The liturgical year is the Church’s arrangement of the Sundays, seasons and feasts during one 12-month period beginning in December. The liturgical year starts with the season of Advent, the four-week period before Christmas. The word 'Advent' itself means waiting. For us, Advent is a time of preparation, prayer and hope.
An important Christian ritual during this time is the lighting of the candles on an Advent wreath. This symbol, a circle of entwined evergreen branches, holds four candles, three purple and one pink. Each week of Advent, we light one more candle. Evergreens have always represented rebirth, and candles, with their light and warmth, are powerful symbols of hope and faith.
We include a prayer for each week's lighting of the candles for those gathering around the wreath at home. The candles represent stages in our spiritual preparations for Christmas.
First week of advent
As we pray and prepare ourselves, we think of Mary preparing for that first Christmas. During Advent, we too prepare to give birth to the God within us. During this process, let us spend time with Mary as she "ponders these things in her heart"...
"To everything there is a season
A time to be born..."
Mary, we are on a journey. This is a time in which we need to be nourished.
In periods of silence, we listen to the voices within. We need a space to pray, and time to be. It is so easy to let all the Christmas noise and busyness distract us from hearing and listening to the God within.
This week, lighting the first candle each day, we will create a space in the silence for God to enter.
Prayer: Be with us on this journey, Lord. Comfort us in both the light and the darkness.
Second week of advent
"Come, Lord Jesus!"
Mary, the time seems so long as we wait.
With this second candle, there is more light as we gradually discover God's presence within us.
Time is moving so slowly - there are moments when it seems to stand still. Sometimes, we wish this waiting period were over. And yet there is a quiet joy and expectation in this experience. Our lives will change. What will the future bring?
Prayer: Help us focus on joy and expectation, Lord. Help us let go of the rest.
Third week of advent
"She (Mary) went to Zechariah's house, where she greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, her baby moved within her."
Mary, just as you reached out to Elizabeth, we reach out to others.
Just as you visited Elizabeth, we welcome family and friends into our homes to share this experience. We light the pink candle together to celebrate the joyful anticipation of this season.
The third candle is one of joy — so much awaits us.
Prayer: Help us to reach out to others, to share this wonderful journey with them, Lord.
Fourth week of advent
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour."
Mary, our journey is almost over, and yet it is just beginning!
We join in your hymn of praise to God for what God has done in you and through you during this time of waiting. It has been a journey of faith, love and vulnerability at times. God has been with us every moment.
With the light of the four candles, we can see more clearly. We can see the light of Christ shining through. We can relate to those words in the song "Day by Day" from the musical Godspell: "...see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly..."
Prayer: "God who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is God's name." — Luke 1:49
By Jacqueline de Verteuil CSJ