Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

I’ve had a few requests for my Advent playlist, so here it is. Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions on things to add!

  1. Favorite versions of O Come O Come Emmanuel:
    Casting Crowns- this one is completely instrumental but has the band’s signature sound. I love it.
    The Piano Guys- another instrumental version with cello and piano.
    Enya- I’ve been an Enya fan since high school and I love the way this version mixes Latin and English.
    BarlowGirl- I’ve also been a fan of these sisters since high school- bonus points for their adamantly pro-life stance.
  2. Light of the World by Lauren Daigle. This song is such a powerful song for Advent. We use it often in retreats and prayer services.
  3. Be Born in Me by Francesca Batestelli. For some reason I am having trouble creating a link for this one, but hopefully you can listen to this beautiful prayer from the point of view of Mary. I love the line “Make my heart your Bethlehem.”
  4. While You Were Sleeping by Casting Crowns. While this song definitely covers more seasons than just Advent, I really love the way the message connects to the world today.
  5. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Meredith Williams. So I found this song because of a comment on my Facebook page for Faith that works – thanks Greg and Sara! I learned this song with a completely different tune as a child, and I have to say that I like this tune much better. (It’s the same as Alleluia, Sing to Jesus!)
  6. Advent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary Queen of the Apostles is a beautiful album for those who love the traditional hymns sung in a simple way.

Here’s the main songs on the playlist! I also have the O Antiphons on there too. Let me know of any I should add.

Most of the links in this post (all of the links to songs) are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link to purchase a song, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

A few years ago my friend Anna introduced me to an online group of Catholic moms who would do peg doll swaps at various points throughout the year. Based on our conversations, I ran my own Jesse Tree ornaments swap and had a great time sharing faith and friendship with some local Catholic moms. Then the next year, when I was feeling brave enough, I joined an online swap focused on the O Antiphons. We each made ornaments illustrating the Antiphons, and it reintroduced me to something I had always loved as a child.

What are the O Antiphons? Originally they were part of vespers, or night prayer, in the liturgy of the hours. These seven verses for the Magnificat portion of the prayer would begin on December 17th and end on 23rd, almost like a Catholic countdown to Christmas. After Vatican 2, these seven verses also became the alleluia verses before the gospels at daily mass starting the 17th of December. As a daily communicant for most of my childhood, this is where I had first met the O Antiphons. Also, the song “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is a musical translation of the 7 Antiphons.

Each of the O Antiphons is a prophecy and title for Jesus. In Latin they are: O Sapentia, O Adonai, O Radix Jesse, O Clavis David, O Oriens, O Rex Gentium, O Emmanuel. In English, a rough translation would be: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O King of All People, O God With Us.

I also have always loved the weird facts that come along with such an old faith tradition, and the O Antiphons have a great one. If you take the first letter of each name in the Antiphons, then write them backwards, they spell out the Latin phrase “ero cras” which means “tomorrow I will come”. Scholars are not sure whether this is just and interesting coincidence or whether it is purposeful design, but either way it is cool. Students tend to like this kind of weird Catholic information.

As part of my work developing resources for my Teachers Pay Teachers store, I developed a printable version of the Antiphons. One version has the dates and the other does not. These would be used in several ways. If you are in school from the 17th to the 23rd, you could use the dated ones, but if not, you may want to use the non-dated one so that you could do all 7 before winter break. I plan on using mine as ornaments on the class Jesse tree, but I think they would make a great paper chain countdown for home or school. I plan on focusing on one Antiphon a day and having students pray it, sing it, then illustrate it.

Also, for all the blog followers, I will have one reflection each day from December 17th to December 23rd, based on the Antiphon for that day. I hope you will join me in praying these beautiful advent prayers- please let me know of any special intentions for you, your family, your friends, or your students.

Celebrating Advent with my family is a lot of fun. Although my son is still a little young to understand all the signs and symbols of Advent, he loves candles and he loves a good story, so both of those things play heavily into our family Advent traditions. It’s also super fun to have a little kid, because we get to decide as a family what our traditions will be and how we will do them.

The first thing we do is place our Advent wreath in the middle of the dining room table. As I mentioned in my post about my personal prayer during Advent, I try to light the Advent candles each morning when I am praying and each night at dinner. When Max is older maybe we will sing a song before we light the candles, but right now we are still working on the mastery of grace before meals.

Our nativity set is another Advent must have. When I was confirmed, my sister gave me a beautiful ceramic crèche set, and it used to be the focal point of our Advent and Christmas decorations until we had a toddler. I am not sure I am ready to put it out again yet. But I love the Fisher Price Nativity Set,* and so does Max. It’s also available as an Advent Calendar,* which is pretty cool. Because I love nativity sets so much, I also have a handmade peg doll set that a friend gave us last year and this year for Saint Nicholas Day we got a Melissa and Doug block nativity *for Max. We also have a set of magnets and the components of a building blocks nativity set from Almond Rod toys that we haven’t quite figured out yet.

Because my husband isn’t home most week night evenings, a lot of the family prayer time is just me and my son, so this year I am going to try to do our Jesse Tree with both of them in the morning before I go to work. Each day of Advent we read the Jesse tree story in one of Max’s children’s Bibles and put the corresponding ornament on the tree. Our favorite children’s Bibles for Max are My Story Bible,* The Children’s Picture Bible, * and Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories*. Between the three of these, we can usually find a workable version of the story for that day.

Our family Jesse Tree ornaments from a swap a few years ago

Our Jesse Tree also gets an ornament for each week’s theme: hope, peace, joy and love, which were made for me by a student a few years ago. During the last week of Advent we also add the O Antiphon for each day to the tree.

The last two things we do as a family during Advent are just pure fun. Every year that we have been married, my husband and I have gotten a Lego Advent Calendar. We now have a fun little collection of Christmas themed Legos that we add to every year. I also spend Advent weekends baking and freezing cookies for our celebration of Christmas.

As Advent progresses I’ll post some pictures of all this fun stuff on Instagram and Facebook, so be sure to follow me there @faiththatworksea

*links followed by an asterisk are affiliate links. That means that if you click my link to purchase any of those items I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

All other links go to content on the blog. Happy Advent!

My personal prayer for Advent is usually pretty simple, as it has to be for a full-time working mom of a toddler. (An added complication is that my husband works nights, so we tend to parent in shifts.) Most years I use whatever devotional is given out at church to be my spiritual guide through Advent, but this year I am excited to have something more. A small group of young moms and I are going to be praying using All the Generations,* an Advent and Christmas devotional by Blessed is She. We are planning to meet Wednesdays to discuss and pray together, and I couldn’t be more excited. I am a person who always does better with accountability, and I have been craving a good women’s group to be a part of.

I also try to carve out some quiet alone time each morning during Advent to just sit and pray by the Advent wreath. That few minutes of calm before the chaos of a pre-holiday school day are so desperately needed. Sometimes I don’t get very much time because my son is also an early riser, but even just a few minutes in a dark house with just the light of my Advent wreath is enough.

The last two things I wanted to share are a mix of something I’ve always done and something I want to do. Something I’ve always done is chosen to listen to Advent songs during Advent. I make exceptions for certain days or occasions- Saint Nicholas day, baking cookies and decorating can have Christmas music, but other than that I try to stick with mainly Advent music during this season. Thankfully every year I find one or two more amazing songs to add to the playlist. The other thing I want to do this Advent is make a conscious effort to use my love of writing as a gift. I have a bunch of postcards and cards that have been sitting in our bedroom for a long time, and I want to fill them all the way out and send them to people in the mail. I know that I always treasure hand written notes from others, and I think that in a time of year where so much is professionally printed and done, a nice note might help someone else to slow down and enjoy a few moments to themselves.

That’s the whole list. For this Advent I want to slow down and enjoy the time of preparation, and one of the best ways I can think of to do that is to keep the to do list short and simple. How do you celebrate and pray during Advent? Let me know!

*the link for All the Generations is an affiliate link. This means that if you purchase the book using my link I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

So I’ve recently started listening to The Catholic Feminist Podcast, and one of her episodes this month had the catchy title of “How I Advent”. I am minority obsessed with this liturgical season, and in addition to loving her thoughts on Advent, I wanted to take the time to share a bit about how I celebrate Advent at school, at home with my family, and also for myself.

For a prayer table, I tend to keep my Advent set up pretty simple. I have a peg doll crèche set that occupies the center of the table, with Jesus somewhere else until Christmas. I have the wise men placed somewhere else in the classroom, making their way slowly around the room until Epiphany. A purple table cloth and an Advent wreath complete our simple prayer station for Advent.

I also take the time to teach my students some of the old Advent hymns: The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns, On Jordan’s Bank, Lo How a Rose, O Come O Come Emmanuel, and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Because I love chant so much, I may teach my 8th graders a setting of the O Antiphons this year. I am trying to add to my celebration of Advent with the 8th graders, so this year we will be learning all about the O Antiphons. (Stay tuned for more about those coming soon!)

The seventh graders will learn and present the stories of the Jesse Tree for class prayer at the beginning of religion class each day. With the 8th graders, in addition to learning the O Antiphons, we often make Advent bookmarks or party poppers that follow the themes for each week: hope, peace, joy and love.

I know all of these things can sound like a lot, and I haven’t gone into great detail on any of them, but all of the links will take you to posts from previous years. These posts will be much more in depth as to how to accomplish any of the ideas I’ve listed here. Again, each year I pick and choose what activities will work in my classroom and with my students, so I can’t always do it all. But I’m really encouraged by the trend I am seeing towards more liturgical living. I think these types of prayer experiences are what make our faith so beautiful and fun.

My plan is to go in to school this holiday weekend and set up all of my Advent prayer areas so the students are surprised when they come in on Monday, Decemeber 2nd. I’ll post pictures on instagram @faiththatworksea and in the Facebook group for the blog if you want to see them. Happy Advent!

It’s always bugged me a little that so many classrooms at our school have Halloween parties instead of All Saints parties, and while I am known to be the grumpy staff member about this, I have conceded that I am not going to win that battle at my school. But my hope is that this post could convince a few readers to try their hand at throwing an All Saints Party in their class this year. It’s just as easy as a Halloween Party, and because it’s the day after, parents could use your party as a way to offload candy and treats from the day before. Here are some simple ways to celebrate the saints in your class this November 1st.

Decor: I have this one pretty easy. As part of my Pick a Patron Saint Project, students create Facebook pages for saints. We hang these around the room. My students also create icons as part of the 7th grade art curriculum, so sometimes if the students have finished that project we have extra fancy decorations. Here are some ideas for decorating your classroom if you don’t have student art:

  • Make tissue paper flowers. Many saints are connected with the idea of roses: Elizabeth of Hungary, Juan Diego, Therese of Lisieux, Rose of Lima and more.
  • Hang a decorative mirror. Write the words “This is what a future saint looks like” on the mirror.
  • Cut out a bunch of fun shapes. On each shape write a saint fact. For example, a cow could say “St. Brigid of Ireland is the patron saint of dairy farmers.” Or a sun could say “St. Francisco and St. Jacinta saw the sun dance in the sky in Fatima.”

Games: There are lots of ways to adapt fun party games for a specifically saint themed party. Obviously you may want to tailor your games to the ages of your students, but I’ve discovered that middle schoolers sometimes love the silly little kid games they played in elementary school. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:

  • All Saints Bingo. At the bottom of this post is a template I made for my class, but I’m sure there are other versions online. I give the students the saint biographies at the beginning of the week so that they are familiar with each of the saints by the time we play.
  • Pin the Halo on the Saint. In my class we will be using a poster of Saint Joseph, because he is the patron of our school. You can use any saint you like to play this version of pin the tail on the Donkey, You could also change what you are pinning depending on the saint. For example, pin the stars on the tilma, or pin the shamrocks on Patrick, etc.
  • Saints Musical Chairs. In this version of the game, there are enough chairs for all students, and each chair has a picture of the saint on it. When the music stops, pick a random Saint name, remove that chair, and that student is out.

Food: I’ve always been a fan of themed foods, so here are some ideas that could be a lot of fun:

  • St. Michael’s deviled eggs
  • Angel food cake
  • St. Lawrence’s grilled cheese
  • St. Margaret of Antioch’s dragonfruit
  • St. Lucy’s chocolate eye balls

I hope these ideas inspire some fun celebrations in your classroom!  Let me know your favorite ways to celebrate the saints in the comments.

Saints are an important part of any Catholic religion program, and it always makes me sad that my students know so few.  A few years ago our art teacher as school started incorporating writing icons into her curriculum, and it seemed like a great opportunity to work more saint research into religion class.  So now every year, right at the beginning of October, the 7th graders start on the Pick a Patron Saint project.  Throughout the project they will do initial research on as many as 12 saints, and then eventually they will choose one potential patron saint and create a paper based Facebook page for the saint.

For the first step of the project, I gather as many old saint books as I can from around the school.  The library has a complete set of the old classic Butlers Lives of the Saints, and I really like the Picture Book of Saints as well.  Using the Pick A Patron Saint Project Library the students research the lives of saints whose feast day is on or near their birthdays, as well as saints with their name or a similar name.

The next step is the computer research phase.  Once students have completed the library research, they use the Pick A Patron Saint Project Computer worksheet to research the patron saints of things that relate to them, such as athletes, brothers, sisters, students etc.  Because each page has a spot for six different saints, and two per sheet that the student has researched more thoroughly, they now have a lot of information to sort through to pick the saint they want to have as their patron.

Once the students have picked a saint, they then create a “Saintsbook” page for the saint.  Here is my example one for Saint Gianna that I created in class last year with the students.


Here is the SaintsBook Project assignment sheet that I used last year and the SaintsBook Rubric 2018 that I used to grade students.  I know that I normally attach files as a PDF, but because the websites change and you may want to tweak the requirements to meet your needs, I have left everything editable.

I hope these ideas help to make your class’s celebration of All Saints even more meaningful!

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