Colours of Advent - the Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is an increasingly popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in our churches as well as homes.
It is a circular evergreen wreath (real or artificial) with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the centre.
If you have never made an Advent wreath, there is an online parish workshop which will show you how.
The wreath is symbolic and a vehicle to tell the Christmas story, often understood as follows:
The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end.
The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life.
Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son.
Purple and Rose
Historically, the primary sanctuary colour of Advent is Purple. This is the colour of penitence and fasting as well as the colour of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King. The purple of Advent is also the colour of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week.
In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for "rejoice"). The shift from the purple of the Season to Rose (pink) for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season. The colours of the sanctuary and vestments are also changed to Rose for this Sunday.
The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ. There are usually three purple candles, corresponding to the sanctuary colours of Advent, and one pink or rose candle.
The centre candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world.
Lighting the candles
One of the purple candles is lit the first Sunday of Advent, a Scripture is read, a short devotional or reading is given, and a prayer offered. On subsequent Sundays, previous candles are relit with an additional one lit.
The pink candle is usually lit on the third Sunday of Advent.
The centre candle is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, with all five candles continuing to be lit in services through Epiphany (6 January).
Each week, here on the blog, there will be a suggested prayers for lighting that week's candle.
Symbolism of the candles
The light of the candles itself becomes an important symbol of the season. The light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope.
The progression in the lighting of the candles symbolizes the various aspects of our waiting experience. As the candles are lit over the four week period, it also symbolizes the darkness of fear and hopelessness receding and the shadows of sin falling away as more and more light is shed into the world.
The flame of each new candle reminds the worshippers that something is happening, and that more is yet to come. Finally, the light that has come into the world is plainly visible as the Christ candle is lighted at Christmas, and worshippers rejoice over the fact that the hope and promise of long ago have been realized.
The first candle is traditionally the candle of Expectation or Hope This draws attention to the anticipation of the coming of an Anointed One, a Messiah.
The remaining three purple and rose candles of Advent may be associated with different aspects of the Advent story in different churches, or even in different years. Usually they are organized around characters or themes as a way to unfold the story and direct attention to the celebrations and worship in the season. So, the sequence for the remaining three Sundays might be one of these trios
Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels.
Love, Joy, Peace.
John the Baptist, Mary, the Magi.
the Annunciation, Proclamation, Fulfilment.
Whatever sequence is used, the Scripture readings, prayers, lighting of the candles, the participation of worshippers in the service, all are geared to unfolding the story of redemption through God’s grace in the Incarnation.
The third candle, for the Third Sunday of Advent, is traditionally Pink or Rose, and symbolizes Joy at the soon Advent of the Christ. It marks a shift from the more solemn tone of the first two Sundays of Advent that focus on Preparation and Hope, to a more joyous atmosphere of anticipation and expectancy.