By: Michelle Gallo
Master of Arts in Ministry Student
Saint John's Seminary
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
I vividly remember excitedly entering through the church doors as a child on a cold November Sunday. The first purple candle flickering on the large Advent wreath. Nearby stood the creche where Mary and Joseph peered into the empty manger where Jesus would be placed four weeks later, on Christmas Eve. As each week came and went, we’d see another of the candles lit and anticipation grew for the big event—Jesus’ birthday and of course, the hopes of receiving that one special gift I’d written to Santa for, provided I have been a good girl all year.
Years later that same anticipation and excitement still grips me, even more so when I enter through the doors at my current parish and see that first purple candle lit. As a child, I remember wanting the weeks to fly by so I could get to the tree and the presents and celebration. Now, adulthood responsibilities and the rush to get everything ready for Christmas can overtake the true meaning of just what we are preparing for. With each passing year, it becomes clear the importance of slowing down during this time, to prepare and reflect on the extraordinary event we remember each December 25. Each week’s lighting of the Advent wreath provides us with a chance to focus on a different aspect of our preparation.
The first purple Advent candle signifies hope and is traditionally called the “Prophet’s Candle”. Lighting this candle we recall the prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, as he waits in hope for the arrival of the Messiah. Each one of us waits in hope to discover how Jesus can come into our hearts to heal any brokenness and give us hope for life eternal.
The second purple candle represents faith. It is called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. We join in that journey with Mary and Joseph and do our best to prepare a place in our hearts and minds for Jesus.
The third candle is pink or rose colored and symbolizes joy. It is called the “Shepard’s Candle.” Otherwise known as Gaudete Sunday, we are reminded of the joy the world experienced at the birth of Jesus and the joy we experience every year when we recall this blessed event.
On the fourth week of Advent, we light the final purple candle which symbolizes peace. This candle is called the “Angels Candle” reminding us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.” Lighting this last candle is a time when we truly feel that peace, the frantic pace of the busy preparation season is winding down and the thought of the Lord being with us soon give us an inner peace—a peace that our busy and battered world craves and truly needs.
The Advent wreath is a tradition whose purple candles remind us of penance, prayer, and sacrifice. Advent is a time to review our lives, make a good confession, delve deeper into prayer to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and to make some sort of sacrifice to brighten the lives of others—perhaps buying and wrapping gifts for a family who may be struggling, to make their holiday a joyful one.
Finally, after our preparation comes to an end, we find ourselves on Christmas morning, joyfully singing and praising the arrival of Jesus at Christmas Mass. The creche is complete with baby Jesus comfortably wrapped in swaddling clothes as Mary and Joseph gaze at Him in awe. The time comes for us to receive the ultimate gift that is unwrapped at every Mass, Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist--a gift better than any I ever wished for all those years ago.