By Clarion Herald Staff
Father William Saunders, who writes the “Straight Answers” column for the Arlington Catholic Herald in Virginia, says although the Advent wreath is part of a “long-standing Catholic tradition,” its actual origins are unknown.
“There is some 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,” he writes.
The Advent wreath consists of various evergreens, signifying continuous life. “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. 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 four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents 1,000 years – (representing) 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 symbolize the prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices and good 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. The light again signifies Christ, the Light of the world. Some modern-day adaptions include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ and is lit on Christmas Eve. In family practice, the Advent wreath is most appropriately lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food.”