Of all the traditions within the Catholic Church, the celebration of Advent with Advent candles is one that unifies families in devotion and worship during one of the Holiest times of the year.
The word "Advent translates from Latin to mean "the coming." As early as the fourth century, Christians were celebrating Advent - originally as a ritual of preparation before baptism. As time progressed to the Middle Ages, Advent became the preparation rite for The Second Coming. The practice included fasting before the Feast of Advent which is why the season is known as "A Little Lent."
Later the observance grew to include anticipation of The Nativity on Christmas; today, we also celebrate the entry of Christ into our lives through His Grace and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
The season of Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew The Apostle (which occurs at the end of November) and stretches through the following three Sundays, culminating on Christmas Eve.
Advent Candles are lit weekly, each celebrating a different part of the observance:
- First Advent Candle - purple -- represents hope
- Second Advent Candle - purple -- signifies the preparation to receive Christ
- Third Advent Candle - rose or pink -- speaks of joy
- Fourth Advent Candle - purple -- stands for love
These candles are often displayed on an Advent Wreath and sometimes include a fifth white Advent Candle which is lit on Christmas Eve, representing Christ.
Many churches light a new Advent Candle each Sunday, but families can integrate a bonding devotional practice into their lives during the season through candle lighting each week as well.
Following the Blessing of the Wreath, traditionally, the first Advent Candle is lit by the youngest child. The next is lit by the oldest child. The mother lights the candle on the third week and the father lights the fourth candle. Often, this is done at dinner time when the family can gather for devotion and prayer.
Advent candles come in a series of styles, including battery operated, which are helpful when teaching young children the tradition. These objects of devotion help point us to a deeper relationship with Christ during this special season.