ADVENT THEMES, COLORS, WREATH AND CANDLESHome > Pastor's Blog > ADVENT THEMES, COLORS, WREATH AND CANDLES
The Church Liturgical Year has five different seasons: Advent, Christmastide, Ordinary Time, Lent and Eastertide.
Advent begins a new Liturgical Season of the Catholic Church and starts on the Sunday nearest November 30th or after Christ the King Sunday and ends on December 24th.
Christmastide is the shortest of all seasons that begins on Christmas day and ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a period of twelve days.
Ordinary Time begins on Monday, after Christmastide and runs to the start of Lent. During this season the readings focus on Jesus’ early ministry of teaching and healing, and the gathering of the disciples. This time continues again and ends on the last Saturday of the liturgical year, prior to the First Sunday of Advent.
Lent is a season of penance lasting forty days. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Last Supper. The final week is called Holy Week and the last three days are the Paschal or Easter Triduum.
Eastertide begins on Easter Sunday and continues for fifty days to Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles. The theme of this season is resurrection from sin to the life of grace.
Each season has got its own themes of focus, signs and symbols and colors that go with it. So what are the themes of Advent? What is the significance of the Advent wreath, candles and purple/blue color?
The themes most often used for the four weeks of Advent are Peace (the First Sunday of Advent), Hope (the Second Sunday of Advent) Joy (the third Sunday of Advent) and Love (the Fourth Sunday of Advent). These are traditional themes although there may be many themes of focus during this time of preparation.
Color of Advent
Traditionally, and certainly within the Catholic church the primary color of Lent is purple, which reflects the Lenten-style fasting that formed part of the build-up to Christmas in earlier centuries. The color forms a link between the birth and death of Jesus. On the third Sunday of Advent this changes to pink or rose in anticipation of the end of fasting and the start of rejoicing for the birth of the Savior (the Sunday is sometimes celebrated as Gaudete Sunday – from the Latin word for ‘rejoice’)
In many Protestant churches the purple has been replaced by blue to distinguish it from Lent (blue being a color of royalty) and often the fourth Sunday is celebrated with a change to pink to mark the climax of the Advent season.
Significance of Advent Candles and Colors
Each of the four candles represents one of the four Sundays before Christmas. The lighting of the candles is, therefore, a form of countdown to Christmas. If there is a fifth candle, it represents Christ and should be lit on Christmas Day.
Purple was the color of royalty in the European tradition, and so purple candles may represent Christ as King. Purple also carries religious significance as a color of prayer and penitence.
The pink candle stands out because it represents the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday. It represents rejoicing in the coming of Jesus. It also marks the halfway point in the Advent season.
The Advent Wreath
Most churches have at the heart of their worship an Advent wreath. The origins of the evergreen wreath are ancient and probably pagan, but there is a symbolism with the wreath and its five candles that is useful in retelling the Christmas story.
The circle of greenery reminds us that God is eternal, the Alpha and Omega without beginning or end, and also of the hope we have in God, of newness, renewal and eternal life.
The candles symbolize the light of God entering the world through the birth of Jesus, and the four outer candles represent a period of waiting, perhaps the four centuries between the prophet Malachi (the last book in the Old Testament) and the birth of Jesus. Whilst the light from the candles reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our sins. It also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God’s love and grace to others.
The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve or Day where there is a service on these days.
As we wait for our Lord Jesus to be born, the scripture of today calls us to let “every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rugged land shall be made plain and the rough county, a bread valley.”