By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

The coronavirus pandemic will likely impact the way people observe the Advent season as they turn more to online resources and virtual events. 

N05C1360H.tif

Technology tends to have a reputation of creating “busyness” and “distractions” but priests and lay leaders in the Diocese of Baton Rouge say technology can be an asset in preparing meaningfully for the Christmas season.  

“Technology really is a great helper when it comes to aiding our spiritual life. As we’ve seen with our parishes scrambling to become tech savvy in a very short time with the onset of the coronavirus, there are opportunities for the faithful to connect with one another and journey towards God together,” said Father Chris Decker, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Maringouin, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church in Livonia and St. Joseph Church in Grosse Tete.  

Because there are set periods on the liturgical calendar with a beginning and arrival at a major feast of the church year, seasons like Advent are perfect for an individual’s built-in desires to ‘count down’ to significant events, according to Father Decker.  

“Since Advent means ‘to come towards’ we really are able to count down to Christmas Day by ‘praying towards’ the birth of Jesus while he comes toward us in the prayers of the liturgy. Having an application that we can use every day of Advent helps us also to look forward to a daily encounter in prayer,” said Father Decker, who is also host of the web television show and podcast “The Catholic Underground.”  

He noted that even though Lent is regarded as the great season of penance in preparing for Easter, Advent carries a more subdued penitential character since turning back toward the Lord is also a part of preparing for Christmas.  

While some may have the opinion that it’s “tradition vs. technology” when thinking about celebrating Advent, Father Decker emphasized that neither is mutually exclusive and they can be combined into family prayer.  

“A tradition like lighting the Advent wreath together with the prayers accompanying each candle is something kids especially like to do,” said Father Decker. “Perhaps pairing it with viewing a devotional video on a service like formed.org which many parishes offer to their parishioners free of charge, would be a good way to join tradition to a contemporary means of praying together.”  

Scott Smith, a parishioner of St. Mary of False River Church in New Roads and chairman of the Men of the Immaculata, agreed.  

“Though social media can often be a huge spiritual distraction, it’s also a great way to get people in the Advent spirit,” said Smith, who is an attorney and author of “Pray the Rosary with Saint John Paul II,” “St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary: New, Day-by-Day, Easier-to-Read Translation,” “The Catholic ManBook” and others.  

Father Decker encouraged visitors and church parishes to also consider a weekly streamed prayer event centered around the lighting of the Advent wreath and a time of reflection. Parishioners might be able to rotate hosting the event and develop their own brief reflections to share with their parish.  

Added Smith, “There are a lot of Zoom prayer groups popping up. Don’t have one at your parish? Start one. Don’t have a Zoom subscription? You can use Google Hangouts and other Zoom alternatives.”  

“We still need Christian fellowship even in times of quarantine and social distancing. I plan to host a series of Zoom talks on the Blessed Mother for Advent, too. Maybe your parish could do some kind of adult catechesis through Zoom, too,” Smith said.  

In addition to formed.org and Zoom, Father Decker and Smith recommended other Advent apps.  

“I always like to mention iBreviary, which is the free application containing the Liturgy of the Hours. The Second Vatican Council hoped that all people and not just priests and religious would discover the value of praying the Psalms as a kind of daily spiritual rhythm,” Father Decker said. “During seasons like Advent, the Office of Readings which contain longer bits of Scripture and excerpts from the writings of saints of the church, really help me to enter into the season with anticipation.”  

“Reflecting on the prophets’ longing for a messiah and how the church has prepared for Jesus these thousands of years give a beautiful sense of our Christian family that spans centuries and continents preparing for our Lord,” he added.   

Smith further recommended the apps Hallow and Laudate.  

“You can listen to the daily readings. They help you with your daily rosary. They will even send you reminders to keep up your prayer habits,” Smith said.  

No matter what tools one uses to celebrate the Advent season, Father Decker and Smith said one should always keep in mind the purpose is for reflection so one will be ready to celebrate the gift of God coming to the world to redeem man.  

“My wife and I have a lot of young kids. We sing ‘O Come, O Come, Emanuel’ as we light our Advent candles every night before dinner. With Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger Video Calls, etc., now we can do this with the grandparents, too,” said Smith.  

“Post, for example, when you visit the sacrament of reconciliation during Advent,” he added. “Post pictures of your Advent decorations, especially Advent yard decorations. Everybody else has Santa yard ornaments, we have big Advent candles in our yard that we light up week by week. The kids love it.”  

Father Decker said, “To enter into this spirit of preparation, I often adopt a small type of penance like deleting the social media application I’m tempted to spend the most time scrolling through. That helps to create a space into which I can invite deeper uninterrupted time in prayer. 

“Because Advent occurs parallel to the bustle of preparing for the cultural celebration of the holiday season, digging these little ‘wells of waiting’ are important so that when Jesus comes to us in prayer, we are ready to receive him,” he said. “This purposeful act of a small penance or even setting a daily 20-minute period to read Scripture or a devotional aid can help to dig that well the Lord wants to fill with his presence.”