As we get ready to welcome Jesus at Christmas, we also take the time to celebrate his mother and prepare with her. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s intense and joyful waiting for her child to enter the world is a model for all who desire the fullness of Christ’s presence in their lives.
In an Angelus address, St. John Paul II called Mary the “Virgin of Advent.” And in 2013, Pope Francis said, “Mary sustains our journey toward Christmas, for she teaches us how to live this Advent season in expectation of the Lord.”
“The heart of that connection between Advent and Christmas is Mary,” explains Peter Howard, a professor at the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation (Avila-Institute.com) and a Marian expert.
“When it comes to the time leading to Christmas, there is no better way to prepare, leading to that mystery, than to unite ourselves to the mystery of Mary in her own being. She is the advent of Christ,” Howard says, referring to Venerable Fulton Sheen’s descriptive words: “She carried Our Lord in her womb for nine months. The Eternal Word would not have become flesh had Mary said ‘No.’”
But she gave her fiat. Howard tells us that there is a direct relationship between God’s creation of the world in Genesis that begins with the words Fiat lux — “Let there be light.” For the re-creation of humanity, so to speak, “all revolved around the same word, but it was entrusted to a woman from all creation he knew would be his mother. It’s through her fiat, the gift of her human nature, that God assumed his. From that moment onward, she is inseparably united to the mystery of redemption.”
Prepare With Mary
Advent is a time for preparing for Jesus as our Blessed Mother did. “She is the advent of Christ, always preparing the way for her Son to do his redemptive work,” emphasizes Howard. Even in her Lourdes and Fatima appearances, we see Christ become present in the most powerful way and the power of the Holy Spirit in thousands of conversions. Our Lady of Guadalupe was responsible for the conversion of the entire Aztec nation in nine years.
The Directory of Popular Piety notes that, during Advent and Christmas, the liturgy frequently celebrates the Blessed Mother, and popular piety devotes many pious practices to her. Several feasts celebrate her, with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) being “a fundamental preparation for the Lord’s coming into the world,” as it “harmonizes perfectly with many of the salient themes of Advent.”
We should all make the conscious effort to honor and seek to understand the importance of the Immaculate Conception in this season, recommends Howard. Parents can learn and help their families understand the significance of the Immaculate Conception, which is among the greatest of the Marian feasts because the Church teaches us that Mary’s divine maternity is her greatest privilege, and all of her other privileges are oriented to that.
He emphasizes that the Immaculate Conception was “at the heart of how Mary was prepared to be the Mother of God,” which we celebrate both at Christmas and again on Jan. 1, the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. “It reminds us that the Jesus we celebrate at Christmas is always the fruit of the mystical union of Mary and the Holy Spirit.”
One tradition that begins on the Immaculate Conception and carries to Christmas is the “Mary Candle.” Jennifer Gregory Miller, founder of FamilyFeastandFeria.com and the “Liturgical Year” blog at CatholicCulture.org, carries on this tradition, which she learned from her mother, with her own family.
The Mary Candle has a figure of Baby Jesus attached to it. “We cover the candle on her feast day of the Immaculate Conception with a white or blue cloth,” explains Miller, “and it’s uncovered at Christmastime as the ‘Christ Candle.’ We put it at the center of the Advent wreath, which becomes the Christmas wreath — Christ is the Light of the world. And we change all the candles to white.”
Miller notes that, ideally, a white candle should be used. “It emphases her beauty, purity and sinlessness. If we didn’t have the Immaculate Conception, we could not have Christmas.”
In Family Advent Customs (Liturgical Press, 1979), author Helen McLoughlin adds to this custom the suggestion of praying the Magnificat together and singing Marian hymns.
The Millers also celebrate another big Marian feast day — Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.
And Our Lady of Loreto’s feast day is also celebrated in Advent (Dec. 10). The Holy House of Loreto (transported miraculously to Loreto, Italy, where it is a major shrine) is the house where the Blessed Virgin Mary said “Yes” to God and where Mary conceived Our Lord.
Walking With Mary
Howard shares significant ways to celebrate Mary as a family during Advent-Christmas preparations.
“The Rosary is the most important way we can do it,” he says. Howard and his wife, Chantal, are founders of the new Heroic Families apostolate (HeroicFamilies.com) and have five young children.
“In our family, we focus on the Joyful Mysteries every day,” he says. “It reminds us of the mysteries we are preparing for, and we add our reflections.” It’s the only time of year they focus only on the Joyful Mysteries.
Families should also consecrate themselves to our Blessed Mother. “Consecration to Mary is another way of saying we entrust ourselves totally to her,” he explains. “In Christmas, we see God entrusted himself entirely to our Blessed Mother. It’s a way to imitate and emulate that in our lives.”
Miller mentions that, for herself, her husband and two sons, “We focus on repeating the Angelus, because that’s a major focus during Advent.”
She also points out that the piety directory states clearly that there is a twofold focus to Advent — one of remembering Christ’s coming in time and also the focus on the second coming of Christ. “This is another way we look to Mary: How to do that? How do we look ahead, preparing our hearts for that second coming?”
Another preparation is a good confession, for the Directory of Popular Piety states that “it is not possible coherently to celebrate the birth of him ‘who saves his people from their sins’ without some effort to overcome sin in one’s own life.”
Christmas With Mary
As Advent leads to Christmas, biblically, liturgically and theologically, we see how Mary is at the heart, emphasizes Howard. “It’s an invitation to be with our Blessed Mother as she was contemplating [Christ], and she shares that gift at Christmas in the humblest of ways in the cave.”
He explains the cave’s deep symbolism: “Mary was so full of grace because she was so humble. Jesus was born in a cave so that those wishing to find him and his mother and the Holy Family have to stoop and become low to find the Savior in the arms of his mother. When the world finds Jesus, it always finds him associated with his mother.”
The wise rulers from the East, who represent the world, found him in humility with his mother. “And so it is with every Christian who finds Christ,” Howard says. “They will find him with his mother and will find that she has prepared the way for them to her Son. We see this inseparable mother-son relationship played out in the world today. Wherever Mary is authentically appearing in the world, we find her and the fruit of her womb. You can’t separate the fruit from the tree.”
Look to Your Mother
This leads to another Marian lesson. As Pope Francis made clear in his Angelus address for the Immaculate Conception in 2014, “As we have received freely, so are we called to give freely, imitating Mary, who, immediately upon receiving the angel’s announcement, went to share the gift of her fruitfulness with her relative Elizabeth.”
The Holy Father added, “The Spirit is a gift for us, and we, by the power of the Spirit, must be a gift for others and allow the Holy Spirit to turn us into instruments of acceptance, instruments of reconciliation, instruments of forgiveness.”
During these wondrous seasons, may we remember Mary is the advent of Jesus and for us, as St. John Paul II prayed in a 2004 Advent Angelus: “O Mother of our Advent, be with us and see to it that he will remain with us in this difficult Advent, of the struggles for truth and hope, for justice and peace: He, alone, Emmanuel.”
As Francis said during last year’s Christmas season, “May the holy Virgin, the holy Mother of God, who was at the very heart of the Temple of God, when the Word — who was in the beginning — made himself one with us in time, may she who gave the Savior to the world help us to receive him with an open heart, in order that we may truly be and live freely as children of God.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.