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Archdiocese of Durban
Open the Door to Jesus
The Advent Wreath
Advent, a spiritual season that begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, commemorates the centuries of waiting for the arrival of the Saviour promised to the Jews in the Old Testament.
For Christians, the season of Advent is a time of quiet meditation in preparation for the Christmas celebration in honour of the birth of Jesus. Each of the four weeks before Christmas, has a particular virtue or quality of faith is the focus of meditation and a candle lighting ritual. The oldest records of lighted winter-time wreaths date to the pre-Christian German peoples. Fire and candles provided the only light during the long cold season, and celebrations developed around circles of candles as reminders of the coming spring with its longer days.
Sometime around the ninth century AD, Christians adopted the candle-lit wreath as a symbol of the new faith. It became a traditional centrepiece for the weeks preceding Christmas Day. A thousand years ago, great halls in England used wagon wheels, festooned with great garlands of greenery and tinsel, suspended from the ceilings to hold circles of huge candles as lighting for feasts and holiday celebrations.
Today’s Advent wreaths are smaller, designed to fit in homes and churches and be a part of family and community services. They can be purchased from many sources, although making a fresh one each year is a tradition for many people who mark the beginning of Advent by gathering fresh boughs of pine or fir. (Many use the trimmings from the Christmas tree for the wreath.)
Although some variations in shape, such as four candles in a log candle holder or arranged free-form on a mirror, can still offer a focal point for the lighting ceremony and the meditations, the traditional circular shape of the wreath carries its own meaning in the rituals ~ that of an eternal circle. The meaning is the same as for wedding rings; never-ending spiritual life.
Fresh greenery also symbolizes new life and constantly growing faith, appropriate in celebrations looking forward to the birth of Jesus.
Four candles in a circle of natural greenery decorated with lights, cones, and tinsel make up this centrepiece. The candles are burned each evening of Advent, one for the first week, another added each following week, so that during the last week before Christmas all four candles are lit.
The candle colours are chosen for their meaning. Catholics usually use three purple and one pink; purple ones are lit during weeks one, two, and four. The pink one is lit during the third and fourth weeks.
Purple, as it’s used in Catholic ceremonies, symbolises penitence (sorrow for wrong-doing) and humility. As a holy season, Advent is a time of solemn preparation for the Feast of Christmas ~ the dawn of new Light in the world and the fulfilment of Hope with the birth of Jesus.
The pink candle is lit at the beginning of the third week of Advent to symbolise the “half-way” point in the dark time of waiting. The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete,” Latin for “Joy,” which is the spiritual focus for that week of Advent meditations. Rose coloured vestments may be worn on this Sunday and throughout this third week.
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT: HOPE
The candles are lit each evening throughout Advent, and a spiritual ceremony accompanies the lighting. The first Sunday of Advent, the wreath is blessed with a prayer or reflection of HOPE, that might go something like:
PRAYER: Father, the people of Israel hoped in your promises and were not disappointed. Again and again you delivered Israel from its enemies. In Jesus you have given us the same experience of salvation. That is why we believe in your promise to send Jesus to us once again to judge the world and establish his kingdom forever upon the earth.
the first candle is lit
Hope is like a light shining in a dark place. As we look at the light of this candle we celebrate the hope we have in Jesus Christ who is coming into our world. Amen.
At home: The prayer is recited each evening of the following week, while the first (and only the first!) candle is lit, and left to burn during a meal or a time of meditation.
SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT: PEACE
On the second Sunday of Advent, a second candle is included. The week of hope is acknowledged by repeating the prayer from the previous week, then a prayer for PEACE is added while two candles are lit.
PRAYER: Father, Peace is a word that we hear a lot in our world of fragile peace. It is one of the things that we hope for during this Advent and as this year draws to a close. Jesus brought peace when he first came to us and he will bring everlasting peace when he comes again in glory. The prophet Isaiah called him “the Prince of Peace”. Jesus tells us that Peacemakers shall be called your sons and daughters.
We light the candle of peace to remind us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that in him lasting peace is found.
the second candle is lit
Peace is like a light shining in a dark place. As we look at this candle we celebrate the peace we find in Jesus Christ who is coming into our world. Amen
At home: These two candles are allowed to burn during the meal and/or meditation following the lighting ceremony.
THIRD WEEK OF ADVENT: JOY
On the third Sunday of Advent, the third candle is added with a prayer of JOY. This week, the prayers for hope and peace are repeated briefly, then one for Joy as the third candle is lighted along with the first two.
When the angel Gabriel told Mary that a special child would be born to her she was filled with joy. She sang a song that began with the words: “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.”
PRAYER: Father, just as the birth of Jesus gave great joy to his mother, so his presence in the world gave joy to those who had none before. He healed them and gave them hope and peace when they believed in him. From hope, peace and love grows joy.
We light the candle of joy to remind us that when Jesus is born again in us we have joy and that through him there will be everlasting joy on earth.
the third candle is lit
Joy is like a light shining in a dark place. As we look at this candle we celebrate the joy we find in Jesus Christ who is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.
FOURTH WEEK OF ADVENT: LOVE
The fourth Sunday, the one just before Christmas, the focus is LOVE. All four candles are lit each evening during this week. The prayers acknowledge hope, peace and joy, and then add one of love.
God’s love is a perfect love. It holds nothing back. God, in love, gives us everything we need to live a life of hope and peace.
PRAYER: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Father, thank you for revealing your great love for us in Jesus your Son. The apostle Paul tells us that this is what love is like: Love is patient, love is kind and envies no one. Love is never boastful or conceited, rude or selfish. Love is not quick to take offence, it keeps no records of wrongs, it does not gloat over other people’s troubles, but rejoices in the right, the good, and the true. There is nothing that love cannot face, there is no limit to its faith, to its hope, to its endurance. Love never ends. We light the candle of love to remind us that Jesus brings us God’s love and shows us how to love others.
the fourth candle is lit
Love is like a light shining in a dark place. As we look at this candle we celebrate the love we find in Jesus Christ who’s coming is near.
Some families also include a white candle in the centre of the wreath, to be lit on Christmas Eve along with the other four, to symbolise the Light of Jesus as an answer to the prayers of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, of the preceding weeks.
Archdiocese of Durban, Liturgy Commission, Advent 2012