Custom and practice regarding the The Advent Wreath

Father Rob Parker-McGee has sent us this (31/1/17): 

The traditional and most authentic colours for Advent are purple and pink (3rd Sunday of Advent). 

Purple is a penitential color of fasting while pink (rose) is the colour of joy.

The 3rd Sunday in Advent is Gaudete Sunday (from the Latin meaning “rejoice”) which is taken from Philippians 4:4-5, the Entrance Antiphon of the day. (4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.)

Priests then would wear pink vestments as a reminder of this coming joy.

Rose is also used during Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent) to symbolise a similar expectation of the coming joy of Christ’s coming in Easter.

Sometimes churches swap the pink candle to the fourth Sunday,  because that is the week Mary enters the focus. But this is incorrect and a misunderstanding of what pink represents in the liturgy. The other Sunday that pink is used is Laetare Sunday (Mothering Sunday) and perhaps this is where confusion sometimes comes from. But as with Advent, the pink is used on Laetare Sunday because of its expectation not because of any secular association of pink being a feminine colour and therefore associated with Mary or other women. In fact, the colour used to represent Mary is blue, not pink. 


Revd James Makepeace (Dec 2016) tells us how he approaches the correct order for lighting the candles, in particular the pink candle; and what each candle represents on the Advent Wreath: 


"The English brought in a quieter Sunday for Advent. They did the same for Lent. They didn't like anything taken to extremes, so there always had to be a break if there was a serious Fast.

During Lent, Lent 4 is 'Refreshment Sunday'; likewise the break in Advent was Advent 3 and they changed the vestments for the Priest from Purple to Rose Pink.  This is not to be found on the continent, it's purely English.

The first candle represents the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob); the second one is for the Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah and Elisha); the third is for John the Baptist (hence the reading on 11th December); the fourth is for Mary.  

The pink candle has nothing to do with any of those - it's to do with breaking the fast

Most parishes wrongly  will light the pink candle 'for Mary' last, thinking that's the right thing to do. In fact the pink candle is to indicate a break in the Fast and should be lit on the third Sunday of Advent. "

On the Pray Tell website, one correspondent wrote this (thanks to Christine Buckley for finding this): 

"Like many seasonal and other images (e.g. Christmas trees), the Advent wreath has only very recently been found in our churches.

Its north European pagan origins are related to the winter solstice: the round shape symbolises the sun, whose light was waning at this time of year. Around the wreath prayers would be said, that the sun might be reborn after the shortest day and longest night.

In its Christianised form, it originated in the homes of German Protestants in the 16th century. For many years it was a domestic image that was not used in church. Only after World War II did the wreath start to find its way into Roman Catholic churches, and gradually spread across the world. In many places, the wreath is still hung on the front door of the house. Placing it horizontally and adding candles is a much later development. Until very recently, natural white candles were used; other colours date only from the 1960s.

The following options are specified in the Roman Book of Blessings for the colour of the candles in the wreath:
(a) three violet and one rose-coloured (for the 3rd Sunday); or
(b) four violet candles; or
(c) four white candles.
However, some churches have four bright red candles, or three red and one white (for the 3rd Sunday).

Many churches now have the custom of using a fifth candle (normally white, in which case none of the others will be white), symbolising the incarnate Christ, lit late on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. In some churches this fifth candle is lit before or during Midnight Mass and carried in procession to the crib for the blessing of the crib, if the blessing is done at this time, and then carried back and placed in its position in the centre of the wreath or wherever.

The fact that the colour of the candles used in German Lutheran homes was until recently white is a happy coincidence with the liturgical colour of Advent up to about the 11th century."

There is more discussion regarding Gaudete Sunday and its significance in Advent in Wikipedia: 

Gaudete Sunday