Guest Columnist Bill Van Loh
At Queen of Peace School, as with other Catholic schools, we work to fulfill the tenets of our mission. Our school mission is to bring faith and knowledge together for a lifetime of learning. Founded on Catholic principles, our school is devoted to guiding children, developing their skills, discovering their talents, and growing in faith. To help us keep our eyes and hearts focused on our mission, all of our Catholic schools go through a continuing process of review, verification, and planning for the future. Each year, we review our goals and measure our progress toward them in regard to how well we are serving the needs of our students and families.
Additionally, every seven years we work through a rigorous verification and renewal process, including an in-depth self-study of how well we are meeting our mission and goals, in each of seven standards areas, with a total of more than 50 sub-sets. This year-long process of accreditation renewal also includes the development of a new strategic plan and culminates with an on-site visit by a review team from the Minnesota Nonpublic School Accrediting Association (MNSAA).
In late October, our school completed the final steps of this comprehensive verification and renewal process, including the site-team visit. Having worked through this process, we are better prepared for the future.
Although this article is being written in November, Advent will be with us when it is published. As with our schools, each of us as individuals can benefit from review and renewal of our own actions and lives. In a larger sense, this is also the time of year for spiritual renewal and preparing for the future. We are beginning the church’s new liturgical year, Advent is the season encompassing the four weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.
Advent devotions, including the Advent wreath, remind us of the meaning of the season. The Advent calendar can help us fully enter in to the season with daily activity and prayer suggestions to prepare us spiritually for the birth of Jesus Christ.
At Queen of Peace School, during the weeks leading up to Christmas, an Advent wreath is displayed in the hall just outside the school office. Each Monday morning during Advent, we conduct an Advent wreath celebration with the entire student body, including readings, prayers, and singing a verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
Traditionally, Advent wreaths are constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which four candles are inserted, representing the four weeks of Advent. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead.
Typically, three candles are purple and one is rose. The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, preparatory sacrifices, and good works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third week, for Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because we, the faithful, have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when our preparation is now half over and we are very close to Christmas.
We, and the children, all look forward to the joy of Christmas. It is one of the most important days of the church year, second only to Easter itself. It is the feast of the Incarnation, the feast of God becoming flesh. It is a uniquely Christian teaching, the divine choosing to become one of us, Emmanuel (“Godwith- us”). Every Eucharist is like Christmas, where the bread and wine are transformed into his flesh, His Body and Blood, and, in a sense, he is born anew on the altar.
The season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with him, including the fact that he was born to die for us.
The Christmas tree and the Nativity scene are popular symbols of the season and a tradition in many of our homes. It is also traditional to exchange Christmas gifts with family and friends as a way to honor God the Father’s gift of his only Son to the world. Having received the gift of Christ, we naturally want to pass that gift along to our loved ones.
(Source: USCCB website, http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/index.cfm.)
All of us in the Catholic schools of the Duluth Diocese wish God’s blessings to you and yours as we celebrate this season of joy and hope.
Bill Van Loh is principal of Queen of Peace School in Cloquet.