Advent has arrived.... along with the long awaited and often dreaded changes to the Roman Missal! I wondered to myself if Advent would get lost in the midst of big change. Our parish prepared us, and my impression, happily, was that the arrival was not lost. We had cards in our pews to help us along with the changes to the Mass. The Advent wreath was set up, and beautifully so on the altar. There was another beautiful outdoor Advent wreath, in front of the church, its first candle lighted! We had set up the giving tree in the front vestibule of the lobby early Saturday morning. So yes, Advent is here. And with it comes the question, what are we to do next?
We are to watch and wait, and prepare for the coming of the Christ Child! I love Advent. Until my faith journey began 5 years or so ago, I never understood the significance of Advent. After learning about Advent, and taking time each day for prayer, and reading of the Scriptures, and for reflection, I have been spiritually ready for Christmas. I have been able to embrace the true spirit of Christmas! Of course, the secular hoopla still exists, and still demands my time. And while I used to embrace that side of Christmas, it pales in comparison to the true reason of the season... the coming of the Christ Child... the coming of our Salvation!
Below are excerpts from an article entitled "History of the Advent Wreath by Fr. William Sanders." (Click here to read the entire article)
"The Advent wreath is part of our long-standing Catholic tradition. However, the actual origins are uncertain. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of Spring. In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.
By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. After all, Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). By 1600, both Catholics and Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.
The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. Even these evergreens have a traditional meaning which can be adapted to our faith: The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew, immortality; and cedar, strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. Any pine cones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection. All together, the wreath of evergreens depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, who entered our world becoming true man and who was victorious over sin and death through His own passion, death, and resurrection.
The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Savior. Three candles are purple and one is rose. The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead."
In closing, I'd like to share with you this prayer I found:
"Advent Wreath Prayer for the First Week of Advent”
Bestir, O Lord, Thy might, we pray thee and come; that, defended by Thee, we may deserve rescue from approaching dangers brought on by our sins, and being set free by Thee, obtain our salvation. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
Have a glorious Advent!