We are so excited to journey with you this Advent for Hallow’s third #Pray25 Challenge. The #Pray25 Challenge is an awesome way to ignite your prayer life and bring you into community with thousands around the world to pray and meditate on the birth of Jesus.
This year, we will be seeing Advent through the eyes of Mary. As the mother of Jesus, she has a special place in the story of his birth at Christmas.
During the first three weeks of Advent:
- We’ll explore the themes of Hope, Faith, and Joy, leaning on Scripture to help us grow in these areas.
- We’ll consider how Mary is an example for us, and ask for her help to open our hearts to Jesus.
- We will also pray with alongside incredible Saints, and reflect using multiple types of prayers and methods, like Litanies, Imaginative Prayer, Lectio Divina, and Examens.
- We will also release exclusive Advent & Christmas music and Christmas Bible Stories, including two new kids Bible Stories!
Then, for the final 7 days of Advent, Mary will lead us, as she always does, to her Son. We’ll reflect on who Christ is through his titles in the traditional “O Antiphons” as we bid him to come into our lives and into our world.
We are also incredibly excited to share that this year, for every person who joins the #Pray25 Challenge by December 3, 2021, Hallow will give $1 to Mary’s Meals USA. Every dollar will provide 10 meals to a child in Liberia, a country on the West African coast.
What is Advent?
Most people have heard of an Advent Calendar, and you probably have one, maybe even filled with chocolate!
If you are new to Hallow, however, or Catholicism, Christianity, or religion in general, you might not know exactly what Advent is, or why we celebrate it.
According to the USCCB:
“The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and to the anniversary of Our Lord’s birth on Christmas. From the earliest days of the Church, people have been fascinated by Jesus’ promise to come back. But the scripture readings during Advent tell us not to waste our time with predictions. Advent is not about speculation. Our Advent readings call us to be alert and ready, not weighted down and distracted by the cares of this world (Lk 21:34-36).“
In summary, Advent is a time not for passively awaiting Christ to come, but for active preparation through fasting, reading Scripture, and prayer.
Advent allows us to focus our minds and hearts on the true reason for the season – Christ, coming to redeem all of humanity.
When is Advent?
Advent in 2021 starts on November 28th.
The first Sunday of Advent, which focuses on prophecy and preparation for the coming of Christ, is the start of the new year for the Catholic Church.
The season lasts for four weeks, and Advent culminates on December 24th. Then, it is followed by the Octave, or an eight day celebration, of Christmas!
How to celebrate Advent? What’s an Advent Calendar or Advent Wreath?
The Advent Calendar, which is seen all around the world come Christmas time, is a special calendar used to count down the days to Jesus’s birth on Christmas.
These calendars became popular in the 19th century and nowadays can take on different forms such as standard paper calendars, wooden calendars with little cubby holes for small treats, puzzles and games, or social media & infographic calendars. With all of these variations, you check off or open each day as it goes by, reflecting with a prayer or meditation on the coming of Jesus.
Another staple and tradition in many Catholic homes is the Advent Wreath, where a new candle is lit each Sunday to represent the themes of hope, faith, joy, and peace.
Your family might have other Advent traditions like bringing out the nativity set, listening to Advent music, and giving to charity. Advent is also celebrated in incredibly unique ways around the world, for example with the celebration of St. Nicholas Day, the St. Andrew Novena, or Las Posadas.
At Hallow, we celebrate Advent with daily prayer and meditation counting down to Christmas with one of our largest and most anticipated community challenges: #Pray25.
“Hallow has made this my most spiritual Advent ever. It’s like opening a present every day.“Becca (Hallow User since 2019)
How to Pray during Advent
Why we Meditate with Mary
Christmas is ultimately about the birth of Jesus, and who better to help us develop a deeper understanding and connection to him than his own mother.
Mary carried Jesus inside her womb for 9 months, and in the Hail Mary we say, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Mary was blessed beyond measure; she was born the Immaculate Conception; and her fiat (yes) to the Angel Gabriel brought the Savior of the World to us.
Mary experienced deeply and knows intimately the themes we will dive into as part of this prayer challenge.
- O Antiphons
Hope through the eyes of Mary
Mary was Jewish, and at the time under Roman rule, many Jewish people were hopeful that a Messiah would come to free them from oppression. Mary knew the scriptures and the prophecies of a coming Savior and clung fast to that hope. Her “yes” to bring Christ to the world stemmed from this unwavering hope in the promises of God that fill the Old Testament. Mary’s knowledge of God’s Word and memory of God’s works gave her the courage to place her trust in Him above all else.
Throughout the New Testament, we see glimpses of Mary’s hope continuing to give her strength … as when she is told by the prophet Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart, when she stands at the foot of the cross, when she sees her son killed, when she holds his body in her arms.
Her continued presence during Jesus’ childhood, ministry, and crucifixion is a model for all of us, encouraging us to hold fast to hope in God, no matter what is happening around us. For, as we see in Sacred Scripture, by Mary’s perseverance in hope, she was witness to Jesus’ Resurrection.
Faith through the eyes of Mary
Mary’s faith comes to life in Luke Chapter 1, verse 38:
“Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.'”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about Mary’s faith:
“The Virgin Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith. By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that “with God nothing will be impossible” and so giving her assent: ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.’ Elizabeth greeted her: ‘Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’ It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed. Throughout her life and until her last ordeal when Jesus her son died on the cross, Mary’s faith never wavered. She never ceased to believe in the fulfillment of God’s word. And so the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith.”
Joy through the eyes of Mary
After a long and dangerous journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus would have brought immeasurable joy to Mary’s life.
St. Gregory said: “Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him! Christ on earth, be exalted! Sing to the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.”
Mary’s hope and faith ultimately led to her joy, born in the manger. But Mary also shows us that a life lived joyfully in love of God is not a life devoid of suffering. Just think of some of the moments of deep pain in Mary’s life: watching her son grow apart from her, remaining at the cross, burying him. But this is why joy does not stand on its own. When we have hope, faith, and love – we can find joy even amidst suffering. If we remain in God’s love, as Mary did, Jesus promises us a joy greater than anything the world can offer.
There has been tremendous suffering the past two years, but Mary demonstrates what it is like to have hope, faith, and joy in the midst of suffering. She is not only the Mother of God, but she is our mother, given to us at the foot of the cross. Through Mary, we can truly understand what the story of Christmas really means.
What are the O’ Antiphons and why are we praying with them?
In the final week of the #Pray25 Challenge, we will be praying and meditating on the “O Antiphons.” In these prayers, we declare different titles of Christ and bid him to come into our world and into our hearts.
The Church has been praying the “O Antiphons” since at least the eighth century. These are the antiphons from the Magnificat Canticle of Evening Prayer from December 17th through the 23rd. The O Antiphons use biblical imagery drawn from the messianic hopes of the Old Testament. They proclaim the coming Christ as the fulfillment not only of these Old Testament hopes but of present ones as well. Their repeated use of “Come!” expresses our longing for the Messiah.
The most well-known antiphon is probably “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Emmanuel. God with us. The sacred name revealed by Isaiah of the Messiah to come was fulfilled in Jesus. God with us in the flesh, fully human and fully divine, and God who continues to be with us always, in our hearts, through His Spirit, and in the Eucharist at every Mass.
Advent is an incredibly powerful time for prayer and reflection, joy, peace, hope, faith, and love. It is the profession of God’s love for us, in sending His Son: the Savior of the world as a pure and innocent baby at Christmas.
Join us for 25 days of prayer, meditation, and spiritual growth this Advent as we look toward the coming of Christ this Christmas.
God bless you, Happy Advent, and Merry Christmas!