The Advent Wreath

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Southern Comfort
Posts: 2017
Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 12:31 pm

The Advent Wreath

Post by Southern Comfort »

Yes, Advent may seem a long way off, but it begins in just two months from now.

Here are some thoughts about the Advent Wreath, a subject that can sometimes arouse controversy. I wonder if yours is one of the many parishes where the Advent Wreath is blessed at the beginning of every Mass during Advent?

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Like many seasonal and other images (e.g. Christmas trees), the Advent wreath has only very recently been found in our churches.

Its north European pagan origins are related to the winter solstice: the round shape symbolises the sun, whose light was waning at this time of year. Around the wreath prayers would be said, that the sun might be reborn after the shortest day and longest night.

In its Christianised form, it originated in the homes of German Protestants in the 16th century. For many years it was a domestic image that was not used in church. Only after World War II did the wreath start to find its way into Roman Catholic churches, and gradually spread across the world. In many places, the wreath is still hung on the front door of the house. Placing it horizontally and adding candles is a much later development. Until very recently, natural white candles were used; other colours date only from the 1960s.

The following options are specified in the Roman Book of Blessings (para 1510) for the colour of the candles in the wreath:
(a) three violet and one rose-coloured (for the 3rd Sunday); or
(b) four violet candles; or
(c) four white candles.
However, some churches have four bright red candles, or three red and one white (for the 3rd Sunday).

Many churches now have the custom of using a fifth candle (normally white, in which case none of the others will be white), symbolising the incarnate Christ, lit late on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. In some churches this fifth candle is lit before or during Midnight Mass and carried in procession to the crib for the blessing of the crib, if that blessing is done at this time, and then carried back and placed in its position in the centre of the wreath or wherever.

The purpose of the evergreens is to be a simple foretaste of the evergreens of Christmas (and so no other evergreens should be used in the church during Advent), but there is no reason why these should necessarily be circular in shape. Some churches have used slanted candle-stands or logs to mount the candles, instead of an actual wreath. Other have used a wreath suspended from the ceiling.

The Book of Blessings (para 1512) merely says that the wreath should be of sufficient size to be visible to the congregation. It may be suspended from the ceiling or placed on a stand. If placed in the presbyterium [the sanctuary], it should not interfere with the celebration of the liturgy,
nor should it obscure the primary liturgical symbols of altar, lectern or chair, although one frequently sees this happening.

In churches where it is difficult to find a satisfactory place for the wreath, one solution could be a candle placed on a greenery-bedecked stand in each of the four corners of the church, with swags of greenery or green ribbon or other fabrics hung round the church between the corners or even between the candle-stands via walls, pillars, etc. In this way, the whole congregation is encircled by the "wreath" and becomes a part of it. If it is difficult to include the sanctuary area in this arrangement, two of the candles should at least be at the front edges of the sanctuary area, rather than at the front of the nave, so that it is clear that those on the sanctuary are also included within the wreath.

The current regulations (Book of Blessings again) make it very clear that the wreath is optional. (Officially, it is a local custom, rather than a “sacramental”.) As well as not interfering with the celebration of the liturgy it is not to be the subject of too much attention!

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Only on the 1st Sunday of Advent or the evening before is there to be a special rite of blessing – after the General Intercessions, rather than at the beginning of Mass (cf. paras 1517-1519).
On the remaining Sundays of Advent there are no additional rites and prayers, just a simple lighting of candles either before Mass begins or immediately before the Opening Prayer.

The blessing of the wreath on the 1st Sunday of Advent may be celebrated during Mass, during a celebration of the Word, or during Evening Prayer (cf. para 1509), but a shorter blessing can also be used in the home– e.g. as part of an evening meal. The Book of Blessings suggests that in the home an Advent hymn and a scripture reading (e.g. Isaiah 9:1-2.5-6) might precede or follow the lighting of the candle(s). Here is a sample text for the prayer of blessing:

Lord our God,
let your blessing come upon us
as we light the candle(s) of this wreath.
May its/their light reflect the splendour of Christ,
and be a sign of his promise to bring us salvation,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Some places compose their own prayer of blessing for use at this point. Note that this sample text is about blessing us, rather than the candles or the wreath.

Here is a more elaborate example that does talk about blessing the wreath itself:

Loving God,
our Advent Wreath is a circle
with no beginning and no end,
like your love for us
which never ends.
It helps us remember
that you sent your Son Jesus
into the world
to save us and set us free.

(All extend hands over wreath)

Send your blessing on our wreath.
May the candles we light
remind us to open our hearts
to Jesus the Light of the World.
As we prepare for Christmas,
make us new and fresh like evergreen,
ready to welcome Jesus
and live our lives for him,
for he lives and reigns with you, Father,
and the Holy Spirit,
one God,
for ever and ever.

Amen.


A common practice is to involve young children in the lighting of the candles. Getting them to light the right ones can be a struggle!

A number of songs, some of them awful (!) and some of them good, exist in our repertoires to accompany the rite of blessing/lighting, but this is an optional addition to the rite and should not unduly prolong it.

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These notes date back to the 1990s. Readers may like to share their own practice.
Hare
Posts: 625
Joined: Fri Jun 18, 2004 12:12 pm
Parish / Diocese: Angouleme Diocese, France.

Re: The Advent Wreath

Post by Hare »

At my last place, we used Schiavone's Advent Wreath Service - with a minor amendment to the words suggested by Paul Inwood....
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