November 2021: Lighting the Advent Wreath - Bringing Light to the Darkness

Michael A. Marinelli, Ed.D. '76
Dear Members of the Archmere Community,

Candles were used centuries ago by many of the great civilizations. They were made from a variety of materials and were often used in ceremonies to symbolize bringing light to a dark situation. In a spiritual context, candles illuminated the truth.

Lighting the Advent Wreath is a ritual celebrated each year by the entire student body, teachers, and staff at Archmere. The Advent wreath blessing and lighting, which occurred on Monday, November 29 this year, offered all of us the opportunity to reflect on our reasons for being, on the presence of the divine in our lives, and on the hope that we hold in our hearts for ourselves and for others. In the Catholic church calendar, Advent begins a new liturgical year - a religious “New Year” - when we have the chance to renew our faith, take stock of the year that has ended, and reflect on our own spirituality and its connectedness to others. 

Just as Christian communities lit the first candle of the Advent Wreath on Sunday, November 28, this year, our Jewish brothers and sisters lit the first candle of the menorah, celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah. Hanukkah commemorates the miracle of the oil in the Temple. In 164 BC the Jewish people - the Maccabees - were victorious over the religious oppression imposed by King Antiochus IV and celebrated the rededication of the Temple. There was only enough oil in the lamps to burn for one night, but the lamplight lasted for eight nights. While we light four candles of the Advent wreath marking each week until the feast of Christmas, Jews light an additional candle each of the eight days until the close of Hanukkah on the evening of December 6 this year. 

The first prayer on the first night of Hanukkah is: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah. The translation is: Praised are You, Our God, Ruler of the universe, Who made us holy through Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights. The beginning of this prayer is used in our Catholic Mass at the preparation of the gifts, when the priest says, “Praise to you, Lord God of all creation, we have this bread to offer. . . we have this wine to offer . . . ” These rituals remind us of the foundations of Christianity in Judaism, and of other rituals and traditions similar among world religions. 

The Advent wreath is made of branches of evergreens. These non-deciduous trees that never lose their foliage, along with the circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolize the eternity of God and our own immortality. Each week, we light one candle of the wreath. There are three purple candles; purple is the liturgical color of the Advent season, signifying a meditative time of prayer and penance. The fourth rose or pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, marking the half-way point in Advent, with Christmas drawing near.

While the wreath continues to grow bright with the flame of an additional candle each week, the nights grow longer until the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night of the year on December 21. Appropriately, then, the Advent candles, just like the candles of the menorah, and the many other candles that have been lit to commemorate moments of spiritual ritual and grace over the centuries, illuminate the darkness and remind us that the light of Christ - Emmanuel - God with Us - is always burning brightly in our hearts, if we just allow ourselves to look there. 

Wishing you and your family a fulfilling and prayerful Advent!

Michael A, Marinelli, Ed.D. ‘76
Head of School
Archmere Academy is a private, Catholic, college preparatory co-educational academy,
grades 9-12 founded in 1932 by the Norbertine Fathers.