Diocesan News

Advent Candles Help Prepare for Christ, Light of the World

The candles and wreaths of Advent have a significant meaning. (Photo: Waldemar Brandt/Unsplash)

WINDSOR TERRACE — Advent is upon us, and parishes have placed their wreaths with four candles on the altar in keeping with the Catholic Church’s teachings. But there are many Catholics unaware of the significance of their deeper meaning.

Think of it as a four-week preparation for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The simple explanation is this: Advent signals the start of the liturgical year. 

The first Sunday of Advent comes four Sundays before Christmas, so the Advent wreath has four candles. A wreath made out of evergreen leaves, a tradition since the Middle Ages, signifies the hope of eternal life that Jesus brings to us. The wreath also serves as a symbol of God’s infinite love.

The four candles — three purple and one rose-colored — are there to serve as a reminder that Jesus is the light of the world. Many Catholics believe that the purple candles stand for prayer, fasting, and giving to others. The rose candles, which provide a subtle contrast to their bold purple counterparts, symbolize joy.

Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, which this year fell on Nov. 29, one candle is lit each Sunday until all four candles are glowing. A purple candle is lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays. The third Sunday, called Gaudete Sunday, is when the rose-colored candle is lit.

Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice. On Gaudete Sunday, the priest wears a rose-colored vestment at Mass.

Churches all over the Diocese of Brooklyn are teaching children in their religious education programs about Advent and what it means.

“We talk about the traditions and the significance of them. It’s not just the wreath and candles. It’s the why,” said Rebecca Newman-Mahoney, the coordinator of faith formation at St. Sebastian  Church, Woodside.

“The colors of the vestments change, and we need to change as well. We try to emphasize the point that the relationship you have with Jesus is personal, and you should come up with a concrete plan on how you’re going to make this Advent personal,” Newman-Mahoney told The Tablet.

Patrick and Karin Sweeney, husband and wife catechists at St. Sebastian, got creative this year and developed a PowerPoint presentation to teach Advent lessons. “Kids are looking for an explanation of Advent,” Karin Sweeney told The Tablet. The PowerPoint is a great teaching tool, she said, because it offers visuals that make the lesson easier to understand.

The Sweeneys, who have been catechists for 30 years, came up with the PowerPoint lesson after Christina Penaloza, the parish youth minister, asked them to make a special presentation.

The Sweeneys enjoy talking to children in the parish’s religious education as well as students in the Rite Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program about Advent candles.“Christmas is celebrated during the darkest part of the year. The candles are there to show us that Jesus is bringing light to the world,” Patrick Sweeney told The Tablet.