By Editor, Dec 20 2017 08:00AM
The Church Times recently had a cartoon depicting people arguing about the colours of the candles in the Advent wreath. In St Martin’s ours are purple, symbolising our need for penitence, except for the fourth one which is pink, and symbolises a lightening of the mood in the now nearer anticipation of Jesus’ birth.
Another pattern is to have a purple candle this first week indicating the arrival of this solemn season of preparation as we anticipate both the birth of Jesus and His second coming as Judge of the world. We hear the solemn warning of the patriarchs and prophets as well as their note of hope.
In the second week the candle is red, because for many centuries the second Sunday in Advent has been Bible Sunday. Its emphasis has been on the Scriptures because the Collect and Epistle for this Sunday, from 1662 and long before, have made us focus on them as a special gift from God who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. We express our grateful recognition of this in many ways and especially in Ps 119 “Thy word is a lantern unto my path”. The red candle reminds us of the flame of that lantern.
The third Sunday in Advent is anciently known as Gaudete Sunday. Its message is that we should Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice. (Gaudete is the Latin word for Rejoice) Those who know the Book of Common Prayer well will know that after the Reformation the Church of England used this reading from Philippians 4 the next week, week 4! But halfway through the season in the older liturgy the mood is lightened and a pink candle is appropriate.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent the birth of Jesus is very near, and the focus is on Mary bearing God within her and soon to give birth. The candle this week is blue, traditionally Mary’s colour. In the seven days before Christmas the antiphons preceding the Magnificat all begin with “O”. The capital or great O can also reminds us of Mary at this time. Being “great with child” is how we usually referred to someone well on in their pregnancy, especially when nearing the time of their delivery. The antiphons from December 17th are referred to as the great O antiphons and we heard some of them at the Advent Carol Service on Sunday. The whole collection is O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Sun, O King of the nations, and on December 23rd O Emmanuel. Readers will recognise them too from the great Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel”.
However you observe and celebrate this season may it bring you closer to our Saviour.