When preparing the season of Advent, most parish environment ministry teams will think immediately of the Advent wreath as the main symbol to be prepared. Yet, the use of an Advent wreath comes to the public worship of the church from domestic ritual. In other words, the tradition began in homes, as a way of marking the weeks of spiritual preparation before the celebration of Christmas.

The Advent wreath found its way into the Mass, but it is not a major liturgical symbol. It can, though, provide a beautiful connection between parish and home. To help make this connection for members of the assembly, parishes could provide instructions in the bulletin for making an Advent wreath, as well as home rituals for praying around the wreath each week.

When preparing the wreath for the worship space, keep in mind that it should never dominate the assembly’s visual attention. The focal points of our liturgy should still have visual priority: the altar, ambo and font. These are the points to which our eyes are to be drawn. During Advent, the altar, ambo and font could be accented with purple fabric, the liturgical color of the season. It is always best to match the shade of purple fabric used with the shade of the color of your parish presider Advent vestment.

The assembly is also a primary symbol within the liturgy. Our liturgy documents remind us that Christ is made present in the people who gather for Mass. To accent this fact, all members of the parish could be invited to wear the color of the liturgical season when they come to Mass, and thus, be united with the spirit of the season, and the worship experience.

Advent is a time of quiet contemplation and anticipation for the church. We are preparing for Christ to be reborn in us, and for the darkness of this world to give way to the light of Christ. If you have a lighting system in the church building that will allow you to use subdued lighting, you might consider this possibility for Advent.

In many parishes, this would be a major change in procedure, so the pastor and all liturgical ministers need to agree to this possibility, and the assembly might need to be informed in advance. If you are able to maintain subdued lighting throughout the season of Advent, then when time gives way to the celebration of Christmas, the brightness of the lights can more readily draw us into the felt experience of the true light of Christ.

Remember, symbols of Christmas are generally not brought into the worship space until the season of Christmas begins. If they are a part of the environment for the season of Advent, they rob Advent of its own unique spiritual character: quietude, contemplation, anticipation, preparation.

During Advent, the spiritual desire for a rebirth of Christ within our own hearts is made manifest in our preparations for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. That is one dimension of our Advent celebrations. Another dimension is the celebrating of our belief that Christ will come again, that God’s promise of a kingdom of love, justice and peace will be realized. This strong prophetic vision of the coming of the kingdom of God is a powerful statement of our faith.

Meister Eckhart, 14th-century Dominican monk said it this way:

“What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? … What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.”

This year, parish environment teams have a special challenge. The Fourth Sunday of Advent falls on Dec. 24, so the time available to complete Christmas decorating will be very brief. The morning Masses on Dec. 24 will still be Advent celebrations, so the liturgical color of our decorations remains purple.

If your parish offers late afternoon and evening Masses on Christmas Eve, it will likely mean that most Christmas decorating will need to happen on Saturday, Dec. 23, with the specifically Christmas finishing touches completed on the afternoon of Dec. 24. This year, more than ever, it might be best for environment teams to remember that “less is more!” If we keep our decorating simple for both Advent and Christmas, then the limited time for the transition between these two seasons will be made easier.