“Take your candle, and go light your world.”
These lyrics from a popular Kathy Troccoli song fit well with the season of Advent wreaths. The first candle of our Advent wreaths will light our worlds soon. The First Sunday of Advent comes a little late this year — on Dec. 1 — three weeks before the shortest day of the year. (And the longest night.)
We’re all familiar with the fact that Advent candles come in two colors: purple and pink. (And a white one as well, if you light a fifth one in the center of some wreaths on Christmas Eve.)
However, did you know that that first Advent candle — and the other three as well — has a name?
OK, it doesn’t have a name like you and I do — Fred, Harry or Sarah. However, the candles of the Advent wreath have names that shed light on certain key figures or events in the Advent/Christmas story.
- The first candle of the Advent wreath is called the Candle of the Prophets, or the Prophecy Candle. It represents all those prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah. It is also sometimes called the Candle of Hope. This is because its light represents the lives of all the ancestors of Jesus, those patriarchs and matriarchs of faith who hoped for the coming of God’s Promised One.
- The second candle of the Advent wreath is called the Candle of Preparation, or the Bethlehem Candle. It represents the peace that Advent brings as we prepare for the Lord’s coming, making his pathway straight in our lives and going to God’s house with rejoicing. The lighting of a second candle also makes our Advent wreath brighter and reminds us of the coming light of the Star of Bethlehem.
- The third candle of Advent is the rose colored candle, which we know means joy. It is lighted on Gaudete Sunday, named for the Latin word for “rejoice,” a proclamation that is heard in the entrance antiphon at Mass. The third candle is called the Shepherds’ Candle for those who waited outside the little town of Bethlehem and who heard the delightful words of the angel: “I bring you tidings of great joy.”
- The fourth candle of Advent is called the Angel’s Candle because it is lit closest to Christmas Eve. The angel of Christmas must have waited, just as we wait now during Advent, ready to announce the good news of the Savior’s coming. This final purple candle is also called the Candle of Love. Not only are we to remember that “God so loved the world,” but we also remember the love of Mary as she awaited the birth of her child.
Those are the four candles of the Advent wreath and their circle of growing light. Sometimes, however, there is a fifth candle, placed in the center of the wreath.
- This final candle, which can be lit on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, is white, not purple or pink. It is meant to represent the pure and spotless Lamb of God. Jesus himself, the Light of God, came into the world. Jesus came to go and light his world — and ours. Forever. The last candle is called the Christ Candle.
Sources: Writ-in-red blogspot; marypages.com; livinghopeomaha.wordpress.com; “Christianity” at about.com; “Why Do Catholics Do That?” and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at elca.org.
Kasten is the author of “Linking Your Beads, The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers,” published by Our Sunday Visitor Press. Her newest book, “Making Sense of Saints,” will be published by OSV in March 2014.