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Traditions of Advent Part 1

Advent Symbols and Celebrations – Part I

Advent is a time of waiting, conversion and of hope, a preparation for the coming of the Messiah. The word Advent comes from the Latin advenio,  meaning “to come to,”; it refers to the coming of Christ.  Here are three expressions of piety to help us get ready this season.

Advent Wreath

Advent CandlesThe Advent Wreath is traditionally formed by a circle of evergreens and decorated with four candles. In the Catholic tradition, there are three purple candles and one rose candle, marking the four Sundays of the Advent Season prior to Christmas. Sometimes, a fifth white candle in placed in the middle of the wreath which is lit on Christmas day.

There is a progressive lighting of the candles, Sunday after Sunday, leading up to Christmas. On the first Sunday, a purple candle is lit; on the second Sunday, two purple candles are lit. On the third Sunday, the rose candle is lit for Gaudete Sunday ( from the Latin word meaning “to rejoice”) along with  the two purple candles, and on the fourth Sunday, the last purple candle and the other three candles are lit. Typically, scripture passages are read along with the lighting of the candles to offer reflection.

The Colors of Advent:

As there are various liturgical colors in Catholicism, there are some which are specific to Advent:

Violet (purple): Violet is the color of royalty. During Advent we welcome our King! Therefore, the priest wears violet vestments on three Sundays during Advent, and on those same three Sundays, the Advent candles are violet. Violet is also a color of fasting and penance, and Advent is also a season of fasting and penance. We don’t fast in the West during Advent, but the Eastern Churches still do the Nativity Fast. The color violet is typically associated with Lent, and its use during Advent reminds us that Advent is like a “little Lent”. Indeed, the purple links the two liturgical season, connecting the life and the death of Jesus.

Rose ChasubleRose: On the third Sunday of Advent, the rose color is used in vestments and in the Advent Wreath. This is Gaudete Sunday; Gaudete comes from the first word of the entrance antiphon at Mass: “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete”. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Thus, the pink reminds us that on this day, we pause in our penitential spirit and rejoice that He is near.

Green: The evergreens of the Advent Wreath and the green on our Christmas trees and wreaths are everywhere. Green is associated with life; the greenery we display reminds us of the promise of life that Christ offers us by his birth on Christmas Day.

Jesse Tree:

Jesse TreeThe Jesse Tree is a more recent Advent devotion among families as a way to explore Christ’s family genealogy. However, imagery and art from the medieval period show that this is  a much older tradition, inspired by the Scripture passage from Isaiah: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1,2)

To make a Jesse tree, one could put a cut evergreen branch in a pot or create a tree on a piece of posterboard. Everyday, a Scripture verse is read and a symbol is placed on the branches. The verse and ornament helps to show and explain the ancestors of Christ, who have meaning in Salvation History.

Various Advent traditions have emerged throughout the Church history. These have been handed down through the years to nourish and sustain the faith of the people.

Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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