Question: What’s the story behind the Advent wreath?
Answer: Each season in the liturgical calendar comes with its own local and regional rituals. During the Advent season, wreathes adorn church sanctuaries and family dining room tables. You may have said Advent wreath prayers in childhood or taken a turn lighting the candles. The Advent wreath is full of symbolism about Christ and his coming at Christmas. The wreath is made of evergreen boughs, reminding us that the life of grace doesn’t falter with the changing seasons. It always remains fresh and new. Similarly, a circular wreath reminds us of the eternal, never-ending nature of God’s love.
Candles remind us that Christ is the light of the world, the One who “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We use four candles to represent each week of Advent. Traditionally they come in the liturgical colors of the season. Purple has historically represented penance and sacrifice. We see the same color for the season of Lent. On the third Sunday of Advent, however, we light a rose color. The priest will wear rose vestments at Mass. This is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin. On the third Sunday of Advent, we’re roughly halfway through the season. The Church chooses the midpoint to remind us to celebrate in the midst of our anticipation! Whatever the color and whatever the day, the Advent wreath is a beautiful practice to focus our attention on Christ’s coming at Christmas.