Why do we do it ‘right’?

Marge Fenelon

Each year when I get out our Advent wreath, I think about two friends who came to visit our home one Advent some time ago. At that time we were about a week and a half away from Christmas, and we were all sitting around our dining room table talking. The Advent wreath was in the center of the table; we light it each day of Advent during prayers and mealtimes.

During a pause in the conversation, our friend said, "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure. What would you like to know?" I responded.

"How can you stand burning your Advent candles like that?” he asked.

"What do you mean?" I asked, crinkling my brow and examining the wreath for oddities or flaws.

"All uneven like that,” he said. “They’re all at different lengths. At home, we just burn ours all at once so that they burn down evenly. It looks so much better to us." Then he chuckled, "I guess we just like symmetry in our house."

He was referring to the Catholic tradition of burning the Advent wreath candles one at a time each week, starting with the farthest purple candle. On the first week of Advent, we light the first candle. On the second week, we light the first and second candles. On the third week, we light the first, second, and third candle – a pink one that signals the special joy of the approach of the Savior's birth.

On the fourth week of Advent, all of the candles are lit. The unevenness of the burning is symbolic of our preparation for the coming of Christ in three ways. First, it’s a historical remembrance of the prophecies foretelling the coming of the Messiah. Second, it symbolizes our anticipation of the liturgical celebration of Christmas Day. Third, it’s a reminder of Christ’s coming at the end of the present world.

While I was cleaning up after their visit, I started thinking about our Advent wreath conversation. I have to admit that I was a bit miffed by my friend’s comment. It irritated me to think that someone would throw out a sacred tradition just for the sake of looks. There was just something so... wrong about it. "Why don't they do it the right way?" I haughtily griped.

Then I asked myself, “Well, why do we do it the ‘right’ way?” It seems that our friends had given it considerable thought and decided that burning the candles evenly was more fruitful for them than following the tradition to the letter and being distracted from prayer by the annoyance of having uneven candles on their wreath.

This got me thinking about some of the other traditions that we follow during Advent and Christmas. I'm not in any way suggesting that we throw off tradition, and most certainly, not any of our Catholic doctrine, but I do wonder if sometimes we follow tradition mechanistically without fully understanding and internalizing its significance. If we throw up a tree decorated to the hilt just because we do it every year, what meaning does that have for us? If we give oodles of great gifts but don't know why we are really giving them, then what kind of gifts are they? If we fa-la-la-la-la along with the Christmas carols but never stop to think who it is we are actually singing about, then what's the difference which songs we sing or whether we even sing at all?

Tradition is only tradition because it means something to us.

Maybe this is a good year to reevaluate our Advent traditions. What do they mean – to us, to the Church? Which ones are important to us? Which ones do we do simply because we always do them? Is it time to either change the way we do them or create new traditions that will fill our hearts with longing and the anticipated joy of the coming of the Christ Child.

Whether we light our Advent candles one each week or all at once, our traditions must have meaning for our lives and sustenance for our spiritual journey. When the interior and the exterior of our lives match, then we are truly ready for the Savior.

Topics: Advent & Christmas , Faith

Marge Fenelon is a Catholic author, columnist, and speaker. She's the author of When's God Gonna Show Up? and When's God Gonna Call Me Back? (Liguori Publications) and a regular columnist for the Milwaukee Catholic Herald. She and her husband, Mark, have four mostly-grown children and are members of the International Schoenstatt Movement. Visit her website at www.margefenelon.com

View all articles by Marge Fenelon

Ads by Google
(What's this?)


Ads by Google (What's this?)
Ads by Google (What's this?)



Abortion (42)  Advent & Christmas (19)  Beauty (2)  Bioethics (4)  Books (55)  Church history (14)  Church teaching (28)  Contraception (22)  Culture (119)  Current Events (85)  Dating (15)  Death (4)  Depression (14)  Divorce (7)  Education (12)  Eucharist (3)  Exercise (3)  Faith (213)  Family (86)  Fashion (5)  Feminism (12)  Fertility (2)  Fitness (1)  Food (2)  Forgiveness (17)  Friendship (18)  Generosity (2)  Girl Scouts (2)  Grieving (1)  Health (23)  Home Management (17)  Humor (14)  Leadership (4)  Lent & Easter (12)  Liturgical Year (9)  Marian devotion (8)  Marriage (33)  Mature Years (5)  Meditations (17)  Mental illness (1)  Mercy (1)  Military Families (2)  Ministry (4)  Miscarriage (1)  Motherhood (55)  Movies (1)  Music (4)  Natural Family Planning (2)  Nutrition (4)  Parenting (44)  Personal Growth (105)  Politics (3)  Pornography (3)  Prayer (31)  Pro-Life (26)  Psychology (1)  Reflections (4)  Relationships (44)  Religious freedom (10)  Saints (9)  Scripture (6)  Service (8)  Sexuality (18)  Single years (4)  Social justice (1)  Social Networking (5)  Special Needs (3)  Spirituality (2)  Suffering (13)  Suicide (1)  Travel (11)  Welcome (1)  Women in the Church (3)  Women's Health (20)  Workplace (12)  Writings of the Saints (8)  Young Women (39) 


Liturgical Calendar

April 23, 2014

Wednesday within the Octa ve of Easter

All readings:
Today »
This year »

Featured Videos

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass and announces site of next World Youth Day
Pope Francis visits poor neighborhood and meets with young people from Argentina
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida
Denver rally draws hundreds in support of religious freedom
Pope Francis prays over a sick man in St Peter's Square
Denver women's clinic will offer natural, Catholic care
Interview Clips: Barbara Nicolosi speaks to CNA
US Cardinals press conference at North American College
Pope Benedict to retire to monastery inside Vatican City
Pope cites waning strength as reason for resignation
Hundreds convene in Denver to urge respect for life
New Orange bishop encourages Catholic unity in diversity
Chinese pro-life activist calls for reform, international attention
At Lincoln installation, Bishop Conley says holiness is success
Mother Cabrini shrine reopens in Chicago after a decade
Ordination of 33 deacons fills St. Peter's with joy
Cardinal says "Charity is the mother of all the virtues"
Augustine Institute expands evangelization effort with new campus
Bishops recall 'Way of St. James' as chance to trust in God
Los Angeles cathedral's newest chapel houses Guadalupe relic

Catholic Daily

Gospel of the Day

Mt 28:8-15


Daily Readings

First Reading:: Acts 3:1-10
Gospel:: Lk 24:13-35

Saint of the Day

St. Adalbert of Prague »


Homily of the Day

Mt 28:8-15


Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com

Ads by AdsLiveMedia.com
Text only

Follow us: