Vatican Corner 12-09-18

The First Sunday of Advent occurs four Sundays before Christmas and is also the beginning of the new liturgical year. The English word Advent comes from the Latin word ad (“to” and venire (“to come”) and so it means “to come to” or “arrival.” Advent actually celebrates two arrivals, the coming of Christ Our Lord as a new-born baby in Bethlehem, but also the Second Coming of Christ when he “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” at the end of human history. Only when we understand this second celebration of Advent do the Mass readings during Advent make sense. Pope Francis said Dec. 1, 2018 that as the Advent season begins, it is a good time to reflect on the Christian call to joyful expectancy, finding hope and consolation in waiting for Christ. “We Christians are called to safeguard and spread the joy of waiting: we await God who loves us infinitely and at the same time we are awaited by Him. In this way, life becomes a great betrothal.” He also said that Advent “is the opportune time to open our hearts and to ask ourselves concrete questions about how we spend our lives and for whom.” Christians must hold fast to their identity, including at Christmas, by keeping the focus on Jesus and fighting the temptation to “paganize” the Christian feast, and do well to remember they are not celebrating “the birth of the Christmas tree,” which is a beautiful sign,” but the birth of Jesus. Advent, he said, is a time to purify one’s focus, remembering that Jesus came into the world to save people from sin, that each person will stand before him at the end of his or her life and that Jesus will come again. The Advent Wreath is an evergreen wreath with four candles representing the four weeks of Advent. For Catholics the evergreen is symbolic of life because its needles are green and alive even as the world grows dark and plants die back. The circular wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God. The gradual increasing light as more candles are burned symbolizes the approach of the Birth of Christ, the Light of the World. The Advent Wreath is a custom relatively unknown in Latin American countries, and even in Italy and Spain. The history of the modern Advent Wreath began in Germany in the 19th century. A Lutheran minister working at a children’s mission school in Hamburg constructed the “first” wreath in 1839. He used a large wooden ring from an old cart wheel and 20 small red candles lit on successive days and 4 large white candles lit on Sundays to help the children see the approach of Christmas. By the end of the 19th century Catholics in Germany had adopted the custom and immigrants in the 1920s and 30s brought the tradition to the United States. Vatican II in the 1960s added the blessing of the wreath before Mass for those countries that requested its inclusion. Only in the last 20 or 30 years have wreaths been introduced in many Catholic churches. Therese Mueller, a lay Catholic leader in 1950 encouraged the use of the Advent Wreath in Catholic Homes and she is responsible for changing the color of the candles in the US from red, which is still used in Germany and by Protestants today to the purple and pink candles, in order to match the liturgical colors of penitence and royal kingship.