Blood of Christ are received as spiritual nourishment.
N. 37: Even in Masses with children silence should be observed at the designated times as part of the celebration, lest too great a place be given to external action. In their own way, children are genuinely capable of reflection. They need some guidance, however, so that they will learn how, in keeping with the different moments of the Mass, to recollect themselves, meditate briefly or praise God and pray to him in their hearts. Besides this, with even greater care than in Masses with adults, the liturgical texts should be proclaimed intelligently and unhurriedly, with the necessary pauses.
Special Observances of Advent and the Christmas Season
Friday, December 12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
A special Eucharistic celebration will take place at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick at 7 PM
Thursday, January 1, 2015: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Octave day of Christmas and a holy day of obligation
Tuesday, January 6: Memorial of Saint Andre Bessette
Newly canonized saint who, for a few years, lived and worked in the Diocese of Norwich
Sunday, January 11: Baptism of the Lord
The conclusion of the Christmas Season and the return to Ordinary Time
Parish and Family Resources
Book of Blessings:
Rituals for blessing Advent Wreath, Manger or Nativity scene, Christmas tree
Ritual for blessing homes during the Christmas Season
Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. Published by USCCB Committee on Liturgy, 1987
(For use in homes by families)
Table prayers for Advent and Christmas
Blessing of Advent Wreath, Manger or Nativity scene, Christmas tree
Blessing for New Year
Blessing for Home and Household