Advent wreaths

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Greetings from Down Under!

The Advent wreaths in many parishes have three purple candles that are lit on the first, second and fourth Sundays and a rose candle that is lit on the third Sunday.

Some will explain that this is because the third Sunday of Advent is different. It is “Gaudete” Sunday, fromGaudete (Rejoice), the first word of the entrance antiphon for the day. With the entrance antiphon usually replaced by a hymn, that reasoning is lost on most people.

Now that Advent no longer has a penitential focus, it is not necessary to set one Sunday apart from the rest for a bit of “light relief”. In any case, it is not the third Sunday of Advent that is different from the rest. It is the 4th  Sunday of Advent when there is a marked shift in the theme of the readings and prayers of the Mass towards Mary and the events immediately preceding Christ’s birth.

It is the light growing in intensity during Advent as an additional candle is lit each week that is the symbol, not the colour of the candle.Why do you think it is that so many parish Art and Environment ministers and Church supplies stores are yet to get that message?


A: Always a treat to hear from you.

Among Catholics in the US, the three-purple-and-one-pink candle tradition runs deep. When I was doing hispanic ministry, though, I learned that several members of our parish thought that the pink candle was to be lighted last, for some of the reasons that you suggest. At the fourth week, the season is at its end. The light is coming.

Other Christians here commonly keep a 5th candle in the middle, a white one, the Christ candle, lighted on Christmas Day.

Pope Francis’s wreath has four red candles.

All this shows a flexible tradition.

Beneath your comments is an important observation that applies to both Advent and Lent. The days set aside for rose vesture in the past did indeed link to the entrance antiphon and signaled a halfway point of a season of penance and anticipation. The entrance antiphons are still in the Missal. The post-Vatican II Lent lectionary completely reconceived Sundays 3, 4 and 5, so the rose vesture makes less sense if takes one’s cues on Lent from the readings.

Even though few people experience the actual entrance antiphon for the Third Sunday of Advent, the collect for that Mass was completely replaced in the post-Vatican II missal. Now it bears a strong theme of rejoicing. This particular prayer comes from the 6th-century Rotulus of Ravenna, which had been lost and rediscovered only in the 19th century. The collect we hear on the Third Sunday of Advent now is the oldest Advent prayer we know of.

How wonderful that it has been given a place where it can enliven the prayer of the community with full voice. (I talk about this in my forthcoming book Ars Celebrandi from Liturgical Press.)

In Year C, the second reading for the Third Sunday of Advent is the entire passage from which the traditional entrance antiphon comes. So once every three years, people hear the full message of rejoicing on week three.
The rose vestments are optional. Some like the tradition. Others don’t.

Your point about the 4th Sunday’s prayers and readings is on target. They prepare us to hear the Christmas story. It comes, as you well know, during the week in the northern hemisphere when nature starts to reward us with an increase of light from the sun every day. Your post proves that even when the days start to grow shorter Down Under, the Australian church continues to shine with bright insight.