.- Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City urged Catholics in his diocese to be âfaithfulâ 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 â of waiting and expectation.
âFew would disagree that we live in a busy and rushed society,â he said in his opening remarks. âWe 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.â
He added that in âour hurried society,â many stores have already decorated for Christmas, radio stations are playing Christmas songs and parishes have begun preparing for Christmas parties for early December.
âIn the midst of all this hurry, the Church teaches us to slow down, to be patient, and to wait,â he said. âWhat 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?â
Bishop Wester said that if Catholics truly believe the Church is âthe sacrament of Christ in the world,â then âwe 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.â
Celebrating Christmas early, he said, increases the danger of Christians being âburned outâ by the time the solemnity actually arrives. âWe are already tired of all the 'Christmas hype',â he said, adding that holiday has then become âanticlimactic.â
The bishop said that the word âadventâ has a Latin root meaning "coming" or "arrival." So what âarrival are we waiting for?â 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 âthe Lord's returnâ and urge watchfulness. On the second Sunday of Advent, he continued, âwe hear John the Baptist's call to repentance and preparation.â The third Sunday â called Gaudete Sunday â is a joyful liturgy that âintroduces Jesus as the one who will fulfill the covenant and bring forth the kingdom,â he said.
On the final week of the Advent season, âwe hear the gospel stories that immediately precede Christ's birth.â
âAs Catholics, we must celebrate Advent differently,â he stressed. âOur reckoning of time is itself a sacramental witness to the fullness of the paschal mystery.â
âIf we were to skip the Advent season or any other season, we would impoverish that witness,â the bishop added. âWe are very lucky to have a Church who has provided us with seasons to bear witness to the great mysteries of our faith.â
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 â save for Gaudate Sunday celebrations â should wait until Christmas day.
âI 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, â he said. âYou may want to incorporate a Jesse Tree in your family's observance of the seasons.â
He also underscored that Christmas itself is a season that âstretches far beyond the 25th of Decemberâ and continues until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9, 2011.
âOnce Christmas comes,â he said, âwe 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.â
âFirst, though, before we celebrate, comes a necessary time of waiting and of preparation,â the bishop noted. âThe 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.â
âBecause we know that Christ reigns over all of creation, we strain in the darkness to see the light of Christ, our coming King,â he concluded. âMay our observance of this season renew us and be an example of patience, silence, and joy to our hurried and anxious society.â