Thanks to the filming of “Christmas in Louisiana,” the Teche Area has been on high alert for Christmas since August, Sunday is finally the first day of December and the beautiful sounds of Christmas music will start off the holiday season in downtown New Iberia. For the 11th season, Maestro Mariusz Smolij will be conducting the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra at St. Peter’s Church at 3 p.m. The sounds of joy will fill not only the hall, but the hearts listening from the first note to the last. During a visit this week with Ben LeBleu, director of music at the St. Peter’s Catholic Church, an even broader understanding of the tradition of Advent, came forth. In the Catholic church it is the preparation for the liturgical celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus. He explains the message for the Advent season and the excitement about the popular concert.
What is the significance of the first Sunday of December?
Advent is really an interesting season. The first two weekends of Advent focus on the second coming of Christ in the Church. The last, that closes the liturgical year, is Christ the King — the King of all — and focuses on His second coming. It carries on the first and second Sunday’s message. The third Sunday, represented by the pink candle in an Advent wreath, is the switch when we focus on the coming of Christ the first time, at his birth. It helps to contemplate these things, getting your house in order. Not so much your home, but your spiritual temple. The third Sunday, we switch like when you prepare a home for guests coming, the literal house. To be prepared both sacramentally and spiritually for the Christmas feast the first two weeks are preparing the corporeal, mind and soul.
How does the Catholic Church prepare for Christmas?
Part of the Tenets for practicing Catholics is to perform both their Easter and Christmas duties — confession, attend Holy Mass and receive the Eucarist. So the church opens its doors the first three Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in every church in the diocese as a priest waits in the confessional to offer confession. This time is given for people who may not be able to make the regular opportunities before services. Several years ago the church started “The Light is On for You” during Advent. It is preparatory for penitary seasons, Advent and also Lent. One for the birth of Christ, the other for salvation, the death of Christ.
As music director at St. Peter’s you must love the Christmas season. What are the highlights of the season for you?
During the Advent season, one of my favorite hymns is a Baptist hymn, “On Jordan’s Bank,” it announces that the Lord is nigh. The other is “People, look east. The time is near of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way.” It goes on from there.
What is the program for Advent other than confession. Is there a teaching?
There is not one, except online. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, USCCB.org, has reflections we use and anyone can access. EWTN and the National Catholic Register have Advent materials as well. There is an Advent calendar that can be downloaded. Locally it is basically, “The Light is On for You” for three Wednesdays during the season of Advent.
How do you keep the old traditions and yet rebrand them for something new?
Sadly the thing is to find the funding. Where is the money for the community, the church, a child’s school? Will grandchildren be able to come to St. Peter’s in 20 years and have everything nicely done for Christmas or will they be walking into an old dilapidated building? If we don’t foster appreciation for what we have, for our churches, our religion, our structures, the arts and history will wind up like so many other sad buildings. Concerts like the symphony at Christmas are not free to perform, they are costly. They are provided to the public in New Iberia because of the generosity of sponsors that make it free for people to come. There’s a point in time when the ownership moves from the committee and leadership to the community. If you want this to remain, do your part to participate. Show up and bring a friend.
What would you like people to know about the symphony concert Sunday?
It’s like any other investment, if you want it to continue, you need to support it. If it’s important, why not support it? If your faith is important to you, support it. If the church is important to you, support it. If the symphony is important to you, support it. If you can’t do it financially at least pick up the phone and be an active supporter. We’re going to have some special songs just for children and a time of singing along with the orchestra.
What is something you hope to accomplish for church goers?
I would love to take the bulletin for a solid month and not print a bulletin but do a survey listing everything the parish offers and say, “How likely are you to attend?” List them all. Give people a month to marinate on that and at the end, say whatever participation we get, look at it and maybe move something and flip it to another time slot for better attendance. The proof is in the pudding. If you give people the option, they are more likely to participate. But the double-edged sword is, people who have been attending the same thing for 50 years aren’t going to change their schedule. They’re less likely to consider adjusting. There are young families who have different schedules. That’s kind of where all religions are now. You don’t want to lose the older crowds, but young families don’t have free time because of baseball, soccer or other practices. The further out you can tell people things, especially younger generations, the better. They can put that in their schedules.