The Advent Wreath
Symbols and Practices to Prepare Our Homes for His Coming.
The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful.
First, the wreath is always in the form of a circle. Since a circle has no beginning and no end, it is a symbol for God, Who is eternal and without beginning or end. It also symbolises the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ.
From the Middle Ages, Christians used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas, because Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21).
Plants & Flowers
The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life, the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ.
Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: the prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of holly.
Any pine cones, nuts or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolise life and resurrection.
The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. A tradition is that each week represents one thousand years, to sum up to the 4,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Birth of the Saviour.
Three candles are violet and one is rose. The violet candles in particular symbolise the prayer, penance, sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time.
The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent.
The progressive lighting of the candles symbolises 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.
In family practice, the Advent wreath is most appropriately lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food. A traditional prayer service using the Advent wreath proceeds as follows:
On the First Sunday of Advent, the father of the family blesses the wreath with holy water, praying:
O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.
He then continues for each of the days of the first week of Advent:
O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.
The youngest child then lights one purple candle.
During the Second week of Advent, the father prays:
O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.
The oldest child then lights the purple candle from the first week plus one more purple candle.
During the Third week of Advent, the father prays:
O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.
The mother then lights the two previously lit purple candles plus the rose candle.
Finally, the father prays during the Fourth week of Advent:
O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.
The father then lights all of the candles of the wreath.
May the Good Lord stir us up so that these beautiful symbols and practices prepare our homes for His coming.
Other Advent Practices
The Jesse Tree
A Jesse Tree is a depiction of the genealogy of Jesus, showing that He springs from the "Root of Jesse," the Father of King David.
A Jesse Tree in the home or school would have the children gather or create a collection of symbols that portray the fact that Jesus has come, as predicted, from the Root of Jesse. These symbols can be hung on anything from a tabletop-sized tree to a branch found in the yard or woods. They can be hung on small artificial trees or even paper depictions of trees on a wall.
Much information and possible ornament image collections - suggested depictions, pre-made ornaments, downloadable images to print and color, etc. - may be found online.
This Jesse Tree project, which some of our SSPX teachers use in their classrooms, would also be suitable for use at home.
The Advent Calendar
Advent Calendars are generally cardboard pictures that may be hung on a wall at home or at school, depicting some Advent or Christmas scene, with 24 doors to open (one for each day of December). They generally have a picture behind the door and perhaps a small related scripture quote. Children at home or school take turns opening the doors for each day.
A variety of Advent Calendars are available in the St. Isidore Bookstore in the church basement.
The Christmas Crib
Another helpful Advent practice for younger children is the Christmas Crib, set up at a central location in the home or classroom. This can be done very simply, with just an empty manger during Advent. The children can place straw in the manger daily to signify the acts of love they are silently doing to prepare their hearts for Christ. After Advent, a Christ Child will “appear” in the stable, now kept warm by all their little deeds.
A more complex Christmas Creche could also be assembled with the children’s help. Have the children bring things they can find outside and create an entire wilderness scene surrounding the stable. Fill the stable with as many beautiful figurines as you can find.
Yet another visualization could be done on a bulletin board, with the Christmas Stable at one end and little sheep, one for each child, at the other. Each day as Christmas approaches the children may move their sheep one inch closer to the stable, until they all surround it at Christmas time.
These and other Advent projects can be found here, "Promoting an Advent Spirit in the Classroom."