Dear OSJ Family,
During this second week of Advent, we look to what has become one of the most familiar symbols of this Holy Season—the Advent Wreath. Although Advent Wreaths are popular among Christians, many are not aware of the actual meaning and symbolism embedded in this ancient tradition. As with all symbols, the more we learn about them, the more we understand and draw inspiration from their rich meaning and significance! The Advent Wreath has been a part of our long-standing Catholic tradition. We see them in our churches, chapels, schools, retreat houses, and homes. However, the actual origins of the wreath remain unclear. Gretchen Filz, in her article called The Advent Wreath Tradition & Meaning, writes “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.”
During the Middle Ages, Christians adapted the idea (like so many of our customs) and began to use a lighted wreath as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. The principle is that Christ is the light of the world and that with each passing week, as a candle is lit, the light grows stronger and brighter, like the love of Christ. The scriptures tell us that Jesus 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.
Notably, the wreath is made of evergreen branches which represent eternal life. The wreath itself, like the pagan wheel of old, is a continuous circle and a reminder that God has no beginning and no end. It is also a reminder that our lives are to be rooted in Jesus, our Alpha and Omega “I am the Alpha and the Omega–the beginning and the end,” says the Lord (Rev 1:8). Altogether, the wreath of evergreen depicts the immortality of our souls and the new eternal life promised to us through Christ born at Christmas.
Also of interest are the four candles which are lit one at a time on each of the four Sundays representing the four weeks of Advent. An old European tradition maintains that each week represents one thousand years adding up to the 4,000 years that we have waited from Adam and Eve until the birth of the Savior. As we see, three of the candles are violet, which is the liturgical color that represents waiting and anticipation, and one is rose, which represents 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.
As Christ’s coming draws nearer, today we light another candle. With each candle lit, and through our prayers and our faith, we see Christ dispelling the darkness a little more, week after week!
It is only fitting that the simple symbol of the Advent wreath, helps us to spiritually contemplate the great drama of salvation history that surrounds the birth of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, who comes to redeem each person from all that harms us and keeps us from living in the unity and peace that is the coming Kingdom of God.
Fr Phil Florio, SJ