Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Advent Rituals Lead Us To The Christ Child

Published diciembre 8, 2005  | Available In English

Some people find rituals mighty dull. They can’t understand why Catholics say the same prayers every Sunday at Mass and sit and stand at predictable moments.

When Advent comes along, these folks notice Catholics doing the same things they always do: getting out the Advent wreath, lighting the candles and saying identical prayers from last year.

Isn’t that just terribly boring? Shouldn’t we launch some new Advent activities to keep things interesting?

The truth, though, is that rituals are inherently comforting.

Ask any person who always has lunch at noon, ends phone calls to friends with “I love you” and kisses the children when putting them to bed at night.

All of human life is imbedded in rituals, including the foods we eat on holidays and the ways we mark special times like weddings. In short, we need not re-invent the wheel, since the wheel we have gets us exactly where we want to go.

Mass is a series of rituals, from start to finish, and if one is looking for Hollywood style entertaining, one could indeed get bored.

And some might suggest it would be good to jazz things up a bit, so more people will show up and the collections will fatten.

This approach, however, misses the point because Mass is not another diversion in a society that worships entertainment.

And even if the collections fell to zero, our Catholic liturgy would still be the most worthwhile endeavor on the planet.

After all, as Catholics, we believe that during Mass we encounter Jesus Christ himself, and He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The repetition of the same prayers and gestures helps us clear our minds and empty our hearts of trouble, so we can ready ourselves to meet Christ in the Eucharist.

It is much the same way with the rosary. People who aren’t familiar with this form of prayer think it is just mindless repetition.

The truth, though, is that the repetition of prayers has a calming effect and helps empty the mind of distracting thoughts, so we can center on the thing that the beads are all about. Which are the mysteries in the life of Jesus Christ.

Still, belonging to a religion that cherishes ritual sometimes seems like an uphill battle in a world that worships the idea that “new is better.”

The whole “new is better” mentality subtly creeps in to churches, as attested by a recent newspaper story about a pastor of a Protestant church who planned to install high-speed Internet access connections in the pews.

He figured his congregation would appreciate this convenience during services.

Sadly, some Catholics who go to church might agree with him, since they are there to be entertained, and if the sermon isn’t the “be all and end all,” and if the liturgy isn’t “jazzed up” with new stuff, they leave disappointed.

As if the Eucharist were not enough.

It is true that Catholics go through the same motions, over and over. But anyone who performs the rituals mindfully knows they are not dull.

After all, when you go to church on Sunday, you are slightly different from the person who was there the week before.

For some, the week may have brought physical illnesses and they are seeking comfort in Christ’s arms. For others, the week brought disappointments and the heart feels heavier, or the week overflowed with dazzling joys and the heart is soaring.

Then the priest extols us to “lift up our hearts to the Lord,” and we give Him our joys and sorrows.

When Advent rolls around each year, we can get a breather from the craziness of the secular world, but we have to savor this oasis of peace in our hearts.

After all, the secular world has been urging us to start celebrating Christmas for months because, for many, Christmas is just another excuse to spend money.

The rituals of Advent, however, help us sample the experience of waiting and remind us that some things cannot be rushed, as any expectant mom can attest.

Each year, the simple rituals remain the same. We gather in the evening to light a candle in the Advent wreath, read Scripture and say a few prayers.

Many families place the empty manger in the living room and add a straw for every kind act performed during Advent, in the hopes of creating a soft bed for the Christ Child by Christmas Eve.

In a world where newness is worshipped, Advent gives Catholics a chance to enjoy the many rituals that connect us with the past.

We can slow down and turn over each moment in our minds like a jewel. And trust that, when the four weeks are over, we will glimpse the humble baby in the manger on Christmas Day.

Just like we did last year and, God willing, like we will do next year as well.


Lorraine V. Murray is the author of three books, which can be ordered on her new Web site: You may write her at