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Advent’s here Again!
In very many parishes this Sunday, the Introductory Rites at Mass will include the blessing of the Advent wreath. I am sure it would surprise many people to learn that the Advent wreath is not mentioned anywhere in the Missal. It is a family devotional symbol that has been taken over into public liturgy.
From the questions I receive, it would seem that the Advent wreath is often a focus of liturgical preparation for the season, with much thought and effort expended on the appearance and location of the wreath, the colour and number of candles, and the words used to bless it and when lighting the candles each week.
What does it mean to “bless” the Advent wreath, or any object or person, for that matter? The first two definitions of the verb “to bless” in my Collins English dictionary are: to consecrate or render holy, beneficial, or prosperous by means of a religious rite; to give honour or glory to a person or thing as divine or holy.
The Introduction to the official Book of Blessings, like the introductions to all the liturgical books, sets out clear theological explanations of the meaning and practice of blessing, including:
• Blessings refer first and foremost to God, whose majesty and goodness they extol.
• Through Blessings the Church calls us to praise God, encourages us to implore his protection, exhorts us to seek his mercy by our holiness of life, and provides us with ways of praying that God will grant the favours we ask.
The Introduction to the “Order for the Blessing of an Advent Wreath” in the Book of Blessings offers the following helpful background and guidance:
• The blessing of an Advent Wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent. The blessing may be celebrated during Mass, a celebration of the word of God, or Evening Prayer.
• Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which are inserted four candles. According to tradition, three of the candles are violet and the fourth is rose. However, four violet or white candles may also be used.
• The candles represent the four weeks of Advent and the number of candles lighted each week corresponds to the number of the current week of Advent. The rose candle is lighted on the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday.
• If the Advent Wreath is to be used in church, it should be of sufficient size to be visible to the congregation. It may be suspended from the ceiling or placed on a stand. If it is placed in the presbyterium (sanctuary), it should not interfere with the celebration of the liturgy, nor should it obscure the altar, lectern, or chair.
• On the Second and succeeding Sundays of Advent the candles are lighted either before Mass begins or immediately before the opening prayer; no additional rites or prayers are used.
• The Advent Wreath may be blessed by a priest, deacon, or a lay minister.