Today marks the first Sunday of Advent, the official beginning of the religious Christian season. This is a season rich in meaning and symbolism for Christians, much of which can be found in the Advent wreath.
Found in churches and many Christian homes, many focus on the candles, but the wreath itself is also an important symbol. Wreaths are a circle, with no beginning and end, just as we have been promised eternal life in Christ, an image that many wreaths also continue with the use of evergreens. Laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. Pine, holly, and yew mean immortality. Cedar is for strength and healing. Even the decorate holly, with its sharp edges, reminds us of Christ, in the suffering of his crown of thorns. Some decorate an Advent wreath with pine cones, which symbolize resurrection.
Advent is about the light of the world coming to us. You may have noticed that the four Advent candles have different colors: three violet and one rose. Each week represents one thousand years, symbolizing the 4,000 years of waiting from the Garden of Eden until Christ was born. On the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Lent, we light a violet candle. In the Christian tradition, violet means penance, sacrifice, and prayer. On the third Sunday, the rose candle symbolizes joy. However, each candle has a meaning beyond that.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we light the Prophet’s Candle, to remind us that Jesus is coming. Traditionally, the father would bless the wreath at dinner time, and pray “O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.”
For the rest of the first week, the prayer is “O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.”
The youngest child then lights the first violet candle, which is left burning throughout the meal.
The second candle is the Bethlehem Candle. This candle symbolizes faith, reminding us of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
Again, with the lighting of this candle comes a particular prayer. On this Sunday, the father of a family will pray “O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.”
The eldest child lights two violet candles, which are left burning during the meal.
The third Sunday, with its rose candle, is the Shepherd’s Candle. This candle tells us of the joy the world felt when Jesus was born.
The prayer for the third week is “O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” This week, it is the mother’s turn to light the candles: the previous two violet candles, and the rose.
The final Sunday of advent brings us back to a violet candle, the Angel’s Candle. This candle symbolizes peace and reminds us of the message of the angels “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
For this last week before Christmas, the prayer is “O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The father lights all four candles on the wreath to burn during the meal.
A more recent addition to the Advent wreath is the Christ Candle, the white candle in the middle. This candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to signify the arrival of the light of the world. The candle is white to signify the purity of Jesus, that he is the sinless Lamb of God. It is in the center of the wreath to remind us that Christ should always be central to our lives. At this time, reflect on scripture that tells us of the coming of Christ.
Wishing a blessed Christmas season to you and yours!