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Monday, 28 November 2016

The Custom of the Advent Wreath


Advent Wreath preparing for Christmas
Most popular of the Advent customs handed down to us is the Advent wreath made of evergreens, bound to a circle of wire.

German in origin--it was taken, so we are told, from the pagan fire wheel--the wreath represents the cycle of thousands of years from Adam to Christ during which the world awaited the coming of a Redeemer. 

It also represents the cycle of years since then that bears four candles, equally spaced, three purple ones to be lighted on the "penitential" Sundays, and a rose-colored one for Gaudete, the joyful Sunday in Advent. Candles may be placed inside or outside the wreath.

Any kind of Christmas wreath such as those hung in windows may be used. It may be set on a kitchen or dining room table, on an end table in the living room, or in a child's bedroom. However, it is most appealing when suspended by four purple ribbons from a light fixture in the ceiling.

When our children were small we bought a large, permanently preserved pine wreath and used it year after year. Now that they are going to school they help to make a new one each Advent. Inexpensive and easy to assemble is the wreath we make from a bunch or two of laurel leaves bound to a circle of wire from coat hangers. The evergreens are secured by fine wire to the circle. Candles and ribbons are added as the wreath is put together. Laurel is practical because it does not shed when suspended over the dining room table. Moreover, laurel is a symbol of victory, and thus reminds us that Christ's coming means victory over sin and death. Loveliest of wreaths and fragrant, too, is one of fresh princess pine. When we use that type, we hang it in the living room and add a single silver star to it each evening in Advent when the candles are lighted for prayers. Stars are cut from metallic paper.

City dwellers may make an attractive wreath of fireproof green paper, while country folks will find a metal barrel hoop ideal as a frame for whatever evergreens are at hand. In our children's classrooms in Corpus Christi School, New York City, Advent greens are sometimes kept fresh in inexpensive plastic rings.

The home ceremony for use of the Advent wreath is simple. It consists of Collects, hymns and prayers proper to the Advent season.

We have put it together as follows. 

On the first Sunday of Advent, our family gathers for the blessing of the wreath by father, who begins:

Father: Our help is in the Name of the Lord.

All answer: Who 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 Lord.

All: Amen.

He sprinkles the wreath with holy water. Then Myles, our youngest child, lights the first candle, and the prayer for the first week is said.

Father: Let us pray. Stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, O Lord, and come, so that we may escape through Thy protection and be saved by Thy help from the dangers that threaten us because of our sins. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.

All: Amen.

During the first week one candle is left burning during the evening meal, at prayers or at bedtime.

Two candles are lighted on the second Sunday and allowed to burn as before. The prayer for the week is:

Father: Let us pray. 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 souls. Through the same Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Three candles, including the rose candle, are lighted on Gaudete, the third Sunday, and during that week. The following prayer is said:

Father: Let us pray. We humbly beg Thee, O Lord, to listen to our prayers; and by the grace of Thy coming bring light into our darkened minds. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.

All: Amen.

All four candles are lighted on the fourth Sunday and allowed to burn as before. The prayer said the fourth week is:

Father: Let us pray. Stir up Thy might, we pray Thee, O Lord, and come; rescue us through Thy great strength so that salvation, which has been hindered by our sins, may be hastened by the grace of Thy gentle mercy. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever.

All: Amen.

At the end of Advent, candles and ribbons are changed to white, evergreens renewed if necessary, and tiny Christmas balls added to decorate the wreath. We hang ours in the entrance hall where it adds a festive note to the house and gives us a chance to explain the wreath to neighbors and tradespeople who have not seen it previously. The wreath, unless it sheds, is kept until Epiphany.

Excerpt taken from FAMILY ADVENT CUSTOMS by Helen McLoughlin