Advent is a special time of year and, for many people preparing to be received into the Church, this might be the first time that it will go beyond a time of shopping and preparation for Christmas! It is a time when RCIA teams can help prospective Catholics to appreciate the depth and richness of the story of which they are going to become more active participants.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

· Talk about the prophets – particularly Isaiah – not as fortune-tellers but as people who looked at the world around them and, by turns, warned and encouraged the People of God. Look at some of the First Readings for Advent and explore their message for the people who first heard and read them – and for us today. (For example – would a “prophet of doom” have the Lord saying things like “Console my people…”)

· Encourage the group to think about how they will mark Advent itself… How can they ensure that the spiritual preparation goes alongside the necessary shopping and other preparations? Praying with the Advent Scriptures – or setting a bit of time aside for quiet prayer, for example – and/or using an Advent calendar – an Advent wreath – and Advent candle as an aid or focus for prayer.

· Thinking of praying with the Advent scriptures, the daily e-mail reflections from the Spirituality Department are available in weekly booklet form on the website. You might also like to introduce members of the group to the “O Antiphons” – from the Evening Prayer of the Church and the Alleluia verses between 17 December and Christmas Eve. They offer insights into who Jesus Christ was – and is. Again, resources to help are online.

· If you are feeling brave, get some air-drying clay and invite people just to play with it – pondering the words from Isaiah in the First Reading for the First Week of Advent about God’s being the potter and we the clay. Emphasise that the finished result is not the point – the process of moulding and smoothing and adding or removing bits and thinking about the closeness of the hands to the clay as they work (recalling the closeness of God’s hand to themselves) is what is important. People can either take away or dismantle their creation as they wish.

· Look at the infancy narratives and think about how you might help people to see the power of the accounts. Many will be “stuck” in memories of nativity plays: lovely though these are, the story of God becoming human – the Word becoming flesh – the Lord of the Universe coming to make his home among humanity – are more powerful and awe-inspiring.

· Teach the group the Angelus – the prayer that sums up some of the great themes of Advent and Christmas time.

· If your community has a charity appeal over Advent, think about a way the group could be active participants in fund-raising or distribution of food-parcels or gifts to shelters or organisations such as port chaplains.