Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City urged Catholics in his diocese to be “faithful” to the Advent Season this year and hold off on celebrating Christmas until Dec. 24.
In his first pastoral letter since his appointment as leader of the diocese's 300,000 Catholics, Bishop Wester stressed on Nov. 24 that Advent is a time of silence – of waiting and expectation.
“Few would disagree that we live in a busy and rushed society,” he said in his opening remarks. “We rush from one thing to the next; in the end, many of us are restless and tired, yearning for stability and peace in our community and family.”
He added that in “our hurried society,” many stores have already decorated for Christmas, radio stations are playing Christmas songs and parishes have begun preparing for Christmas parties for early December.
“In the midst of all this hurry, the Church teaches us to slow down, to be patient, and to wait,” he said. “What is the rush? Are we really so eager to get to all the decorations up, celebrate the event, and quickly dismantle all the decorations so we can move on to the next event?”
Bishop Wester said that if Catholics truly believe the Church is “the sacrament of Christ in the world,” then “we must authentically celebrate the story of salvation as it unfolds in the liturgical year so that we can witness God's profound love and mercy to the world.”
Celebrating Christmas early, he said, increases the danger of Christians being “burned out” by the time the solemnity actually arrives. “We are already tired of all the 'Christmas hype',” he said, adding that holiday has then become “anticlimactic.”
The bishop said that the word “advent” has a Latin root meaning "coming" or "arrival." So what “arrival are we waiting for?” he asked.
Bishop Wester then explained the meaning behind each week in Advent, starting with the first Sunday. The scripture readings on the first week, he said, speak of “the Lord's return” and urge watchfulness. On the second Sunday of Advent, he continued, “we hear John the Baptist's call to repentance and preparation.” The third Sunday – called Gaudete Sunday – is a joyful liturgy that “introduces Jesus as the one who will fulfill the covenant and bring forth the kingdom,” he said.
On the final week of the Advent season, “we hear the gospel stories that immediately precede Christ's birth.”
“As Catholics, we must celebrate Advent differently,” he stressed. “Our reckoning of time is itself a sacramental witness to the fullness of the paschal mystery.”
“If we were to skip the Advent season or any other season, we would impoverish that witness,” the bishop added. “We are very lucky to have a Church who has provided us with seasons to bear witness to the great mysteries of our faith.”
He then offered some practical suggestions, saying that Catholic schools should decorate with simple greenery at this time, families should not put up trees just yet, and parties – save for Gaudate Sunday celebrations – should wait until Christmas day.
“I encourage each home to display and bless an Advent wreath where the family can gather for prayer either in the morning, at dinner, or some other practical time, “ he said. “You may want to incorporate a Jesse Tree in your family's observance of the seasons.”
He also underscored that Christmas itself is a season that “stretches far beyond the 25th of December” and continues until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9, 2011.
“Once Christmas comes,” he said, “we should leave the decorations which are testimonies to our joy up for the entire season. There is plenty of time for us to celebrate our joy at Christ's birth and we should make the most of it.”
“First, though, before we celebrate, comes a necessary time of waiting and of preparation,” the bishop noted. “The season of Advent refocuses us and reminds us that Christ has changed the world. Darkness has covered this hemisphere, and the world itself is quiet.”
“Because we know that Christ reigns over all of creation, we strain in the darkness to see the light of Christ, our coming King,” he concluded. “May our observance of this season renew us and be an example of patience, silence, and joy to our hurried and anxious society.”