Seize the Moment: Seize the season of reaching out, drawing near
The season of Advent is filled with unique symbols, colors, and liturgical oddities. If we know a bit about them, then we can share them with others. More than that, a knowledge of these “signs of the time” can make Advent a season of genuine peace and holy preparation.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin phrase ad venire, which means “to come towards.” As we approach Christmas Day, we get closer and closer to the coming of Jesus. He is coming towards us, and hopefully, we are coming towards Him, too. Advent should be a reaching out, a drawing near, and a yearning for someone who can meet every human desire.
It is customary to celebrate Advent by displaying a special wreath and lighting candles in our homes. Parishes, too, will often have a grand wreath with candles lit by a parish family to begin each Sunday Mass. But why a wreath? Why four candles? And why are three of them purple and one pink?
In his article “The History of the Advent Wreath,” Father William Saunders provides this short historical account of the wreath itself:
“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.”
By the Middle Ages, Christians had taken up this practice and infused it with new meaning as a way to prepare for Christmas. Since Jesus is the light of the world, it is fitting that the wreath would produce more and more light the closer we get to the celebration of His birth. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Three of them are purple, a color associated with royalty (the King is coming!). One of them is rose, a symbol of our rejoicing. The circular shape of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God. The leaves of the wreath, derived from evergreen trees, symbolize the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life found in Christ.
This is the third Sunday of Advent. It is named after the Entrance Antiphon for Mass on that day, which begins with the Latin words, “Gaudete in Domino semper!” – “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
After two weeks of purple vestments, a new color breaks through. The candle on the wreath is pink (or, to be precise, rosacea). The priest may even wear rose-colored vestments. It’s so rare and bright, it’s like an exclamation in a quiet room or a shaft of light in the darkness. It’s a shock to our senses. It awakens us and reminds us that Jesus is near.
Other Ways to Celebrate
The ways to celebrate Advent are only limited by your imagination. For example:
Pray with the wreath. Gather your family around it every evening or every Sunday. Have one person recite the Gospel reading for the day, another light the candle, and then everyone sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Dine by its light. Prepare special Sunday dinners where you eat by the wreath’s flickering light.
Play with your manger scene. Move the wise men a little closer to the manger each day, until they finally arrive on the Feast of Epiphany (Sunday, Jan. 6). Keep the manger empty until Christmas Day, and in the meantime, every act of kindness by a family member results in a piece of straw for Jesus’ bed.
Whatever you do, be sure to “seize the season” so that you can share it with others and get the most out of it yourself. Have a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas!
For the Catholic Telegraph’s Advent Calendar, click here