Non Solum: The Spirit of Advent

Today’s Question: The Spirit of Advent

Advent is a time of anticipation and joyful waiting for the celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord at Christmas. The nativity scene for St. Peter’s square arrives in the coming days and most of our churches are already decorated for the season. Part of the joy of Advent is the decorations, the Advent hymns and carols, and the general spirit in the air. Central to the spirit of Advent in many of our parishes is the advent wreath. Does your community put up an advent wreath? If so, how does your community introduce it on the first Sunday of Advent?

But the advent wreath is not the only symbol of the season. Often along with the advent wreath come the door wreaths, garlands, and trees. Does your community put up any other decorations? What principles guide the way your community puts up its advent decorations?

However, decorations are not the only thing which creates and fosters the advent spirit. The music, prayers, and other variants for the season also provide wonderful opportunities for creating the proper spirit of the season. What things does your community do to keep the joyful anticipation of the season alive? Please comment below.

Moderator’s note: “Non solum” is a feature at Pray Tell for our readership community to discuss practical liturgical issues. The title comes from article 11 of the Vatican II liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: “Therefore there is to be vigilance among holy pastors that in liturgical action not only are laws for valid and licit celebration to be observed, but that the faithful should participate knowingly, actively, and fruitfully.” (Ideo sacris pastoribus advigilandum est ut in actione liturgica non solum observentur leges ad validam et licitam celebrationem, sed ut fideles scienter, actuose et fructuose eandem participent.) May the series contribute to good liturgical practice – not only following the law, but especially grasping the spirit of the liturgy!


  1. My parish puts up outdoor wreaths and indoor unadorned greens along with the Advent wreath. No flowers, no trees, no nativity scene, and no Christmas carols until after the 4th Sunday in Advent (occasionally there will be flowers on Gaudete Sunday, that’s the 3rd Sunday btw). We have no ceremony with the Advent wreath at all, and stands in the back of the church by the font, so it is seen when people are coming in. The candle(s) on it are lit when the altar candles are lit for Mass. We also always have a service of Advent lessons and carols in the afternoon on the first Sunday in Advent.

  2. We have a beautiful Advent wreath near the altar. Families or singles take turns lighting the candle(s) at the beginning of each Mass. The sanctuary also features what will become our Christmas tree, but during Advent it serves as our Jesse tree adorned with its distinctive symbols. We encourage members to use this as a model for their Jesse trees so that we all can celebrate these distinctive seasons. On the 3rd Sunday of Advent we hang the greens but minus the red bows which come at Christmas. In the commons area we have a “Giving Tree” adorned with various colored pieces of paper each bearing the name of a birthday gift for Jesus living in the least of his brothers and sisters. The gifts benefit residents of the city rescue mission, unwed mothers and babies, and the adult mentally disabled at a group home. We don’t even sing O Come…. Emmanuel until the days for the O antiphons.

  3. Our Advent wreath is on the altar – off to side of the presider’s chair and on the front edge – and we have a candle lighting ceremony including a blessing with water and a brief prayer the first week. We will do the lighting and prayer each week. We did it this year after the homily and before any of the Eucharistic liturgy, but in the past I think we did it just before the readings. There isn’t much else in the way of decorations – we are anticipating, not fully realizing – but I don’t think they plan to wait until Christmas Eve; probably some greenery the third week, and then full bore decorating after the 4th Sunday.

  4. In 1965 I visiting Mount Savior Monastery in Elmira, NY. Guests were expected to join the community in Labora as well Ora, and I was given a large metal hoop and asked to prepare the Advent Wreath.

    Not being sure where the wreath would be hung, I happened to pass the Prior, Dom Damasus Winzen. When I inquired whether the wreath would be suspended in the church or the crypt of the church (by the Marian statue) I thought Dom Damasus was going to have a heart attack. “The Advent wreath is a domestic custom, it doesn’t belong in the chapel. It will be hung in the community room.”

    I went to work out behind the barn and made a nice full wreath from varieties of pines, spruce, pine cones and large white candles. (I still have a gracious note from Br. David Steindl-Rast thanking me.)

  5. I serve a parish that is blessed with excellent artists and artisans. We have an English Gothic style church, and a previous worship director installed an electric winch in the attic directly over the font. We hang the wreath from it. The first Sunday we bless the wreath as the close of the intercessions, as in the Book of Blessings. A family then lights the candle and the wreath is slowly raised as it is incensed. The following Sundays as mass begins a family with a taper goes in silence with the ministers to the back of church where the candle is lit and the wreath is raised. The ministers then circle the church with incense during Creator of the Stars, ending by circling the altar with incense. Mass then begins with the sign of the cross and greeting.

    The crèche (empty of all figures) with bare fir trees (we bow to the fire marshal and use artificial trees) stands in the gathering space at the back. The large reredos of the old high altar (which frames a beautiful red and gold mosaic of Francis of Assisi) is hung with a fabric triptych painted in the style of medieval book illuminations. Closed, during Advent, it depicts ancient Jerusalem under a night sky with full moon in deep blues and ivories. Open for Chrismas, it depicts the New Jerusalem in the reds and golds of the mosaic it covers. The sun in the sky above it is a smaller version of the Pantocrater that fills the reredos at Easter. The city is filled with buildings from all over the world, including our own city. People always enjoy trying to figure out what all the buildings are.

    The lighting is noticibly dimmer, the incense is one only used during Advent, the gospel is proclaimed from the center aisle between lights, and we sing a Latin chant setting of mass parts.

    Essentially everything for Christmas is already in place. Chrismas becomes its fulfillment as the figures arrive in the crèche, the triptych is opened, the trees are lit, and poinsettias and flowers appear everywhere.

  6. Do those that have a rite with the Advent wreath, do you bless it before/during every Mass on the first Sunday?

  7. I am inclined to say that the Advent wreath belongs at home, with the Advent Calendar and iced cookies. Granted, the latter two customs are from my cultural background, and not liturgical or common to everyone. Still, the wreath is very much a family affair here. My mother’s wreath is usually different every year, with fire resistant garland intertwined with artificial holly and berries, or similar. Get creative!

    Why not encourage people to practice a home devotion at home, rather than expect the wreath to be in church? Introducing home devotions into the Mass inevitably leads to the cessation of these customs in many families. It is not expensive to make a wreath — perhaps, some parishioners could make inexpensive wreaths and give them to less-advantaged families.

    Recently I spoke with my parents about the end of the year-’round “Friday fast”. Both they and I struggle to observe the precept, as the institutional church still exhorts (but does not bind) the faithful to abstain from meat and meat soups on that day, even outside Lent (cf. CIC §1251). My parents noted that it was much easier to observe abstinence when much of the community abstained. Even stores catered to the “fast”. When Friday abstinence was made de facto optional in the 1960s, my parents and many others stopped abstaining on Friday in part because of a cultural collapse.

    Similarly, the relegation of the Advent wreath to a church worship activity disincentives the celebration of the wreath as a family event. Communities ought to support the familial sphere as a separate, and also holy, space.

  8. Have Jesse trees gone out of style?

    Advent wreaths in church are OK with me, after all the church building is the “house of the Church,” according to A&E document. Obviously, you want to promote home use of the wreath as well.

    O Antiphon banners also used to be quite popular.

    Advent spirituality is also directed toward the Second Coming. Any liturgical symbols for that aspect?

  9. The Advent wreath is huge and suspended over the altar. Our entrance rite is the same each week of Advent, using Taize’s “Wait For The Lord” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” People know right from the beginning that we are in a special season.
    There are those who would object to the use of “OCOCE” before the 17th of December, but I think it has the quintessential sound of the longing of the Advent season, so we use it throughout.
    We also chant the intercessions as a way of further marking the season and highlighting the petitions.
    Our Advent repertoire remains essentially the same from year to year, except for perhaps a new song after communion. This year we learned “Holy Mary, Full of Grace” by our own Michael Joncas!

  10. Suspended over the center aisle, middle of the church.
    Blessed as part of the opening rite during the First Sunday of Advent.
    Candle lighting is worked in the intro to the Kyrie each Sunday.

    Completely ignoring the Book of Blessing.

    I like the idea of having a different family lighting it each Sunday. But I’ll admit, getting up to that candle is TOUGH!

  11. In our parish a very large natural pine and cedar wreath with pine cones, and a large Jesse Tree banner placed in the middle of the wreath hangs from thick violet ribbons. It’s suspended where the transept and the nave meet. From it hang four quite large silver Byzantine oil lamps with violet glass containers.

    The wreath and lamps were blessed by our very creative pastor who composed his own prayers as part of the Lucernarium rite prior to First Vespers. After the blessing and the altar girl ignited the first lamp, our pastor incensed the wreath and the entire church. Everyone sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel”.

    The parish hall reception following Mass had another, more traditional wreath on the table.

  12. We build Christmas slowly in my household. At present, there is only the Advent wreath on the dining table. We place a cedar wreath outside our door on Gaudate Sunday, but it remains undecorated until Christmas Eve. We put up our tree on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but it goes undecorated until Christmas Eve. The Crèche also comes out and everything stays in place until the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

  13. We always have some form of Advent wreath somewhere in our very large sanctuary, and the simple blessing and candlelighting takes place after the gathering song. But each family brings the current candle from their home wreath, which people hold up during the blessing. This connects the home table with the table of the Eucharist for us, so we don’t debate where the wreath “belongs.”

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