Christmas: A time when we all become devout Catholics?

All over Ireland, candles on Church Advent Wreaths are being lit as the weeks advance throughout December, stirring excitement in the hearts of parishioners.

Advent Wreath at the Carmelytte Church, Aungier Stree in Dublin
Advent Wreath in Whitefrier Street Church, Aungier Street in Dublin reporter Sarah Reilly chatted with two Dublin Priests about the season of Advent and all that is Christmas.

According to Fr. Ó Cochláin from St. Canices Church in Finglas, many people love the period of preparation and waiting that Advent brings. “The number of people attending daily Mass rises, as Advent is a great preparation for our celebration of Christmas. The Scripture readings at Mass are woven beautifully and form a programme to prepare our hearts and souls for the coming of Jesus. Sundays too see a small rise in attendance, particularly with young parents and their families. They often make an extra effort coming up to Christmas to stop, get off the hurtling whirlwind of spending that is so stressful, and to find the true well of happiness”, he said.

Fr. Cahill from the Church of the Annunciation in Finglas, explained that while people are drawn into the spirit of Advent, he does not see an increase in attendance just yet. “I have not noticed any significant increase in attendance…but I am aware that young people will take-part in a carol service in our Church before Christmas so that might help to increase the numbers”.

Church of the Annumciation, Finglas
The tableau of the Holy Family above the main entrance of the Church of the Annunciation in Finglas

When asked why Christmas attracts more people to Church, Fr. O Cochláin said, “That is hard to call. Some come because of personal worry or anxiety. Some come just to be there. Some are not satisfied that the contemporary world contains meaningful values and they wish to find the source of deeper meaning. Some might be conscious that they should make a greater effort in the run up to Christmas and put Jesus Christ first”.

According to Fr. Cahill, there is something about Christmas that touches the hearts of us all.  “It seems easy to relate to the birth of a little baby, to the wonder of new life, to the difficulties of a struggling family and to the excitement of sharing”, he said.

Prior to the beginning of Advent, the final Sunday in November is the Feast of Christ the King. Masses on this day draw upon the four final things that await us after we die – Heaven, Hell, Purgatory and Judgement. Despite the poignant symbolism, Fr. Ó Cochláin said, “The theme attracts a number of people to Mass as it mirrors their experiences of losing loved ones and invites them to consider what happens after they die”.

However, he describes Advent as ‘a new ball game’. “It’s a fresh start, a time of waiting for the coming of the Lord. Advent is about things being made new. Two important touchstones appear in the liturgy of the Church – the Advent Wreath and the Jesse Tree. They add a newness and an expectation to the Mass and remind us that just as the people of Israel waited for their first coming of the Messiah, the Church throughout Advent waits for his second coming when Jesus will judge the people with fairness”, he added.

Fr. Cahill describes the Church of the Annunciation’s liturgical decor as “reflecting the spirit of the advent season”.  The Advent colour of purple is used extensively around the Church and an empty stable is placed in the sanctuary. According to Fr. Cahill, the stable’s emptiness deepens our longing for Christ. Each week, an additional candle on the Advent Wreath is lit by a member of the congregation and is said to be a symbol of the light of Christ growing stronger in our hearts. “There is a deliberate starkness present on the wreath to draw us into a spirit of waiting”, said Fr. Cahill. The Church of the Annunciation also has a Christmas Tree but it will not be lit up until Christmas Eve.

The Church of the Annunciation will host five Masses in celebration of Christmas – two on Christmas Eve and three on Christmas Day, and according to Fr. Cahill, attendance at the five Masses is expected to reach 5,000.

Meanwhile, hundreds of parishioners are drawn to St. Canices Church every Christmas Eve for their special children’s Mass. According to Fr O’Cochláin, “People come from everywhere, out of the woodwork, out of the nooks and crannies of our parish. Why do they come in such numbers? Where are they for the remainder of the year? Do they come selfishly? Do they come to salve their conscience? Why do they not give Jesus pride of place every weekend by joining the parish at Sunday Mass? Only God knows!”

The star of David in it's pride of place on Gardiner Street Church
Elsewhere in Dublin, The Star of David takes its annual pride of place on Gardiner Street Church

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