By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
During the four-week preparation of Advent, parishes throughout the Diocese of Trenton have planned many spiritual, social and charitable activities to enrich the lives of their parishioners – and hopefully turn people’s minds toward the reality of Christ’s coming. The first Sunday of Advent was a chance for parishes to set the tone for the season.
In Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Seaside Heights, Advent started as it does every year – with an introductory prayer by Conventual Franciscan Father Bart A. Karwacki, pastor, followed by parishioners lighting the first candle of the Advent wreath.
“I have people from the congregation sign up for every Mass, every week, who want to come up and light the candle,” Father Karwacki said. “People really seem to appreciate it.”
This year, parishioners Don and Michelle Delmonti lit the candle for the 4 p.m. Mass Nov. 26, kicking off the new Church year and the season of preparation.
Several parishes continued or brought back the beloved tradition of creating homemade Advent wreaths, supplying greens, decorations and candles, and offering time for fellowship as well.
Advent began for St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, with a Nov. 27 Advent wreath-making brunch following the 9:30 a.m. Mass. More than 200 people participated in the activity, which took the place of religious education classes that morning, allowing families to build their wreaths together.
“We are large on family catechesis here,” said Kelly Wolf, parish director of religious education. Families were given wreath candles with a prayer attached to each to pray for the corresponding week.
“This was the first time we did [the workshop],” Wolf continued. “Our pastor, Father Gerard Lynch, blessed each family’s wreath individually; then families lit the candle for the first Sunday of Advent, and Father Gerard gave a group blessing.”
Meanwhile the Advent wreath-making event in St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, also took place Nov. 27, sponsored by the parish’s evangelization team. “We had about 40 families attend; it was a lovely afternoon,” said Mark Russoniello, pastoral associate. The event included music, as well as prayers recited by Deacon Rich Tucker.
Families in St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, crafted Advent wreaths Nov. 20 after the 9:30 a.m. Mass. “We wanted to have it before Thanksgiving so that families could have their wreaths for the first Sunday of Advent,” said Mary Mykityshyn, parish director of religious education. Following wreath assembly, Father Eugene Roberts, pastor, blessed the wreaths.
“The adults were even more excited than the kids – it was very sweet,” Mykityshyn commented. “Some of them said, ‘I’ve never had an Advent wreath before – we’re so excited to finally have one!’ It was a great inter-generational activity.”
The symbolism of the Advent wreath, Father Karwacki said, is the subject of his homilies throughout the Advent season.
“The wreath is evergreen, which symbolizes everlasting life, and the Kingdom of God,” Father Karwacki said. “It’s circular, which means it begins and ends in the same place.” Each candle, he noted, symbolizes the light of Christ, and the activity of God in the world.
Across the Diocese, parish Advent retreats, days of reflections, prayers and “giving trees” have also begun. The giving trees, adorned with tags bearing the names of individuals in need and their specific gift wishes, reminds participants of the need to extend the preparation of Advent to charity toward the wider community.
That tradition was restored Nov. 27 with a giving tree returning to St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown. Historically coordinated by a former parishioner who has since moved, the task was assumed this year by the parish’s altar server ministry, which began planning in September.
“The day before Thanksgiving, about 30 altar servers came to help,” explained Deacon Michael Scannella, altar server leader and member of the Knights of Columbus. “We made up ID tags and decorated the tree. We got the names from our Spanish community, parish families in need and Good Counsel Homes [of Riverside].”
Additional items have already been donated by Nina Phillips, member of Queenship of Mary Parish, Plainsboro, and her fellow parishioners.
“They had items donated to them that they couldn’t use – age-specific baby clothing and toys,” Deacon Scannella noted. “We gave a lot of that to Good Counsel Homes. … Good Counsel Homes were ecstatic to receive them.”