Advent will look quite different this year with the pandemic still limiting the way parishes can operate — if they are permitted to operate at all. However, with the season marking the start of the new liturgical year as well as preparing the faithful for Christmas, once again it’s important for the spirit of creativity and possibility to take hold in your plans. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Emphasize at-home traditions
Parishes can compile and provide kits for at-home traditions. Many homes have the tradition of putting out an Advent wreath — order sets of candles and offer them to your parishioners, and order bulk copies of Advent devotionals. Create the feeling of community by live-streaming the weekly lighting of candles and prayers. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has an Advent wreath blessing your parish community can use together during the first Sunday.
Another popular at-home tradition is the Jesse Tree. Particularly if you have young children at home, this tradition is a way to prepare them for Christmas by looking at the events of the Old Testament and how they point to Jesus. Your parish can also provide ornaments (individually boxed or bagged) or offer a digital file so families can print their own.
Re-think your traditions
What your parish can do will depend on your location, current coronavirus numbers, and government guidelines in place. Refer to the CDC’s guidelines for faith communities, and get guidance from local officials, health departments, and possibly an archdiocesan rubric if they have created one (the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has a matrix of activities that are allowed with modifications and those that must be avoided this year).
Here are some ideas for altering existing traditions for the COVID-19 pandemic:
Giving Trees — use multiple trees spaced apart, masked and gloved volunteers place the tags and monitor the flow of people around the tree and require parishioners to sanitize their hands before selecting a tag. Gifts should be returned to gloved, masked volunteers on a certain date. Other options for this ministry include volunteers handing out tags directly to parishioners or moving the tags online with a parish registration program.
Giveaways — ‘Tis the season to prepare your heart for the Christ Child! Consider a daily devotional such as Magnificat, or an easy and fulfilling book of Everyday Stewardship reflections. Keep in mind, books should be given away by volunteers wearing masks and gloves.
Wreath and Christmas tree sales — offer pre-pay options or online ordering, if possible. Remember to sanitize the sales table, pens, or any commonly touched areas between sales.
Concerts and recitals — move them to the virtual setting and keep a sense of normalcy as you celebrate the season and continue community traditions.
Prayer gatherings and reconciliation services — no food or socialization before or after. Any prayers or confession guides must be single use. The Catholic music publisher, WORSHIPNOW, offers an app that might be of interest to parishes looking for a more environmentally friendly medium. The free app for parishioners unlocks 24/7 access to all of Mass prayers, readings, 300+ songs, a personal journal, and LPi’s fully integrated giving feature.
Music — string and percussion instruments, and handbells are generally better choices than woodwind or brass instruments. Cantors can be used, but choirs are generally discouraged.
Even though the season will likely be without live nativities, bake sales, parish dinners, or family visits with St. Nick, there are plenty or ways to keep the spirit of the season alive within your parish.
What will your church do this year? Let us know below!