Catholicism and Advent

We are pleased to have the bloggers from experttextperts as our guests over the next few weeks.

Brooke is a blogger at Expert Textperts who tricked a pretty smart guy into marrying her a couple of years ago. She is a Spanish Education major at BYU – Idaho and currently holds more jobs than is considered normal or socially acceptable.

This semester at BYU – Idaho, I took a class on Catholicism in the Hispanic world. We spent a large portion of the semester studying the religion and rites, and the remainder watching movies about Catholic figures (The Mission and Romero—both of which I would highly recommend) as well as hearing and/or giving presentations on aspects of the religion that I just didn’t know or hadn’t thought of before. While I still think some of the things that Catholics do can be a little weird, like keeping fingers once belonging to saints, I have found my own faith strengthened by a few Catholic practices, like Holy Week and the stories of various saints.

Maybe I’ll write more about some very interesting saints, but ‘tis the season so let’s talk Advent. The Catholic calendar starts on the Sunday nearest to November 30th, the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, known as the first Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent can be a strict time of fasting and prayer much like Lent, the main difference being that Lent is a preparation for the Crucifixion of Christ while Advent is a simultaneous preparation for the Second Coming and celebration of the Messiah’s birth.

During most Sundays of both Lent and Advent, Catholic priests wear violet chasubles in Mass, signifying the sovereignty of Christ and penitence. The only exception being the 3rd Sunday, when they can opt for rose-colored chasubles instead. This is Gaudete Sunday—a day of rejoicing. The Vatican plans out the liturgy (services) for these Sundays with the exception of the homily (sermon), which the priest prepares. It will most likely be inspired by the assigned readings for that Sunday.

Catholics often attend Mass more than usual during Advent, such as for the 8th of December: the feast of the Immaculate Conception (fun fact: that refers to Mary’s conception by her mother Anne, not Christ’s in Mary), as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on top of the regular Sunday Mass each Catholic is required to attend (fun fact: it’s a mortal sin not to attend Mass every Sunday)(note: Saturday night Mass counts as Sunday).

I remember one weird p-day on my mission. Not a soul was in the streets. Every business was shut down, which I remember quite well because my companion and I had hauled our laundry downtown to be washed. We spent that entire day hauling laundry all over trying to find any place that was open to wash our clothes or sell us lunch. Turns out, there wasn’t. It was December 8, Argentina’s Day of the Virgin. Every Argentinian was either at Mass or at home, officially kicking off the Christmasy part of Advent. The next day when we hit the streets, lights were up and the season was suddenly in full swing.

At my parents’ house, it is officially Christmas when on December 1st, my mom hangs a felt Christmas tree with 24 Velcro spots on it for 24 felt ornaments, each with its own corresponding Velcro patch. While this is a fun pastime that may or may not include blown-up arguments over who gets to put the felt Santa up on the 24th, I don’t find it to be a spiritual preparation.

In addition to that, I don’t remember the last time I fasted on any day other than the first Sunday in December, and really that fast isn’t what I would call a preparation for the Second Coming. When I fast, it’s usually for something really selfish, like the ability to survive finals.

For us Mormons, when Christmas falls on Sunday, we cut our church time back by 2 hours. The Christmas program can be inspiring—so long as your choir director and Bishop are willing to coordinate (for me, it’s been hit or miss). We wear red and green to the ward Christmas parties (sometimes), but to me the colors have completely lost their meaning over the years.

Advent is a time of celebration and preparation. It’s not just for cooking 500 batches of cookies, but rather spiritually readiness for the birth and Second Coming of the Savior. I feel like December starts and as Mormons we decorate the house and bake lots of treats. We focus on Christ for the Sacrament hour, maybe sing a couple of hymns, and that’s that. What can we do to better prepare ourselves spiritually for the Second Coming during the season of Advent?


  1. In our family, we’ve pretty much completely adopted the custom of Advent. I started about 5 years ago having an Advent wreath and lighting the appropriate candles each Sunday evening with my husband and children. This is accompanied by singing hymns and carols and reading corresponding scriptures. Last year I purchased BYU professor Eric Huntsman’s book, Good Tidings of Great Joy: An Advent Celebration of the Savior’s Birth. This year, for the first time, I got the purple and pink candles and we’ve talked about their meanings. I’ve used Huntsman’s book as a basis for scripture study corresponding to each week’s theme as well as studying different aspects of the Christmas story. I’ve stressed to my children that with Advent, we are looking forward to the Second Coming as well as thinking of Jesus’ birth, and we’ve shared how many of the prophecies in the scriptures refer to both events. In addition to singing familiar carols, I’ve introduced my children to some Advent hymns and songs such as “People, Look East” (which is fun to sing, but also has a strong and wonderful message). We homeschool, and each day I do a short devotional with my kids where we light the week’s candles, sing some songs, and read a scripture prophesying about the Savior’s coming. I know there are also websites and bloggers offering ideas for inner work for each day of Advent. For a few years, we did a Jesse Tree, a tradition that is also common among many non-LDS Christians. The idea for the tree stems from the scripture in Isaiah about the stem of Jesse. Each day stories from the scriptures are told detailing Christ’s lineage from Adam clear up to Mary. (When we did it, I also included Book of Mormon figures even though they would not be actual ancestors of Christ.) Then a small ornament corresponding to that story is hung on a special tree called the Jesse Tree. My kids really enjoyed that tradition, however I found it hard to keep up with something that had to be done every single day to make sense. I have also personally enjoyed the music suggestions in Huntsman’s book and have found that trying to listen to that sacred music helps to prepare me for Christmas.

  2. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been krampus of the Catholic institution of midnight mass for Christmas. Asy first, it was because I loved staying up late and thought that would be the perfect excuse to do so, but as I’ve gotten older I just like the implications of it more–that Christmas is such a special time, you and your family attend a special late-night church meeting. I don’t know why, but I still feel that way.

  3. Good old mobile wordpress, randomly assigning me to be either “Brett” or “bhurst234″…

  4. Thanks for the post, Brooke. I loved the fun facts. My wife and I have felt a little of Krister Stendahl’s “holy envy” when it comes to traditions like Advent. In answer to that we, like eljee who wrote above, purchased Eric Huntsman’s Advent book, as well as his book for Easter (we felt some “holy envy” with that holiday, too). We haven’t yet fully incorporated the book’s suggestions but even the little changes have been nice. They nudge me toward repentance (and oh brother do I need it) as well as provide a good dose of hopeful anticipation, both for Christmas day and the Second Coming. And while my wife and I still listen to some “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” we have tried to focus more on religiously oriented carols. Tabernacle Choir Christmas albums, the local classical music station broadcast from BYU (and streaming on the web), and the “Music for Advent” posts here at BCC have all helped in that regard.

  5. Brett, I was wondering about your random back-and-forth between names…

    eljee and Andrew, great ideas! I hadn’t heard of Eric Huntsman’s books, I’ll have to get at least the Advent one. My DH and I have yet to do much for Advent other than listen to Christmas music, and I’ve always preferred “O Holy Night” to “Frosty the Snowman.” This year we’re trying to find a good Christmas Mass to attend.

  6. Brooke, have you been listening to Kristine’s music for advent posts. They are sublime and a perfect way to engage with this type of process. Plus, Ronan has been working on Mormon liturgical calender based these practices as well.

    Thanks for your reflections here.

  7. I feel the same about the holy week leading up to Easter. We really miss out on some marvelous and teaching symbolism that gives a glorious richness (and just a little mystery too) to what we know. My goal this year into attend all holy week services (heck, I’ll even give something up for Lent– and then maybe shoot the cost of it over to my bishop as a fast offering). I have discovered some like-minded saints in this area to make up a Mormon contingent.

    But a side note– are they still keeping relics (fingers, bones, nail clippings…my favorite was a bottle containing drops of the Holy Mother’s milk)? I thought that was only a medieval practice and that most were exposed as fraud and disposed of. The “cult of saints” common in the medieval period is fascinating to me and will probably figure heavily into my masters thesis…someday…

    Thanks so much for a wonderful post!

  8. I’ve been slacking, Aaron–thanks for the nudge!!

  9. Kristine, after Armand came to comment on one of your posts, I thought that you have accomplished all you could.

  10. The Catholic celebration of Christmas is so much more boring than the protestant tradition. And I don’t even feel the need to back up that sweeping statement.

  11. I’d recommend finding a local Episcopal church for your christmas services. It will have the same traditions/colors/symbols as catholic, but the music will be much better.

  12. Aaron, I haven’t listened to the music, just glossed over titles. Consider me called to repentance.

  13. Ben, just saying… if the Catholics who pale in comparison to protestants seem so interesting to me, what does that say about where Mormons are on that scale?

    woodboy, thanks for the suggestion, I’ll look around (i.e. Google).

  14. I grew up in a 90% Hispanic farming town. The Catholics put a “Cross” mark on their forehead during Lent with charcoal (the Priest would put the Cross on) It was not to be washed off until Lent was over. And they had to give up something favorite, like sacrificing. Like a friend of mine would give up sweets during Lent. The incense and smoke and ringing of bells in the Catholic and Orthodox churches is leftover from ancient Temple rites. They don’t know why they do it. I grew up with Catholics and an Aunt is Catholic. In the Orthodox church they walk around the altar 3 times, also leftover.

    It is understandable when people of other religions say we don’t worship Christ, because our Christmas and Easter services are baaaaaad and leave something to be desired. The First Presidency needs to do something about it.

  15. JR, belated response! You’re talking about Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Last year I practiced Lent for the first time–I gave up candy (because going cold turkey on all sugar is just too hard for me) and I had a really great experience. I didn’t do the ashes as it is a Catholic-only ceremony, but those ashes come from the palms used the previous Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter when Catholics celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem), which is yet another awesome celebration we just overlook.

    Maybe I should write a letter. I don’t know why we as LDS are so afraid of adapting the awesome customs of other religions.