by Paulette Curran.
With our normal schedule, it is about two and a half weeks between the time I finish writing "Combermere Diary" and we mail out the paper. Sometimes, because of various circumstances, it is longer than that. For this issue, because of Christmastime, it is considerably longer.
So here I sit, writing "Combermere Diary" for this February issue a few days before Christmas. And most of our news is Advent and Christmas related!
Well, Advent and Lent do have some similarities. Both are seasons of penance in preparation for the most glorious feasts of the year. And you could say that both seasons are about longing for God and for our salvation, both temporal and eternal. But they are, of course, very different seasons, too.
Advent at Madonna House has a very particular flavor—different from the rest of the year. As I said on most of my Christmas cards this year, it is a very rich and busy time.
Between morning prayer, Mass, and after-lunch spiritual reading, we get steeped in the beautiful readings (of Scripture and Catherine Doherty) and songs of Advent.
Who can fail to be stirred by the longing for God expressed in the writings of Isaiah? They so connect with our own longings, both conscious and unconscious.
And, following the customs from many lands, we celebrate a number of feasts that fall within Advent.
As someone once said at a staff meeting a number of years ago, a staff meeting discussing whether to cut back on some of our celebrations during this season, "Every country has its customs and traditions, but we celebrate all of them!" Well, not quite, but we do celebrate a lot of them.
Each year, it’s the working guests who, through their liturgy classes, learn about and present the various customs and traditions. So in some ways it is done the same every year, and in other ways, it is done differently.
Every year, the working guests gather greens and make the Advent wreath. This year, they used a variety of greens, and the wreath was especially full.
And each year, the guests explain customs and act out stories using whatever media they can.
This year, among other things, they wrote an Advent and St. Nicholas song and sang the chorus in all their native languages: English, French, and Korean.
Presenting the customs this way is a wonderful way of learning about and experiencing the ways people have been incarnating the faith for centuries.
On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we all gathered early in the morning and sang mananitas (morning songs) before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the island chapel. In the evening, we had a Spanish Mass and a Mexican supper and a presentation of the story of the apparitions.
On St. Nicholas Day, we ate gingerbread cookies and from one of the guests dressed as St. Nicholas, we each received a gift—the name of someone staying here now (community members and guests both) to pray for during the coming year.
On St. Lucy’s Day, we planted St. Lucy’s wheat—a lovely Hungarian custom. (It’s great to have something green and growing in the winter, and by Christmas the wheat grass is tall enough to put before the Infant.)
Of course, there is a lot of work involved in all this celebrating and in getting ready for Christmas, and in recent years, we have taken two days during Advent for quiet and restoration and for helping us enter into or stay in the inner stillness of this time of waiting for Christ.
One of these days is the anniversary of death of our foundress Catherine Doherty on December 14th. We have been celebrating her anniversary with a day of recollection ever since her death in 1985.
The second such day is December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate like an extra-festive Sunday.
Yes, as I said, the Advent season is a very busy one.
The kitchen prepares some of our Christmastime food ahead of time: tortières (traditional French Canadian fare for the Christmas collation after Midnight Mass), shortbread (Scottish). plum pudding (English), buns, and other festive foods. Evenings, the kitchen is the scene of cookie baking—by whoever offers to do it.
The laundry irons lots of table cloths, the handicraft department takes on the decorating (with lots of help from people in other departments), the sacristans polish and iron, and the cleaning department cleans everything in sight.
And Scot Eagen, Fr. Louis Labrecque and the bush crew cut down and bring in the Christmas trees and greens for wreaths and sprays. All winter long, as they work in the bush cutting trees, they note which ones would work well as Christmas trees for the following year. (The vast majority that grow wild do not.)
This Advent also, we, like the rest of the English-speaking Catholic world, began using the new Mass translations. From the various comments I’ve heard, seems like people here find them quite beautiful and meaningful.
We’re also having short weekly sessions to improve our antiphonal singing of the psalms at morning prayer.
In other news, Charlie Cavanaugh and Chris Hanlon represented Madonna House at the Canadian Conference of Bishops Forum on movements, associations and communities, a forum which took place in Toronto. Forty participants attended representing approximately 35 very varied groups.
At the forum, the bishops said how necessary it is for them to be in dialogue with these movements and communities and for these communities to be in dialogue with one another. They acknowledged that this is not easy, but conferences such as these are certainly one way of doing it.
Chris said that there was a marvelous back and forth between the formal in-depth presentations, and the informal chats and discussions proved to be rich indeed.
Chris summed up the weekend by saying it was "a great experience, very interesting, and lots of fun."
One last small item of news: Raandi King and Diana Breeze attended a presentation on palliative care.
We are now in the last days before Christmas. Yesterday evening, we had a Christmas music practice for the whole house, and tomorrow evening we will have a penance service. This week will be filled with cleaning and decorating and food preparation and other last minute Christmas preparations. And then it will be Christmas.
We will have a beautiful Mass Vigil Mass and beautiful Masses throughout all twelve days of Christmas. We will do lots of singing and visiting, relaxing and recreating in various ways. For a Savior is born to us. How can we not celebrate this wondrous reality in whatever way we can!
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