Integrating the Advent wreath into the Eucharist

The Advent wreath, used as a visual focus during Mass, adds variety and atmosphere to the liturgy of the season, writes Michael H. Marchal.

As a teacher, I have always appreciated the power of a good audio-visual. Because of the diversity of learning styles, engaging students in multi-sensory ways is a crucial tool. As a liturgist, I know that the same is true of communal prayer, that ‘full, conscious, and active participation’ requires something to engage with and not just contemplate. I therefore find the developing use of the Advent wreath in Catholic churches to be both an interesting example of how a good audio-visual catches on and an opportunity for its further integration into the liturgy of the season.

The origins of the Advent wreath can be traced to northern Europe where the winters are long and dark and where there are many folk traditions centred around light, for example, the St Lucy Crown in Scandinavia. It was only in the early nineteenth century, though, that a German Lutheran pastor created a wreath with both large white candles (for the Sundays) and small red candles (for the weekdays) in order to teach his young parishioners how to count the days of preparation for Christmas. As the custom spread, the number of candles, their colour, etc. varied, but the basic concept proved so popular that by the end of that century even German Catholics had such wreaths in their homes.

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