Advent and the Blessing of the Advent Wreath
The Catholic Church's custom is to introduce her important feasts with a vigil of fast and abstinence. We are asked to prepare for celebration by a period of prayer and penance. In the case of Christmas and Easter, the Church's two most important feasts, she bids us prepare with an entire season -- Advent and Lent, respectively. In modern times, Advent, and even Lent, are all too often ignored. This is a sad mistake, for Catholics who fail to observe the spirit of these two seasons lose a great deal of the spiritual benefit offered by the great feasts.
Advent has us adopt the mood of expectation found in those devout Jews who lived before the time of Christ. Since the time of Adam and Eve, they waited with longing for the coming of the Messiah, the Anointed One who would deliver them from the bondage of sin. This first Advent lasted not weeks, but thousands of years. We are asked to put ourselves in the position of those who waited so long, and so patiently, so that at Christmas we can truly share the joy of the angels in their singing "Gloria in excelsis Deo." We are asked to wait, so that we may understand the feeling of fulfillment in the old man, Simeon, as he held the Christ child in the temple and said, "Now, Lord, Thou mayest dismiss Thy servant, in peace, according to Thy word....."
Advent demands that we adopt a spirit of penance and humility. We are not very different from those first burdened with original sin. Just as Adam and Eve before us, we too have sinned -- and only the Christ can take away that stain of sin. We are asked, during this season, to examine our lives, and to plan to do better in the future. This is the start of the new Church year; a time for New Year's resolutions, and new beginnings. A careful examination of conscience, and sacramental confession are in order, so that we may approach the manger of the new born Christ in sinless purity.
The secular forces of modern society have taken over many of our Catholic holy days, and removed much of their religious significance. In many cases, they have been transformed into nothing more significant than an excuse to eat and drink too much, or a gimmick to enrich the merchants. Too many Catholics are eager to replace the realities of the Faith with bunnies, goblins, chocolate hearts, green beer, or Santa Claus. The modern observance of Christmas begins with Santa arriving on the last float of the Thanksgiving day parade, and leaves no room for the preparation of Advent, for the birth of our Savior at Christmass, or for His manifestation to the world at Epiphany
As Catholics, we should resist this secularization as much as we are able. We should make a serious effort to observe Advent in the way desired by the Church. It may not be possible to avoid all of the parties of the season, but we surely can hold off with our own until the proper time. We should make some resolutions about prayer, fasting, and penance -- and we should stick to them. Family dinner around the Advent wreath, and readings from the scripture (Isaias, and the first few chapters of Luke and Matthew) should replace at least some of the usual T.V.
Keep a good Advent, and you will then be rewarded with the joy and blessings of our Infant Savior as we celebrate His birth on Christmas day.
The Advent Wreath
A wreath made with greens, and holding four candles, serves as the table centerpiece, and the focus of family prayer for many Christians during the Advent season. The wreath may be purchased from a religious goods shop, or made from wire and local greenery. One rose colored and three purple candles recall the liturgical colors for the four Sundays of the season. At Christmas, the colored candles may be replaced with white. Ribbons of an appropriate color may be added, and in spacious homes may be used to suspend a large wreath from the ceiling.
The Father, or head of household may bless the wreath with the following prayer:
Father: + Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who hath made heaven and earth.
Father: Let us pray. 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. Through Christ our
The prayer, appropriate to the week of Advent, precedes the lighting of the candle(s) and the blessing before meals.