Episco-Fact #23
November 27, 2016

What is the season of Advent and why is it marked with the lighting of candles on an Advent Wreath?

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin "Adventus" which means "coming." The "coming" referred to is twofold, the coming of Jesus as commemorated in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as a child in Bethlehem and the second coming of Jesus to fulfill his anointing as Lord and Judge of Earth. The first day of Advent in the Western Church is the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30), and it is traditionally the day on which the liturgical year begins. The first clear reference to the season is in a sacramentary in the 6th Century in France. During this period, it was kept as Lent with somewhat less rigor.

In the West, fasting (i.e. days of special devotion-Wednesdays and Fridays as described in the BCP, page 17) is no longer held, although the Gloria in Excelsis is omitted from the Eucharistic Celebration. There is also a tradition for "Rose" Sunday which proceeds from a the Roman Catholic Church where Pope issues a rose on the fourth Sunday of Lent, to lighten that season's rigor, with the same applying in Advent on the Third Sunday of Lent. This tradition is more an issue in the modern Episcopal Church regarding the colors of Vestments and Candles as described below.

Lighting candles in the darkness was not only a practical reality during the earliest church period, it was also associated with the hope of light brought in during spring, summer and early autumn. The Advent wreath developed around this focus on light during a season of increasing darkness.

The Advent wreath is a tradition even more recent than the season of Advent and has very little tie to traditional Eucharistic Liturgy. The only reference to Advent Wreaths in the BCP is on Page 143 in the Additional Directions for Order of Worship for the Evening which explains the ceremonial for use of candles and their lighting in Evening Worship. The Book of Occasional Services (BOS), a supplement to the BCP says, "no special prayers or ceremonial elaboration . . . is desirable." There is, however a note for family devotions in the home with the Advent Wreath as a focus for devotions around the time of the evening meal.

Colors for Advent Candles are always a hot topic. There is no reason for not using four white candles. Many churches have adopted the seasonal liturgical colors for their choice. Therefore, where the Vestments and hangings are purple, the color is purple, where they are blue, the candles are blue, and where they have rose vestments, the candle of the third Sunday of Advent will be rose.


 The Rev. David Lucey