The Way of BeautyThe Beauty of Catholic Education III: Classroom Preparation for the Coming of Christ

During the month of December, children of Christian families dream about the gifts they hope to receive on Christmas Day. How would it be otherwise? Ads have inundated—no, they have bombarded parents,grandparents, and guardians, pressing them, coaxing them to splurge on their children! The syndrome of Santa also contributes to the fever-pitch desire for trinkets, many of which will be discarded soon after their excitement has waned.

Christmas may be a time for giving to our children, but they must be taught to reciprocate unselfishly, even in small measure. If not, they will grow into uncaring selfish adults. Scrooge comes off as a thoroughly unpleasant person until he embraces kindness.

Christmas, Secularized? Advent, Buried?

Irving Berlin, a Jew and a widower, wrote “White Christmas” for his second wife, Ellen McKay, a Catholic socialite. Made famous by Bing Crosby, the song virtually secularized Christmas. But the secular celebration of Christmas this year was accelerated; it began before Halloween. It would seem that Advent has been hopelessly buried by the secular blitz. Still, as tomorrow’s Catholics, our children must be taught about the Church’s seasons of grace as a way of living them and putting on Christ (Rom 13:14; Gal 3:17). We must not despair—the word despair has no part in the Catholic lexicon. It is not impossible for children to celebrate and come to love Advent, if we educate them. It will always be a challenge for Catholics to navigate in choppy waters and crosscurrents.

Saint Nicholas, Bishop

Several countries have adopted Saint Nicholas as their patron whose feast this year is tomorrow, December 6th. Catholic educators can show their students how the two words “saint” and “Nicholas” were changed from ‘Sinta Klaus’ to “santa” and “claus.” This fourth-century bishop of the early Church brings his own wonderful story.

Advent and the Expectation of the Jews

The coming of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in human history. By reason of the Incarnation, God becomes a human person—one with us in everything except sin. “He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory that I may share in his fullness.” These are the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzen, a fourth-century Church Father.Christian faith is a relationship with this God.

The story about Jesus Christ begins with the story of Abraham who begins the origin or genealogy of Jesus’ human life. For four thousand years, the Jews waited with great expectancy for their promised Messiah. Old Testament books are filled with this longing, but we Christians already acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of humankind. We anticipate this great feast in Advent. And the Old Testament prophet Isaiah helps us to do so. He is ‘the evangelist of Advent’ because almost all the First Readings of Advent come from his book. His clairvoyance is startling. It’s as though he enjoyed the inside scoop about the Christmas narrative hundreds of years prior to the event.

The Annunciation to Mary and Joseph

During Advent, the Church again celebrates the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary which is officially designated for March 25th. The angel’s Annunciation to Joseph is as important however. Joseph is being asked to cooperate with the divine plan of redemption by claiming the Child-Messiah as his own when the child is not his own.It’s all terribly confusing for him as the angel places before him the case, but all in a dream. What is the divine plan? He must marry Mary and give the child his identity. He will come from the House of David. Children can be taught to meditate on this mystery, if only for a minute or two. What lesson can they learn from Joseph, a man of faith?

Suggestions for the Classroom Preparation for the Coming of Christ

Advent is a lovely season to celebrate with children because there are so many activities for them to do. A few suggestions follow:

  • Advent wreath and accompanying prayers. The children can be prompted to express their own eagerness at the coming of our Emmanuel, God-with-us, expressed in the prayer, “Come,Lord Jesus, come” (1Cor 16:22). They should be encouraged to sing the ancient and beautiful Gregorian melody, “O Come, O Come,Emmanuel.” The children, God’s People, journey together with the Lord of history through history and toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom.

  • The Jesse Tree suggests the lineage of Jesus: “The shoot shall grow from the root of Jesse” (Is 11:1). The Jesse Tree is especially meaningful during the season of Advent. It depicts in art the biblical ancestry of Christ as a family tree that has its origins in Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of David. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus came from the House of David, an essential fact that legitimized the birth of the Jesus of Nazareth and the Son of God.
  • Kris Kindl or Kris Kringle. In this custom, a person’s name is picked out of a hat as one’s“little Christ Child.” Throughout Advent, one prays for his or her Kris and may send Kris a note to say so. As Christmas approaches,the individual gives his or her Kris Kindl a gift of prayer offerings and a small gift to remember that Advent.
  • The Liturgy of the Hours. At appointed times of the day, Catholic educators may choose one psalm and have the children pray it in antiphonal fashion. This maybe followed by a special Advent-Christmas Prayer of the Faithful in which the children may offer their own petitions. In fact, praying the psalms, which are part of the Liturgy of the Hours is our response to the Lord’s command to pray always, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Of course, it was never possible to take these words literally. Nevertheless, the Church has set aside certain canonical hours at various times throughout the day and night. These are the canonical Hours: Matins, Lauds, the Little Hours, prayed from 6 AM to 3 PM, Vespers, and Night Prayer (Compline), the final canonical Hour of the day that asks for peaceful sleep throughout the night.  As children mature, they too must learn to travel the road to discipleship in the Lord to pray always.
  • O Antiphons. From December 17th to the 24th. On December 17th, the Church begins its final efforts at preparation for Christmas. With special solemnity, seven “O” antiphons are sung in the evening. They read as follows:
December 17th

December 18th

December 19th

More in The Way of Beauty

December 20th

December 21st

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December 22nd

December 23rd

December 24th

  • George Friedrich Händel’s “Messiah”

  • Ceremony of Lessons and Carols

Order of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols

Advent in Two Parts

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