THE ADVENT WREATH
Although the Advent Wreath is not an official part of the Church’s Sunday liturgies, it does enjoy the status of a venerable custom.
Originally, the wreath might have been a cart’s wheel, wound with greens and decorated with lights, strung up in the halls of the sun-worshiping tribes of Northern Europe. They may have done this to preserve the wheel from the rigors of winter weather or they may have “sacrificed” its use to appease their “hidden god” during the darkest winter days. Christians, preparing for their feast of light and life, the Nativity of the Lord, adapted this wreath to their purposes.
The wreath, without beginning or end, stands for eternity. The greens represent life and growth. The four candles (traditionally three purple and one rose) represent the ages sitting in darkness, each candle adding more light until Christmas and the dawn of the light of Christ. Ideally, the first candle to be lit is opposite the rose candle, since that will be lit on the Third Sunday of Advent. We also call that Sunday “Gaudete Sunday,” since the word “rejoice” is used in the opening antiphon for Mass that day (see Phil 4:4-5).
The blessing of the Advent Wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent (or its vigil Mass). On successive Sundays, the candles are lit before Mass or before the Opening Prayer without additional rites or prayers (cf. Book of Blessings nos. 1509-1514, 1519, 1526)
The Advent wreath may be displayed in the church or in the home. In a church, the wreath should be of sufficient size to be visible to the assembly. It may be suspended from the ceiling or placed on a stand. If it is placed in the sanctuary, it should not interfere with the movement of the liturgy nor should it obscure the altar nor ambo. In the home, the wreath may be placed on the dining table or other convenient place. Family members may take turns lighting the candles on successive Sundays. This prayer accompanies the lighting in church:
your Church joyfully awaits the coming of its Savior,
who enlightens our hearts and dispels the darkness of ignorance and sin.
Pour forth your blessings upon us as we light the candles of this wreath;
may their light reflect the splendor of Christ who is Lord, for ever and ever. Amen.