By Deacon Tom Gryzbek
St. Andrew the Apostle
(Reflection for week of December 6)
The noun "rumination" means "a deeply considered thought about something."
We have started the annual tradition of lighting the candles on Advent wreathes in our churches and homes during this season of anticipation and waiting. I thought it might be a good time to review the meaning of the Advent wreath.
Looking at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website, I found the answer we might give if asked about the meaning of the wreath:
"The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord's first coming into the world (i.e., the time waiting for Christmas day) and the anticipation of his Second Coming to judge the living and the dead."
I thought there may be more significance about the wreath and its design, and found a beautiful article written by Gretchen Filz in 2016 for the Catholic Company entitled, "The Advent Wreath: Tradition and Meaning."
Here are some of the wonderful observations mentioned in Gretchen's article.
- Advent candles readily demonstrate the strong
contrast between darkness and light, which is an important biblical image. Jesus referred to himself as the "Light of the World" who dispels the darkness of sin.
- The circular shape of the wreath, without beginning or end, symbolizes God's complete and unending love for us - a love that sent his Son into the world to redeem us from the curse of sin. It also represents eternal life, which becomes ours through faith in Jesus Christ.
- The purple candles are a liturgical color used in Advent to signify a time of prayer, penance and sacrifice. Advent, also call the "little Lent," is the season where we spiritually wait in our "darkness" for our promised redemption, just as the whole world did before Christ's birth, and just as the whole world does now as we eagerly await his promised return.
- During the first two weeks of Advent, we light purple candles. The third Sunday is called Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday. On this day, we celebrate that our waiting for the birth of Jesus on Christmas day is almost over. The rose candle is used to signify our joy. Then on the fourth Sunday of Advent, we light the final purple candle to mark the final week of prayer and penance as we wait expectantly for the soon-to-come birth of the King of kings.
- The use of evergreens reminds us of our eternal life with Christ; pointy holly leaves and berries represent the crown of thorns from the passion of Jesus and his precious blood. Pinecone symbolize Christ's resurrection.
As I look at the Advent wreath though, the meaning I find is much simpler, yet profound. I am filled with a feeling of warmth, wonder and awe that Jesus took on human form to save us out of love for each other.
How blessed we are! To that I shout out in my heart - "Joy to the world!"