Sunday, December 02, 2012

Advent Wreathes: Just say No

Where do these appear in the Roman Missal?

Being a curmudgeon, I obviously don't like these things. I am sure they have something to do with worship of Odin or some foul pagan deity. They might be very pretty on an Advent dinner table but they really do not belong in Church and if they should be smuggled in by someone from the flower arranging group, they have no place in the Litiurgy, and you will probably find the ame people have brought in Japanese Knot Weed and Ash Dieback Disease.

It would certainly be an abuse to acknowledge one in the celebration of Mass! We cannot add, to or subtract  from the approved rites of the Church. Lighting candles on one of these during Mass would be an abuse!

But Faaaather? I know I am being hard but brace yourself, just say, "No"!


Victoria said...

I really like the Advent wreath in my church.

Thomas Beyer said...

Really? I don't see any reason why an advent wreath (bare, i.e. with no greenery until Christmas, of course) can't be treated like office lights at the Mass and lighted last. Even if they do stem ultimately from some pagan notion, surely they've been rescued by now. And besides, isn't it well within the custom of the Church to baptize pagan symbols in the light of Christ wherever possible?

There is a difference between being a liturgical rigorist (which I applaud) and stifling legitimate pious custom when it's consonant with the Liturgy. Advent wreaths are an approved devotion and could even be deemed a sacramental. Such things contribute to the Faith being lived out in people's lives every day, and I think there's something lovely about establishing such a concrete connection between the altar of God and the family table, both complete with wreaths to await the coming of the Lord.

Matthew Roth said...

We just light it before Mass. Father might do something before he reverences the altar, but at the first Mass of the weekend.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am not being a rigoriat, just faithful.
For Catholics this is an innovation, we should look at why we have this need, especially in a Liturgical season that should be marked by more austerity, rather than adding innovations. Presumably the need stems from a mitigation of authentic Advent signs.

Most Catholics can count up to four without the use of candles!

Unknown said...

It's true that the Missal doesn't include the Advent wreath but at least one liturgical book does. The "Book of Blessings" includes an "Order for Blessing an Advent Wreath" within Mass on the First Sunday of Advent.

This blessing doesn't appear in the Latin typical edition. It is one of the additional blessings developed by the US bishops' conference and confirmed by the Holy See.

According to the Liturgy Office website, "The edition of the Book of Blessings produced for use in the Dioceses of United States of America has been authorised by our own Bishops' Conference for interim use in England and Wales."

Fr Ray Blake said...

Father, America is the land of innovation, not everything from the US is good, not everything that maybe blessed is to be used in the Sacred Liturgy.

Unknown said...


I make no argument for or against their use. It can certainly be argued that their use during the liturgy is an innovation.

Nonetheless, I think that it is wrong to say that "It would certainly be an abuse to acknowledge one in the celebration of Mass" and "Lighting candles on one of these during Mass would be an abuse!"

This is what the "Book of Blessings" says (I have emphasized the portions which make it clear that the Advent Wreath can be lit during Mass):

"1509... The blessing of an Advent Wreath takes place on the First Sunday of Advent or on the evening before the First Sunday of Advent. The blessing may be celebrated during Mass, a celebration of the word of God, or Evening Prayer...

1512 If the Advent Wreath is to be used in church, it should be of sufficient size to be visible to the congregation. It may be suspended from the ceiling or placed on a stand. If it is placed in the presbyterium, it should not interfere with the celebration of the liturgy, nor should it obscure the altar, lectern, or chair.

1513 When the Advent Wreath is used in church, on the Second and succeeding Sundays of Advent the candles are lighted either before Mass begins or immediately before the opening prayer; no additional rites or prayers are used."

Patricius said...

I blame "Blue Peter"!
I seem to recall reading somewhere that the practice arose in Lutheran circles.
It strikes me as, at worst, harmless and, at best, a visual assertion of Advent against the commercial imperative to start Christmas early.

Colonel Mustard said...

I agree with you Father Ray, especially when the sacred liturgy is already rich with symbols. These innovations are much like a modern day Oak of Thor, and are wrongly worshipped.

I agree, however, that they are a pious custom - like crib worship - and shouldn't be given so much prominence, especially during the Mass. It's another example of de-sacralising the sanctuary with items that correctly, as you say, belong on a dining table.

Mayhap a happy compromise would be the blessing of an advent wreath after a pentitential service at the end of ordinal time - using blessed candlemas candles - and placed in the back of a lady chapel, or suchlike, during the season.

Katie said...

I live in a german speaking village in Italy called Mariahimmelfahrt or Mary's Ascension to Heaven. Ok we are mountain people and very rustic but we can also pass as normal in a city. In this area, and I'm sure this is true of South Germany as a whole, Advent wreaths in the Church and in the house are a very old custom. THEY ARE NOT,AT LEAST IN ORIGIN, AMERICAN!! At home quite a few families say Advent prayers which the parish has put together before dinner with candle/s lit. Another custom is that we have a 'RORATE' mass every evening at 8 Advent at which a different musical group in the parish plays each evening. We play and sing German Advent music and always light the wreath. Even the children like the Rorate a lot, esecially the 'O''s on which the PP does a meditation. During Advent many people (not all as in years gone by)fast from wine, beer, cakes, meat, in fact it's a bit like Lent. Then Christmas is celebrated from 24th to Epiphany.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes, they are of Northern European origin, originally domestic but spread into Church via Lutherans in the US.

If they are going to be in Church the Narthex or porch is the best place.

I hardly think the US Bishops should ever be taken as a source of liturgical best practice, especially from the Weakland/Mahoney period!

If these things are on the sanctuary the distract from other, official Advent signs, which are all "absences" in the Roman Rite rather than additions -except with music.

Cormac said...

Forgive me for being naive, but surely all aspects of liturgy were at some point in time "innovations"?

Jeremiah Methuselah said...

The Advent wreath is supposed to have originated with a German Lutheran minister. Mine, always home-made at zero cost, it’s just a circular shape bound (wire coat hanger) with pine leaves, on the front door to show people Advent’s here, not Christmas. It comes down after we return from Midnight Mass, when the Christmas decorations go up and stay for quite a while.

I always respect your blog deeply Father Blake, but, confirmed hard-line ortho as I am, I don’t see harm in this ?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Jeremiah, front doors are the place for them
but just between you and me, I have never destroyed an AW. I am just being a little provocative and trying to get people to think about their use, and yes, whether we need them but also whether they tend to overshadow other important Advent signs of the Roman Rite: purple, absence of the Gloria, the silence of the organ and the texts of the Mass itself, absence of relics, lace etc.

Fr Ray Blake said...

And the change in gear in Marian devotions.

Ben Trovato said...

I like an Advent Wreath - but only at home. They are great for children, at evening prayers, to remind them that we are in Advent. We sing O Come O Come Emmanuel, recite the collect from the Sunday's (EF) Mass, and sing the Alma Redemptoris, in addition to family evening prayers. I think that is all additive.

However, they are nothing to do with the formal liturgy of the Church, and I agree should not feature on the sanctuary. But with the stripping away of all traditional rite and ceremonial, it is not surprising people have started to fill the void...

Nonni said...

Result of pagans and symbolize the worship of Odin? I hope I'm just not understanding your sense of humor, but commentary like that undermines your substantive points.

Fr Ray Blake said...


Sue Sims said...

Ever since reading 'The Story of the Trapp Family Singers', Maria von Trapp's book on which 'The Sound of Music' was based, I've loved the idea of the Advent Wreath (and I read it when I was 13, living at home in a secular Jewish family). She relates how she introduced the Advent wreath - an Austrian Catholic custom, certainly not just German Lutheran) - as one of the things which helped to make the Faith more real and personal to the von Trapp family. I didn't convert for a long time after that, but ever since I came into the Church, we've had an Advent wreath in the front room, and light the appropriate candles each Sunday. (Just lit the first one, in fact!)

As for church, I'm neutral. If you think it's wrong, I'm happy to go along with that, but refuse to get annoyed. (There are so many other things to expend irritation on...)

Thomas Beyer said...

I'm not so sure that the fundamental principle behind the Liturgy should be one of necessity. There are an awful lot of things in the Mass that are unnecessary, even after the reforms. Shouldn't we be more inclined to focus on whether or not the Liturgy is beautiful? And pleased to include whatever befits it as the worship of God? Maniples are a prime example. They haven't served a functional purpose in quite a long time, but they're to be valued as a purely decorative and ceremonial element.

As you say, people are certainly able to count weeks on their own without the aid of candles, but I find something attractive to a symbol which does so in a sacramental and ceremonial way. Especially given that the nature of the season itself is so intimately bound up with waiting and the passage of time.

As for them having originated in Lutheranism. Surely the Holy Father has taught us that there are things to be esteemed in extra-Roman traditions.

Also, not all innovation is evil in and of itself. The Liturgy must change over time, and it will regardless of efforts to impede it anyway. We should be concerned to make sure that the changes that do occur do so in a spirit of continuity, of course but his is no reason to despise them altogether. I see nothing in the Advent wreath that is inconsistent with the character of the traditional Liturgy. On the contrary, in my view it upholds many qualities we have lost sight of in recent decades.

JMO (Michael) Vyse said...

Christmas is being kept earlier and earlier, pushing Advent more & more out of the way: keeping all kinds of Advent traditions - including the Advent Wreath - is a kind of 'counter-blast' to all this.

GOR said...

You say you were just being provocative, Father? Well you are following in the Holy Father’s footsteps – though I don’t think that’s what Pope Benedict had in mind when he said there was no donkey in the stable at Bethlehem.

Poor Holy Father, he can’t win. He writes an illuminating book about the infancy of Jesus and all the media get out of it is that our Cribs are not historically accurate… It’s as if he said there’s no Santa Claus!

Of course, St. Francis might disagree with the Holy Father on this, as he is credited with the idea for the Crib in 1293. And he did specify that the manger be placed “with an ox and an ass standing by…” So maybe St. Francis had some special insight into this – and he was rather fond of animals…

Annie said...

As a U.S. Catholic I have to disagree that this comes from the Mahoney/Weakland period. I was born in 1950 and remember Advent wreaths in Church when I was a small child. They were always placed down and to the left of the altar and each week the priest would light a candle - the first week there was just one lit, the second week two lit, etc. He usually did it after the sermon - he would walk down the steps and light the candle and then bless the wreath with holy water and then go back up the steps. People, of course, also had Advent wreaths at home that they would light each week.

Jeremiah Methuselah said...

Reverend Father,

Phew ! Thank you, I feel better for that - and your secret is safe with me. LOL. I would hate to cross swords with a fully orthodox priest …

My motivation for putting the simple wreath on the front door is , as it were, a way of showing my disgust of the rabid commercialisation of the Holy Christmastime, an emotion we all share. If it stimulates (provokes) just one person to cast a kind thought to the Holy Family, it’s worth the effort, puny though it is. I am surrounded by lapsed Catholics and Protestants, but this year I have noticed a huge jump in the cribs and crèches for sale in the big stores, some of them quite small and inexpensive. It’s very encouraging.

The liturgical changes emphasise the importance of the way the Mass is at the centre of our worship.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am not saying that, I am saying the addition to the Book of Blessings does.

Victoria said...

10Things you need to know about Advent:

3. Is Advent a Penitential Season?

We often think of Advent as a penitential season because the liturgical colour for Advent is violet, like the colour of Lent, which is a penitential season.

However, in reality, Advent is not a penitential season. Surprise!

According to the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Although local authorities can establish additional penitential days, this is a complete listing of the penitential days and times of the Latin Church as a whole, and Advent is not one of them.

. How Are Churches Decorated During Advent?

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal notes:

During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts [GIRM 305].

8. How Is Music Performed During Advent?

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal notes:

In Advent the use of the organ and other musical instruments should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only in order to support the singing. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts [GIRM 313].

gemoftheocean said...

Victoria, Akin has a bat in the belfry -- Laetare Sunday is the THIRD Sunday of Advent -- why he twice makes a mistake in calling it the "4th" Sunday, I have no idea.

Fr. Blake -- why do I get the impression of some idiot EuroPEON had come up with the custom of Advent wreaths in churches in "650AD" you wouldn't have a problem with it? Sometimes your rants come off as plain Anti-American. Provocative my behind. We already have to put up with Obama being anti-American - we don't need Euros piling on.

Capreolus said...

FAther Blake: Wonderful to know there's another priest that is as diffident (to put it mildly) about the Advent wreath as I am. Thank you!

Victoria: historically and in the "usus antiquior" Advent is certainly penitential--very much so. Besides, saying that the use of the organ is to be appropriate to the "character of the season" (or whatever) just sounds like so much of the double-speak that abounded with the whole-sale changes in the Liturgy, Catholic customs, etc. What, it's subdued but joyful? A preparation but a celebration? No wonder so few people take those kinds of prescriptions seriously.

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