In the Middle Ages, the Christians adopted the tradition of the Advent wreath as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting. We light candles on the Advent wreath to put ourselves in the spiritual place of the Israelite people, who, through many long centuries, waited for the coming of the Messiah. The wreath and its light is a sign of Christ's promise to bring us salvation.
The wreath is a circle of evergreen branches, signifying continuous life, the passing of time, and eternal life. It also symbolizes the eternity of God, the immorality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. The wreath having no beginning or end reflects the complete and endless love that Jesus has for each one of us.
The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Each Sunday in Advent, one of the four candles is lit. The three purple candles are a sign of royalty and recognize a time of preparation and repentance symbolizing prayer, penance, sacrifices, and good works undertaken at this time. The single pink candle is a symbol of joy. 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.
Traditionally, families light the Advent wreath at dinnertime after the blessing of the food.
On the First Sunday of Advent, the first candle, the prophecy candle or the candle of hope, is lit. We bless the wreath, praying: O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth your blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive your abundant graces. Amen. The prayer continues for each day of the first week of Advent: O Lord, we beg you to come, and that with your protection we can be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved from all evils. Amen. Then we light one purple candle.
During the Second Sunday of Advent we light the second candle, the Bethlehem candle or the candle of peace. We pray: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for your only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve you with pure hearts and minds. Amen. Then we light the purple candle from the first week, plus one more purple candle.
During the Third Sunday of Advent, the third candle, the shepherd candle or the candle of joy is lit. We pray: O Lord, we beg you, incline your ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of your presence. Amen. We then light the two previously lit purple candles, plus the pink candle.
Finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the fourth candle, the angel candle or the candle of love, is lit. We pray: O Lord, stir up your power, we pray, that with the help of your mighty grace, your merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Amen. Then we light all of the candles of the wreath.
Since Advent is a time to stir up our faith in the Lord, the wreath and its prayers provide us a way to strengthen this special preparation for Christmas. Moreover, this good tradition helps us to remain vigilant in our homes and not lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, that CHRIST IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.