Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The Advent Wreath in the Church
It’s a good bet that your parish has an Advent Wreath placed prominently somewhere in the church during this time of the year. This is a devotion that is encouraged by the Church. What is the proper placement of the Advent Wreath, though?
From The Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Celebration of the Eucharist (2012):
“The Advent Wreath, a popular symbol in many churches, may be placed in the narthex or gathering area, or near the ambo.”
Notice that it does not say “in front of the altar”!
Here’s an altar beautifully vested for Advent.
It is the centerpiece. It has always been the mind of the Church that the altar is Christ. Christ is both priest and victim, and He is also the altar on which the Sacrifice takes place. And so, just as a priest is vested for Mass, so also is the altar.
The antependium (or frontal) makes the altar stand out from its surroundings; it makes the altar the focal point of Mass, as is appropriate. This is where the “action” of the Mass takes place: it is here that the bread and wine are changed to the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Nothing should take away from that.
Here is the same altar, but with an Advent Wreath in front of it.
The Advent Wreath obscures the view of the altar, and becomes itself the focal point. This point is made all the more obvious when the priest approaches the altar in the entrance procession. He will either have to genuflect right in front of the Advent wreath, which make it look like he is venerating the wreath, or he will have to go around it and place himself between it and the altar - where there is not much room.
The altar is not meant to be a backdrop to a devotional item like the Advent Wreath. That is why the Advent Wreath is placed either in the “gathering area” or near the ambo. Nothing should detract from the centrality of the altar.