Dear Friends in Christ,
We are beginning the season of Advent, and we are continuing the beautiful tradition of putting out an Advent wreath with candles. We do that every year; it is a wonderful tradition that marks this special time of year. A number of people have asked about the names for the candles and the colors of the various candles. Our designations at Our Saviour’s sometimes aren’t the same as people had in a previous church. People wonder where the candles come from and what the traditions actually are.
I found an article on the Sola Publishing website that I found most helpful and I’m going to share it with you.
The use of an Advent Wreath and candles as part of worship is a relatively recent custom in the church, probably no more than about 300 years old. Originating among Lutherans in northern Europe from earlier cultural traditions, it has been adopted by many Christian denominations over the last few centuries.
Designating the names for the various candles is a very recent phenomena (probably mid-20th century), and multiple traditions have developed. These often vary by denominations, region, religious publisher, and even in the literature of various candle supply companies!
Strictly speaking, there is no single set of traditional names for the candles; there are, in fact, many different traditions. Some of these names were related to old lectionary texts that are no longer in use. The most commonly used names among Protestants for the candles are the designations 1) Prophets’ Candle, 2) Bethlehem Candle, 3) Shepherds’ Candle, 4) Angels’ Candle. In a similar way, Roman Catholics have often designated these same candles to refer to Advent saints: 1) Patriarchs, 2) Prophets, 3) John the Baptist, 4) Virgin Mary.
An even more recent tradition among various churches is to name the candles by Advent “theme” words, the most common four being Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace (or in the order: Hope, Pease, Joy, and Love). Some churches replace one or more of these words with Preparation or Expectation.
Keep in mind: the use of candles in Advent is a human tradition, neither mandated nor prohibited by Scripture. There is no right or wrong in the use of these names. Local congregations are free to use what they choose. “And to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.” (Augsburg Confession 7).
I hope this is helpful. We look forward to our beautiful tradition of the Advent wreath again this year. And if you happen to be in another congregation that names the candles in a different way, now you know why!