For Western Christian churches, Advent is the start of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year. The word Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus,” meaning “coming.” So, Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It is also recognized as a time of penitence, which explains why the usual liturgical color is purple during this time.
Something that can help us to prepare ourselves spiritually for the celebration of Christ’s birth is to make an Advent wreath. Christians borrowed the use of the Advent wreath as a Christmas tradition from German Lutherans back in the early 1500s.
The Advent wreath is circular with no beginning or end. This helps us call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of God’s plan of salvation. It is usually made of fresh greenery to symbolize Christ giving us new life through his passion, death and resurrection.
Three of the Advent wreath’s four candles are purple, symbolizing penance, preparation and sacrifice. The purple candles are lit on the 1st, 2nd and 4th Sundays of Advent. The fourth candle on the Advent wreath is pink and is lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. The pink candle symbolizes the same as the purple candles but is a “joyful” color to recognize the fact that on the 3rd Sunday of Advent we rejoice in the fact that our preparation is now half-way complete. The light of the candles represents Christ, who came into this world to scatter the darkness of evil and be a guiding light for us to the way of righteousness and goodness.
The lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath and reading of special Advent prayers is a tradition that helps us to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. The following link may offer you some guidance on a list of prayers to pray as you light the candles on your Advent wreath with your children each week of Advent – http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/advent/index.cfm
Originally published Nov 28, 2011