In St. Mary Church, Colts Neck, the Advent display is set up near the sanctuary and shows a wreath that is suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by four floor-size candles. In this photo, a bowl of incense, that is below the wreath, burns as Father Jeffrey E. Lee, pastor, celebrates Mass. Mike Ehrmann photo
In St. Mary Church, Colts Neck, the Advent display is set up near the sanctuary and shows a wreath that is suspended from the ceiling and surrounded by four floor-size candles. In this photo, a bowl of incense, that is below the wreath, burns as Father Jeffrey E. Lee, pastor, celebrates Mass. Mike Ehrmann photo
Parishes in the Trenton Diocese joined with the global Church in observing the start of the Advent season Nov. 26-27. The first Mass began with the blessing of the Advent wreath by the presider followed by the lighting of one violet candle. 

“Advent is a season of hope,” said Father Jeffrey E. Lee, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, who went on to explain that the first weeks focus on the Second Coming of Christ and need for believers to be vigilant. The latter weeks shift focus toward the Incarnation of Jesus Christ “who is the Light that penetrates the darkness of doubt and indifference.

“It is a time to recognize the gift God gives us in the person of Jesus Christ and in the Eucharist,” said Father Lee.

During the next four weeks, many parishes will host Advent offerings such as days/evenings of reflection, retreats, Penance services and family activities that are all directed to preparing the faithful to commemorate Christ's Birth.

In St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, rector, said the parish’s annual Christmas Carol Festival is held in-person and livestreamed during the first week of Advent, an occasion “that brings together people who want to sing Christmas carols and remember the meaning of the season.”

The parish’s involvement in the Emergency Housing Program also begins during that week, when men without a home are hosted by the parish between the first week of December through the last week of March. Parish volunteers provide food and space for the men to “relax from the cold night,” said Msgr. Sirianni.

“Unlike what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, there is room in this inn,” he said.

In Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, Advent highlights include a An Evening of Taize Prayer service, which is a meditative prayer service incorporating simple, repetitive song and chant, Scripture Readings, and periods of group silence in a setting of peace and soft light that fosters communion with God. A Holy Hour with Adoration of the Blessed Eucharist is also planned as part of the parish’s participation in the Eucharistic Revival.

Commemorating Christ’s Birth “is worth celebrating because it reveals his human side and is therefore an example of how we should live our lives as followers here on earth,” said Father John J. Testa, pastor.

In St. Mary Parish, numerous outreach activities are held during Advent to assist people in need, according to Father Lee.

One longtime tradition the parish upholds is the Tree of Love that is placed in the narthex of the church in mid-November. On the tree there are 750 tags with the names of people who are assisted by various organizations. Parishioners are invited to take a tag and buy a Christmas gift for those in need.

In addition, the parish participates in a “Sponsor A Family” program, providing for about 40 families each year, Father Lee said. He noted that the parish recently completed a Thanksgiving food drive, in which some 260 turkey dinners were distributed to people in need.

As for sacramental celebrations, Father Lee said that an Advent Penance Service will be held and will include First Penance candidates and their families. There will be 12 priest confessors in attendance. The “Light Up a Memory Tree” lighting will follow the 4 p.m. Mass on Dec. 10 and on Dec. 18 parishioners are invited to bring figurines of the Infant Jesus from their Nativity sets to be blessed at the 10 a.m. Mass.

“I have always loved Advent,” Msgr. Sirianni said, as he reflected on the Advent wreath, the bluish violet vestments and the Scripture Readings.

“The themes of Advent are wonderful to preach on at Liturgy – waiting for our Lord’s Second Coming, how Jesus comes to us each day and the preparation of our souls and homes for his historical coming in history are rich food for prayer,” he said.

Here are a few photo galleries of First Sunday of Advent Masses in St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck; St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, and Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro