Advent is the season when we prepare for the First Coming of Christ at Christmas and also when we reflect that there will be a Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. The liturgical colour of Advent is purple since the season like Lent is one of preparation for a great mystery. On the third Sunday the priest wears rose (pink) for Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete means rejoice). Throughout Advent we do not say or sing the Gloria in Excelsis Deo as this is heaven’s response to the glorious birth of Jesus. Hence we sing it again once Christmas arrives.

We have an Advent wreath on the altar. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life offered by Jesus Christ. The evergreens that make up the wreath are also significant: laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew: immortality; and cedar: strength and healing. Holly also reminds us of the crown of thorns and the red berries of the blood of our Lord Jesus.

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Three candles are purple, and one is rose. The purple candles symbolize the prayer, penance and preparatory sacrifices and good works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday a Sunday of rejoicing, because we are half-way through the preparation and close to Christmas. The light of the candles again signifies Christ, “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. Jn 3:19-21).

Wreaths with candles pre-date Christianity. In Northern Europe they were lit in the dark days of December as a sign of hope that the warm and longer days of spring would come. In Scandinavia during winter, lit candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth. Christians adopted the tradition of wreaths as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas.