you tell if you’re in the holiday rush? If every square of your parish calendar
is filled with food drives, prayer services, festive get-togethers, practices
for pageants, giving trees, gift-wrapping projects—in addition to your normal
program schedule—you know you’ve entered the ministry version of the “holiday
rush.” What’s more, your own personal life might also be packed with shopping,
cooking, decorating, and the usual seasonal fanfare.
routinely find themselves rising to the quickened pace of late November and
early December while secretly pledging that next year will be different. “Next
year I will take time to delve into those beautiful Advent readings. Next year I
will prioritize the many worthwhile outreach projects and appreciate that less is
more. Next year I will invite the community to enter into the Advent spirit,
where we wait together in anticipation for Christ’s coming while celebrating
his presence among us. Next year I will teach the Church calendar by example rather
than allowing the local mall to determine the holiday schedule. Next year I
will wait, celebrate, and worship at a pace that leaves me and our parish refreshed
rather than drained.”
might be the year!
Expect the Unexpected
from the Seder table tradition, many families leave an empty seat at their
table during holiday meals. Tradition tells us that the vacant chair is for the
unexpected visitor we would gladly welcome to our table.
As we plan
our holiday catechetical schedule this season, I suggest we employ that idea of
“leaving room.” Suggesting to catechists and families that we will do things a
little differently this year in order to make room for the One who wants to
share in our celebrations may come as a welcomed relief. After all, who offers
a “sabbath” in the midst of our cultural frenzy?
offer this caution: Parish life often mirrors the rest of the culture. So, lest
your efforts be seen as the Grinch who stole Christmas, offering a different “way”
will need to be grounded in sharing a wider vision of the Church calendar, as
well as a family-friendly atmosphere that acknowledges the reality of the
Is Change Possible?
create schedules. We can change schedules—especially to better serve our parish.
In fact, DREs have the responsibility as well as the privilege to establish the
tone and pace of the season.
need to make changes, I begin by asking questions. For example, what distracts
us from entering into the Advent spirit in the manner we would like? What would
we want our days of anticipation to look like? What do we do just because we’ve
always done it—and done it “that way”? Are these annual activities meaningful
to the community? If so, might there be other, simpler ways for people to
I recall a
large parish in which I served that had a reenactment of the Christmas story every
year on Christmas Eve. This production was the responsibility of the DRE and
always involved a huge amount of planning, volunteer power, and focus through
most of December.
the size of the parish and the parish facility, this pageant presented many
restrictions as to who could be involved. In addition, few children actually
had speaking parts because of the nature of the narrative. Most participants
were relegated to being voiceless shepherds and angels. After several years, we
resorted to a “lottery system” to determine who actually had speaking parts
because groups often felt excluded. It always felt like a no-win situation.
inherited this tradition, I needed to tread lightly when it came to change.
Yet, if the purpose of acting out the Christmas story is to involve the
children in the story of our salvation, then let us encourage as many children
as possible in telling and re-telling this important piece of our tradition.
example, we can invite the children to write their own scripts. We can allow
children to enter into various roles instead of just performing them. We can invite
entire families to participate. We can let everyone immerse themselves in this
great story that we gather to celebrate.
Be sure to
offer Advent ideas that are fun and prayerful and involve everyone
One DRE in
our area begins the First Sunday of Advent by inviting all families to stay
after Mass and construct Advent wreaths for the families to take home. She hands
out (or posts on a website) prayers and readings to be used at the dinner table
parish offers family-centered evening prayer and song immediately following
class for the four weeks before Christmas.
children return to class following the Christmas break, they find that, while
their Christmas trees may be put away at home, their parish continues the
Christmas celebration. They learn about the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus,
celebrated and told as part of the same story we all lived and celebrated the
starts small. Whatever your calendar may look like in the weeks ahead, decide
now what is essential for you and your parish to live in joyful expectation. Be
conscientious about making room for the One already among us and for whom we
Sweeney, MEd, MA, is a Certified Pastoral Associate in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Marlene is a writer and poet whose works have appeared in numerous books and
periodicals. Email Marlene at email@example.com.