Wreaths symbolize eternity because they are in circular form, without a beginning or an end. The plants and leaves used in the Advent wreath also have significance: laurel or bay represents the victory of God over the Devil, fir and yew are evergreen, so signify everlasting life with God, the prickly holly leaves represent the crown of thorns, the berries the drops of blood shed by Christ, the clinging ivy reminds us that we need to cling to God for support, fir cones represent the Resurrection, rosemary was thought to be Our Lady's favourite plant (Rose of Mary), and is also known as the remembrance herb, inviting us to remember the birth of Our Lord at Christmas.
A special form of wreath in Catholic tradition is the Advent Wreath, lit each evening during Advent..
"Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which are inserted four candles (advent candles). According to tradition, three of the candles are violet and the fourth is rose. However, four violet or white candles may also be used" (Book of Blessings 1510).
The rose candle is lit the third Sunday of Advent, for this colour anticipates and symbolizes the Christmas joy announced in the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: "Rejoice" (Latin, Gaudete). For this reason the Third Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday, and rose color vestments are permitted.
The Advent Wreath represents the long time when people lived in spiritual darkness, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Light of the world. Each year in Advent people wait once again in darkness for the coming of the Lord, His historical coming in the mystery of Bethlehem, His final coming at the end of time, and His special coming in every moment of grace.
BLESSING OF THE ADVENT WREATH
Father: Our help is in the name of the Lord. All: Who hath made Heaven and earth.
Father: Let us pray. O God, by Whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Through Christ Our Lord. All: Amen. (Sprinkles wreath with holy water.)
LIGHTING OF THE ADVENT WREATH
In family practice, the Advent wreath is most appropriately lit at dinner time after the blessing of the food. A traditional prayer service using the Advent wreath proceeds as follows:
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
On the First Sunday of Advent, the father of the family blesses the wreath, praying: O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth Thy blessing upon this wreath, and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” He then continues for each of the days of the first week of Advent, O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The youngest child then lights one purple candle.
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
During the second week of Advent, the father prays: O Lord, stir up our hearts that we may prepare for Thy only begotten Son, that through His coming we may be made worthy to serve Thee with pure minds. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The oldest child then lights the purple candle from the first week plus one more purple candle.
THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT
During the third week of Advent, the father prays: O Lord, we beg Thee, incline Thy ear to our prayers and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The mother then lights the two previously lit purple candles plus the rose candle.
FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Finally, the father prays during the fourth week of Advent, O Lord, stir up Thy power, we pray Thee, and come; and with great might help us, that with the help of Thy grace, Thy merciful forgiveness may hasten what our sins impede. Who livest and reignest forever. Amen.” The father then lights all of the candles of the wreath.
Every week as another candle is lit, the light around the wreath grows bigger which means that the birthday of the Light of the World is coming soon. On Christmas Day many families place a white candle, for Christ, in the centre of the wreath.