Yesterday marked the beginning of the new liturgical year and the onset of Advent – the four weeks of spiritual preparation and waiting in anticipation of the birth of Christ. Advent is a Latin term adventus meaning, “to come.” This year, I think we can all relate to Advent a bit better – we know full well what it feels like to wait, so we should be more fully able to immerse ourselves in the Advent spirit.
From 1990 to 1993, I was teaching first and second grade at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School in Twentynine Palms, California. It was a very small, struggling school, which has since closed down, but I learned a great deal about our Catholic faith at this outpost in the desert. Advent was a time of penance, prayer, and fasting. Just like at St. Michael’s, we taught our students about the traditions of the season to help them spiritually prepare for the coming of Jesus. We made decorations for our Jesse Tree, depicting the ancestors of Christ; we formed paper Advent Wreaths and glued on purple and pink candles; we recited the “O Antiphons” beginning on December 17; and we sang Advent hymns. We did not, however, decorate for Christmas or sing Christmas carols during Advent. Advent was Advent and Christmas was Christmas, and the two seasons were kept sacredly separate.
It was during this time that my family embraced the tradition of the Advent Wreath in our home. This custom originated in Germany in the 16th century. Evergreen branches are shaped in a perfect circle to symbolize God’s eternity, and four candles, representing one of the virtues Jesus brings us, rest in its branches. The candles are lit every night during Advent – one candle the first week, then an additional candle each successive week. I had two children at the time, so my eldest son would light the first candle – the candle of Hope. My second son lit the second candle – the candle of Love. When my daughter came along, she was assigned to candle number 3, which appropriately is pink – the candle of Joy. Finally, a few years later when my youngest son was born, he was assigned the fourth candle – the candle of Peace. We also added a fifth white candle in the center of the wreath, known as Christ’s Candle, signifying to us that Jesus is the Light of the World. The Advent Wreath is a visible reminder of progression, and as each additional candle is lit, there is an increase in light, bringing us closer to our final destination.
A familiar ice-breaker game is “Would You Rather?” Most of the questions are benign, and some are pretty funny, but they do get you to think about your response and the reason why you chose it. A few examples are:
- Would you rather lose the ability to read or lose the ability to speak?
- Would you rather have a golden voice or a silver tongue?
- Would you rather be covered in fur or covered in scales?
- Would you rather your only mode of transportation be a donkey or a giraffe?
So, as we begin this new Liturgical Year, I pose to you the following, “Would You Rather” question for reflection:
If Jesus were to grant you just one virtue this Advent Season, would you rather it be Hope, Love, Joy, or Peace, and WHY?
I’ve picked mine. Fingers crossed!