Why Do Catholics Have a Tradition of Making & Lighting an Advent Wreath?
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 wreaths 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.
By the middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition and used Advent wreaths 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 (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. 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.
The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Three candles are purple and one is rose. The purple candles in symbolize the prayer, penance and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing. 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.
The light signifies Christ, the Light of the world. In family practice, the Advent wreath is most appropriately lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food. Since Advent is a time to stir up our faith in the Lord, the wreath and its prayers provide us a way to augment this special preparation for Christmas. This tradition helps us to remain vigilant in our homes and not lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.