I preached on this topic last Sunday, and it seems I wasn’t the only one having this idea.
Utah’s Catholic bishop is putting the brakes on Christmas.
In his first pastoral letter to Utah’s 300,000 Catholics since becoming their shepherd in 2007, Bishop John C. Wester asks that members hold off celebrating Christmas until the season actually begins Dec. 24.
Catholics, Wester says, ought not have early parties in their homes or churches, light up their trees or decorate their schools with more than simple wreaths and boughs of green.
Instead, the bishop writes, Catholics should remain faithful to Advent, a four-week season that began Sunday and focuses on prayer, reflection and the joyful expectation both of Christ’s birth and his return at the end of time.
“I know it is an enormous challenge,” Wester writes, “to remain faithful to the Advent season when we are surrounded by a society which, while claiming to be Christian, does not take the time to reflect and prepare as the church calls us to do.”
His letter — published in the diocesan newspaper Intermountain Catholic in Spanish and English — was read by priests from some pulpits Sunday and cited by others. It includes suggestions on ways Catholics can observe Advent, such as lighting the candles of an Advent wreath during family prayer each day.
Wester was unavailable for comment Monday. But Timothy Johnston, director of the Office of Liturgy for the Salt Lake City Diocese, said the letter was Wester’s first since becoming bishop to Utah Catholics.
A pastoral letter is a teaching tool, Johnston said, and, in this case, the bishop wanted to call Catholics back from a frenzied approach that can leave them burned out by Christmas.
“The basic idea is: If we don’t observe sacred time and witness to it,” Johnston said, “how is the rest of the world to know who this Christ is?”
The church’s Christmas season begins Dec. 24 and ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 9. Christmas decorations should not come down until then, the bishop writes. “There is plenty of time for us to celebrate our joy at Christ’s birth, and we should make the most of it.”
Pauleen Dolling, a Catholic from Perry in Box Elder County, found the bishop’s advice “wonderful.”
“We need more direction from our leadership because people are really floundering,” she said. “If a bishop says it, it holds a little more weight.”
She liked Wester’s reminder that Advent is about prayer and thinking about Christ’s Second Coming — as well as his first — but she doubts Catholics will refrain from turning on the lights and decorating the tree before Christmas Eve.
“It’s so difficult being countercultural,” Dolling said, “especially with the kids.”