On the final night of Las Posadas novena, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Bartow, parishioners re-enact then Nativity story. (COURTESY)

Advent novenas prepare to welcome savior

ORLANDO | Advent traditions abound and in the Diocese of Orlando, the Florida Catholic discovered many parishes carrying on the tradition of novenas during Advent.

Five years ago, Maria Davila and her husband, Ricardo, brought Las Posadas to St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Bartow with help from the parish women’s club. The couple is originally from Mexico, and Maria is one of 10 children in a migrant family. Despite constant traveling from harvest to harvest, her family and relatives always celebrated Las Posadas in the camps where they lived. The nightly procession from house to house recreates Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to rest. The pilgrims arriving at the door sing the part of Joseph, explaining their plight. The innkeepers within respond with rejection until the travelers are welcomed, at last.

“It’s a service and a prayer,” Davila said, who dedicates the Mexican tradition to her children and their prosperity. “When I started it, they were growing up into adults and I felt they needed additional prayer. The tradition is a part of who I am.”

The faithful of St. Thomas Aquinas celebrate the novena Dec. 15-23. The journey begins at the parish hall, goes to the faith formation classrooms, and finally the church, where they are taken in. There the travelers pray a rosary in the sanctuary, often followed by a reading or lesson from Deacon Mark King and music. Each night ends at the parish hall with cookies and drinks. On the last day, youth and adults re-enact the Nativity story.

“The purpose of this novena is to believe God searches with us and to help Christians of today see the journey and sacrifices Mary and Joseph underwent while in Bethlehem,” Davila said. “We are also recognizing that Mary is the Queen of Heaven and the child she carried is the savior of the world.”

From Dec. 16-24, hundreds of people rejoice in expectation as they await the birth of Christ by celebrating Las Misas de Aguinaldo or “Gift Masses” at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Orlando. This tradition originated in Spain. After each Mass, food is provided for the needy, thus the word “gift.” St. Isaac Jogues’ first Mass takes place on a Sunday where more than 1,000 parishioners gather to ignite the novena – just as they have for more than 20 years.

Sylvia Figueroa and her husband, Arcadio (Tito), direct the choir, Inspiración Divina. For 12 years, the singers have led the tradition, which originated in Spain. The troupe of 30 sings at all nine morning Masses which start at 6 a.m.

“It’s an honor to be able to bring to the community of St. Isaac songs of praise that lift their spirits and prepare their hearts for the coming birth of our savior Jesus,” Figueroa said. “The goal is to deliver the Word of God through our songs. Every song is selected in accordance with the daily readings and to see the joy on people’s faces and know that the choir is part of that it is true blessing from God.”