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Gather around
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to pray with
family, friends

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placeholder November 24, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA

Gather around the Advent wreath
to pray with family, friends

The First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 30, marks the beginning of the Church year.

To get more out of the Advent season and "prepare the way" for the holy time that seems to be more and more missing at Christmas, The Catholic Voice offers these simple, 10- to 15-minute rituals that echo a ceremony that has been a part of Catholic life since the 16th century. They are something an individual can do alone, with family or with any group.

The Advent wreath should be more than a nice decoration, it is the main symbol of the season, with a new candle lit each Sunday before Christmas.

It doesn't have to take long to make our prayer around the Advent wreath a meaningful part of each week. Use all or just the parts that make sense for you and those praying with you. Read the readings aloud or silently. If you are with others, take turns leading, and take turns with each of the various parts of the ritual.

Don't rush through the prayers of petition at the end. Take your time with each, and reflect on what you're praying for.

What better way to start the Church year than by joining with others across the globe in preparing our hearts for the miracle of Christmas.

Advent Week 1

This prayer is intended to help busy households make Advent a prayerful time during the rush of Christmas preparations. Options are noted to allow for participation by a variety of members of a household.

Leader: Today begins a special time of year for us. This week we begin the season of Advent, that period of waiting before Christmas. In order to help each of us prepare our own hearts for the birth of Christ, we want to take a few moments each week to pray together.

• Light the first candle on the Advent wreath. (Choose a different person for this task each week.)

• Read aloud Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2b-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37. (A different person might read each passage each week.)

Leader: The Bible passages that the church has chosen for this first Sunday of Advent point out two things: that we aren't perfect, and that we could be — and we'd better be! — better people. The prophet Isaiah begs God for help. The evangelist Paul offers up a thank-you to God for all the gifts we have. And Mark's Gospel reminds us that the time to start living the right way is right now — this Advent — today.

Closing prayer: (All.)

• Dear God, help us to accept that we are the clay and that you are the potter. Throughout this first week of Advent, help us remember that we are your people and that you are our God. Help us get our priorities right and put the most important things first: loving God and loving our neighbor.

• Holy Spirit, guide the choices we make throughout this week so that we choose to do what honors our creator and what shows our love of others.

• Father in heaven, we offer thanks to you for the many gifts and talents you have given to all the people on earth, to our family and friends, to the neighbors we know and the neighbors we have yet to befriend.

• Lord Jesus, we wait in joyful hope for you. Come into our hearts so that when the time comes we will be prepared to join you in everlasting joy.

Advent Week 2

Leader: Today begins the second week of the season of Advent.

• Light the first two candles on the Advent wreath.

• Read aloud Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8.

Leader: If you close your eyes and imagine you are living in the time of John the Baptist, it is easy to hear a deep, booming voice shouting, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" In the Bible passages, we hear John the Baptist repeating the words of Isaiah. They both remind us that we'd better work seriously to make straight our own paths and to clean up the wastelands in our own lives. St. Paul tells us how to do that: by being holy.

Closing prayer:

• Father in heaven, during this second week of Advent, help us see clearly the times when we have sinned. Accept our sorrow for having pulled away from you, and give us firm resolve to stay close to you.

• God above, help us conduct ourselves in holiness. We long to be the people you expect us to be. Help us as we strive to make our souls spotless and our hearts and minds at peace.

• Help us, Lord, to remember that we were baptized for a reason. Help us realize our baptismal call to live as children of God.

• And dear God, don't let us miss chances this week to be welcoming to other people and to work in harmony with everyone. Help us as we try to change our ways so that we are good examples of people who love and follow the Lord.

Advent Week 3

Leader: With the start of this third week of the season of Advent, we are halfway to Christmas. So, as we prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ and for the second coming of the Lord, we light three candles, including a special one of a different color.

• Light the first two candles on the Advent wreath again, and the third one — one that is a lighter color, usually pink or white.

• Read aloud Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.

Leader: Lighting the lighter-colored candle this week is a sign that what was dark is getting brighter, and joy is on its way. We can hardly wait to rejoice and sing at Christmas. We know that the wonder of the season tends to push all our sadness and sorrow away, so we start to feel that special feeling already.

The prophet Isaiah, in this third week of Advent, recalls for us what that joy is like. Feeling God in our lives lifts our spirits. And what is it that will make even the poor happy and the hurting healed? Praise for God and justice for others. St. Paul reminds us to pray, to be holy and to not let anything quench our joyous spirit.

Closing prayer:

• Father in heaven, help us hear again the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the desert. Help us make straight the pathways of our own lives so that those paths lead to eternal life with you.

• God above, do good and avoid evil is so easy to say, yet so hard to put into practice. Be with us in each and every moment of each and every day so that we remain blameless and worthy of your coming.

• Help us, Lord, not to dampen the joy of others. Remind us this week to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing.

• Holy Spirit, guide us so that our lives may be testimony of the wonders and the love of God, so that others might believe through us.

Advent Week 4

Leader: The fourth and final week of Advent begins today. As we near Christmas, we spend this moment in prayer so that we are better prepared to welcome the Christ Child into our hearts and into our lives.

• Light all four candles on the Advent wreath.

• Read aloud 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.

Leader: When we think that we are in charge and in control, that's when we need to remember it is God who has provided everything we have and made us everything we are.

This fourth week of Advent, the reading from 2 Samuel leaves us asking: "Do I have a dwelling place for the Lord in my heart?" This week, let's ask ourselves, "Are our hearts a fitting place for the Christ Child to rest his head?"

Closing prayer:

• Father in heaven, help us to remember that all our gifts come from you. When we think we are in charge, remind us that we are your people and that you are our God. And let us have no gods — not wealth, not power, not fame, not material things — before you.

• God above, as you found favor in the Virgin Mary, help us live so that you find favor in our lives. Help us to be holy.

• Help us, Lord, to follow Mary's example of faith and trust. Along with Mary, help us, too, to say: "Yes, God, I am yours. Do with me as you want. Make me your hands on earth."

• Holy Spirit, inspire us to live every day as if Christmas were just a week away.

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