Part 4

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.” (Col 4:6)

61. Why is the Catholic Church based in Rome?

The Catholic Church is "based in Rome" because St. Peter, the head of the Apostles and the Rock upon whom Jesus Christ founded His Church, lived and died in Rome. His successors, who are the popes of the Catholic Church, maintained their residency in this city in his honor.

62. In Baptism, what is the meaning of the anointing on the chest?

The anointing with oil on the chest is meant to give the child the grace and the strength to live the Christian life. In ancient times, athletes would massage their muscles with oil to prepare themselves for competition. Soldiers would do the same to prepare themselves for battle. In Scripture, the Christian life is equated with both of these things: a race to be won (cf. 1 Cor 9:24; 2 Tim 4:7; Heb 12:1) and a spiritual war to be waged (cf. 2 Cor 10:3-4; Eph 6:12). So, in baptism we give the new Christian his or her adequate preparation.

63. What was Mary’s childhood like?

Scripture makes no mention of the childhood of Mary, so it is difficult to say with certainty what her childhood was like. The Protoevangelium of James, an ancient Christian writing, says that Mary was raised in the Temple and that, at an early age, she consecrated herself to the Lord as a perpetual virgin. Since Catholics believe that Mary was conceived without any stain of original sin and that she committed no actual sins throughout her entire life, it is safe to assume that her childhood was a truly holy and precious one.

64. What does “INRI” stand for?

INRI is the acronym for the Latin phrase, "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm," which means: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Pontius Pilate had this phrase written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and placed on the cross upon which Christ was crucified (cf. Jn 19:19-22).

65. What is the importance of apostolic succession?

Apostolic succession is important because it preserves for the Church the power to teach, to sanctify, and to govern that was first given to the apostles by Jesus Christ. Bishops receive this power and priests participate in it through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In this way, the Catholic Church continues to be a truly apostolic Church, both in her teaching and in her authority.

66. What’s the difference between nondenominational churches and the Catholic Church?

Nondenominational churches (as their name suggests) are not affiliated with any particular denomination. This means that there is nothing distinctive about their theology or their governance that aligns them with any particular denomination. The Catholic Church, however, has a very distinctive theology and governance that separates it from other Churches or ecclesial communions. It follows from this that nondenominational churches do not have many of the things that make the Catholic Church distinctly Catholic. This includes things like:

  • The pope, bishops, or a formal hierarchy
  • Seven Sacraments
  • The Sacrifice of the Mass
  • Prayer to the saints
  • Devotion to Mary
  • The four Marian dogmas
  • Sacred Tradition
  • Apostolic Succession
  • A distinction between mortal sin and venial sin
  • A belief in Purgatory
  • The use of statues and icons
  • Veneration of relics

In virtue of being nondenominational, they vary greatly in theology from church to church, but in general, nondenominational churches tend to focus on the basic Gospel message and do not stray very far beyond that. “Jesus is God, He died for your sins, have faith in Him and you will be saved.” The Catholic Church, of course, preaches the Gospel as well, but She also preaches many other things that, while not the Gospel message per se, are still true and thus must be taught and believed. This would include many of the items listed above.

Nondenominational churches may or may not also differ with the Catholic Church on various issues of morality, such as abortion, contraception, homosexual marriage, divorce, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc. How much any nondenominational church differs with the Catholic Church on these matters basically depends on the nondenominational church in question. Some may differ greatly with the Catholic Church on these matters, while others may be perfectly aligned with us.

What makes them even more difficult to compare and contrast with Catholicism is the fact that most nondenominational churches, in their desire to remain nondenominational, usually refrain from making dogmatic statements. If it doesn’t have a direct bearing on the Gospel message or on a person’s salvation, then they usually leave it up to the believer to decide.

67. What does Jesus mean when he says that, when the “Son of man” comes, “two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left” (Mt 24:40-41)?

Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind books popularized the notion that this passage is a reference to “the rapture,” the taking up into the air of all true Christians before the tribulation takes place so that they can dwell in a parallel kingdom in heaven while the rest of us hapless souls struggle against the anti-Christ on earth. But, this is not Catholic teaching, and I think there is another interpretation that fits better.

Immediately before the passage cited above, Jesus makes a reference to Noah and what took place when God drowned the whole world with a flood. In many ways, that was an end-times event for everyone alive at that time. Jesus compares that event to what will take place upon the Second Coming. He says:

“As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.” (Mt 24: 37-39)

These words of Jesus provide the context for what he says next, when he says, “two men will be the field, one is taken and one is left,” and so on. This means that, just as the wicked in Noah’s time were “swept away,” one will be “taken,” and just as Noah’s family was spared, the other will be “left.” This passage you are asking about does not refer to some being raptured and others being “left behind.” Instead, it means that, when Jesus comes, some will have their life taken from them, and others will live. This is the effect of the General Judgment, which the Church says all men will experience when the Son of Man finally comes again.

This passage also means that our day, our time here, does not always come when we expect it. God may call us home even amid the mundane chores of every day life (working in the field, grinding at the mill, etc.). Jesus’ words remind us that we must always be ready, for “of that day and hour no one knows” (Mt 24:36).

As with every difficult Scripture passage, it is important to utilize the context of the passage, and to always read Scripture with the mind of the Church. During this season of Advent, let’s make sure that we are making ourselves ready so that on “the day of Christ Jesus,” we will be found fit to live forever with Him.

68. What are the O Antiphons?

An antiphon is a short verse from a psalm or other usually biblical source that is chanted (or at least recited) before and after a psalm. The O Antiphons are the antiphons chanted during the Octave of Christmas, the seven days before Christmas Eve, Dec. 17-23. On each day, a different O Antiphon is sung during Evening Prayer, which is the portion of the Liturgy of the Hours that is prayed at sunset. They are called “O” antiphons because each one starts with the exclamation “O”, followed by a title of the Savior. They are meant to heighten our awareness of the coming of the Lord as we approach those precious few days before Christmas.

The seven O Antiphons are: O Sapientia (Oh Wisdom), O Adonai (Oh Lord), O Radix Jesse (Oh Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Oh Key of David), O Oriens (Oh Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (Oh King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Each one is named after the title of the Savior that begins the antiphon. Here are the antiphons for each day, in full, followed by the passages from Isaiah that inspire them:

Dec. 17 - O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” (cf. Isa 11:2-3; 28:29)

Dec. 18 - O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” (cf. Isa 11:4-5; 33:22)

Dec. 19 - O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” (cf. Isa 11:1, 10)

Dec. 20 - O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” (cf. Isa 9:6; 22:22)

Dec. 21 - O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” (cf. Isa 9:2)

Dec. 22 - O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” (cf. Isa 2:4; 9:7)

Dec. 23 - O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” (cf. Isa 7:14)

Besides praying these during the Liturgy of the Hours, families can also make up their own prayer services using the O Antiphons. For example, everyone could recite the Antiphon for the day together, then the father could read the appropriate passage from Isaiah, and then the service would end with everyone singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” During Advent, it is always good to set aside some time to pray as a family.

69. Which days other than Sundays are Catholic obliged to attend Mass?

Besides Sundays, Catholics are also obliged to attend Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. In the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation are:

  • January 1: the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God;
  • Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter: the solemnity of the Ascension;
  • August 15: the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
  • November 1: the solemnity of All Saints;
  • December 8: the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception;
  • December 25: the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.

70. What is the resurrection of the body and what proof do you have that it will actually take place?

The resurrection of the body is an event that will take place when Jesus comes again. At that moment, every soul that has ever lived will be reunited to its body. In other words, every human body that has ever lived will come back to life again.

These bodies will be immortal and “incorruptible,” which means that they will not deteriorate or decay. The bodies of the righteous souls will have the benefit of being “glorified,” which theologians traditionally take to mean that they will not undergo pain, they will be more physically robust and agile, and they will even glow with radiance. The bodies of the wicked souls will simply add a physical dimension to the spiritual suffering that they were already enduring in hell.

There are many passages in Scripture that speak of the resurrection of the body. Here are just a few:

Dan 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Isa 26:19 Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.

Jn 5:28-29 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Jn 6:39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.

Jn 11:23-25 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live

Acts 26:8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

Rom 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

The resurrection of the body is a great source of hope for Christians because in it we have the cure for all of the bodily suffering that we currently endure, as long as we remain united to God.

71. What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in Isa 11:2-3. The Douay-Rheims translation reads as follows:

And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord...

They are given to us at our Baptism and strengthened in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Their purpose is to make us docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He works in us through these gifts and each one helps us to progress towards holiness.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the different gifts of the Holy Spirit because they are so much alike. For help, I turn to the Modern Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon:

Wisdom: It makes the soul responsive to God in the contemplation of divine things. It allows our minds to penetrate the very essence of divine truths.

Understanding: It is given to the mind for grasping revealed truths easily and profoundly. It gives insight into the meaning of what a person believes.

Counsel: It enables a person to judge promptly and rightly, as by a sort of supernatural intuition, what should be done, especially in difficult situations.

Fortitude: It gives a person a special strength of will. This gift confers an extraordinary readiness to undergo trials for love of God or in fulfillment of the divine will.

Knowledge: It gives a person the ability to judge everything from a supernatural viewpoint. The object of this gift is the whole spectrum of created things insofar as they lead one to God. Through infused knowledge the faithful can see the providential purpose of whatever enters their lives.

Godliness (or “Piety”): It produces an instinctive filial affection for God and devotion toward those who are specially consecrated to God. It is a ready loyalty to God and the things of God.

Fear of the Lord: A solemn respect for the almighty power and glory of God. It fills us with reverence for Him and dread of offending Him who loves us so completely.

I pray that the Spirit will arouse these gifts within you as you contemplate your role and mission in the Church.

72. What is the proper gesture of reference towards the tabernacle both during Mass and outside of Mass?

Our outward gestures, especially those that take place within the context of liturgy and prayer, should reflect our inner disposition, our own thoughts and feelings about what we are doing. That is why a question like this is an important one: it is an opportunity for us to make sure that our gestures are an accurate reflection of genuine Catholic sentiment regarding the tabernacle.

The tabernacle is a boxlike container where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, or “reserved.” Consecrated hosts are kept there so that the Body of Christ is available to take to the sick, and so that the faithful have the opportunity to adore our Lord in the Eucharist.

Outside of Mass, the proper gesture of reverence towards the tabernacle is a genuflection, in which you kneel on your right knee, make the Sign of the Cross, and then rise to your feet again. Note that this is a more profound act of humility and reverence then a bowing of the head, or a bowing at the waist. This is because Christ’s Presence in the tabernacle is more profound. Jesus is more substantially present in the tabernacle than He is in the Word of God found in Scripture or, generally speaking, in the hearts of men. Thus, the tabernacle calls for a greater gesture of reverence.

The purpose for the genuflection you make when you enter and exit the pew is to venerate the tabernacle. But, note that this takes place before Mass starts and after it has ended. While Mass is being celebrated, there is no sign of reverence made towards the tabernacle, at least not by the priest, deacon, and other liturgical ministers. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, “If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself” (cf. no. 274).

I’m not entirely sure why that is. Perhaps it is to draw our attention to the altar, where the Sacrifice of the Mass is taking place. Genuflection signifies adoration, so it could also be that, by removing the sign of reverence towards the tabernacle, the Church is trying to place the emphasis on what is being consecrated in front of us, instead of on what was already consecrated during a previous Mass. Or, it could be that, since you already reverenced the tabernacle when you entered the pew before Mass, and you’re going to do it again before you exit the pew, that those gestures are sufficient and it’s not necessary to do them again. I am not an expert on the liturgy, but those are my educated guesses.

73. Why do we put ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday?

Ashes are a symbol of mourning, mortality, and penance. After all, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). That was God’s reminder to Adam after he commited the original sin. During Old Testament times, God’s people would cover themselves with ashes in times of mourning, or to make reparation for their sins (cf. Esther 4:1; Job 42:6; Dan 9:3). We do the same in order to remind ourselves of our own sins and of the fact that we are entirely dependent upon God for every second of our being. Therefore, we must make of this life all that God desires it to be, and remove from our lives anything that would hasten our spiritual death and keep us from Him.

74. What is Lent?

Lent is a period of about 40 days, not counting Sundays, in which we spiritually prepare ourselves for the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday. Lent is a somber time of personal reflection, of penance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time for calling to mind our sins, all the times in which we helped drive the nails into the hands and feet of Christ. It is a time for redoubling our efforts to grow in our prayer life and to experience God in the Sacraments of the Church. It is also a time for doing good works, for loving one another as Christ loved us.

75. What does it mean to “fast” and to “abstain.” When do we do these things? Who is required to do them?

To “fast” means, at minimum, eating one regularly-sized meal and two smaller meals, with no snacking in between. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for all Catholics age 18 - 60 years old.

To “abstain” is to refrain from eating the flesh and organs of warm-blooded animals. This abstinence is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent for all Catholics age 14 and up.

Why do people give up something for Lent?  While this is not strictly required, traditionally, Catholics choose something to give up, or refrain from doing, during Lent so as to embrace the penitential character of this season. Some people take this opportunity to overcome bad habits, like biting your nails, or smoking, or cursing. Others will give up something they enjoy, like ice cream, or television, or Facebook. Whatever you do during Lent to unite yourself to the “Suffering Servant” is a good and laudable thing.

76. Should a Catholic donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation?

The Susan G. Komen Foundation (also called “Komen For the Cure”) is a non-profit organization that supports breast cancer research and awareness. They are the largest breast cancer charity in the world.

On the surface, it would appear that donating to them would be the right thing to do. After all, most of us have seen the damage that breast cancer inflicts on persons and their families, and we desperately need a cure. The problem is, Komen donates a lot of money to another large organization: Planned Parenthood (PP).

Between 2003 and 2008, Komen gave $3 million to Planned Parenthood. In fiscal year 2008 alone, they gave $805,000 to the abortion giant. For fiscal year ’09, Komen contributed $731,000. This is less than in ‘08, but only because Komen itself made less money that year.

This should be alarming for two reasons. First, Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the country. In no way should they be supported for any reason. Komen tries to justify their relationship with PP by saying that, in some underprivileged neighbors, PP is the only clinic available that provides free breast cancer screening and information. But this is a dubious claim. There are thousands of clinics and hospitals and government programs all over this country that provide the same service. There are also many breast cancer research organizations who manage to provide their resources without the help of Planned Parenthood.

Komen also says that they give money to Planned Parenthood to do breast cancer screening, not abortions. But, even this is disconcerting. Any money you give to PP for breast exams just frees up money for abortions. Plus, let’s be honest about where PP’s priorities really lie. Between the years ‘04 and ‘05, 81,500 fewer breast exams were performed, whereas abortions increased by 9,900. Between ‘06 and ‘07 (the years for which the most recent data is available), breast exams decreased by 30,731, yet abortions increased by 15,560.

Secondly, there is a causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer! Even though Komen continues to deny this, multiple studies have shown that having an abortion significantly increases one’s likelihood of developing breast cancer. What this means is that an organization with the purpose of stamping out breast cancer forever is donating large sums of money to an organization that has aided in the increased incidence of breast cancer in this country.

That Komen and PP would have such a relationship is tragically ironic and ultimately indefensible for anyone who wants to find a cure for breast cancer while at the same time defending the rights of the unborn.

77. Who should we donate to then if we want to support breast cancer research?

One organization I would recommend is The Polycarp Research Institute (TPRI). According to their website, “The Polycarp Research Institute is a non-profit organization (501 C3) dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of high-quality research designed to enhance the physical, psychological and spiritual condition of mankind.” It is one of the few scientific research organizations that has acknowledged the link between abortion and breast cancer (the “ABC link”). Also, TPRI will not promote methods or intentions that are inconsistent with the ethical and moral guidelines of the Catholic Church.

Another worthwhile organization is the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. According to their website, “The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation, which educates healthcare professionals and the general public through research publications, lectures, and the internet, on ways to reduce breast cancer incidence.” It’s founder, Dr. Joel Brind, is the leading expert on the ABC link.

Finally, the National Breast Cancer Foundation is an option. According to their website, “The National Breast Cancer Foundation mission is to save lives through early detection and to provide mammograms for those in need. Our mission includes increasing awareness through education, providing diagnostic breast care services for those in need, and providing nurturing support services.” They are listed by the Bioethics Defense Fund as an alternative to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Before you donate to any breast cancer research organization, ask them:

  • Do you acknowledge the ABC link?
  • Do you donate to Planned Parenthood, or to any other organizations that perform or refer women for abortions?
  • Do you promote embryonic stem cell research?

I know this might seem tedious, but we have to make sure that we are donating our hard-earned money to organizations that have objectives that are consistent with what we believe as Catholics. Furthermore, any organization devoted to finding a cure for breast cancer that denies the negative effects of abortion is doing a disservice to women.

The evidence is clear: 27 of the 33 studies on the ABC link showed definite increased risk. Women who had at least one abortion were on average, 50% more likely to develop breast cancer. One can’t help but wonder if the wholesale denial of this evidence is ideologically driven. Let’s have our money fuel the pursuit of truth. Only then will a cure be found.

78. What did Jesus mean on the Cross when He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Was Jesus really forsaken by God?

Jesus words on the Cross are from Psalm 22, which He is using to express the intense physical pain that He is feeling. This psalm describes a righteous man who is suffering various afflictions:

  • vs. 1: My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
  • vs. 7-8: All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; "He committed his cause to the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!"
  • vs. 14-18: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet -- I can count all my bones -- they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.

Remember, these are David’s words, from his 22nd psalm, yet they vividly describe many of the torments that Jesus faced during his Passion.

But, this is not the only reason why Jesus has chosen this psalm. In its concluding verses, the righteous man, though he suffers so greatly, has his hope firmly rooted in the Lord. He praises the Lord and knows without a doubt that the Lord will deliver him:

  • vs. 22-24: I will tell your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
  • vs. 26: The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
  • vs. 30-31: Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it.

This means that, in quoting Psalm 22, Jesus is reminding us that, even at the point in which He appears to be the most forsaken and forgotten, the Father is with Him and He will be saved. Even in the depths of His suffering, Jesus never ceases to praise and glorify the Father.

79. Why does the priest sometimes wear pink on the third Sunday of Advent?

First, it’s important to define the exact color in question. The liturgical color that can be worn on the third Sunday of Advent (“Gaudete Sunday”) is rosacea, or “rose” – not pink. Rosacea has a very slight orangish-red tint to it, sort of like a fresh salmon filet. If you’ve never actually seen rose-colored vestments before, you might be surprised to find that they are very distinguished and beautiful. Pink, on the other hand, is a paler, more feminine color. Think “Pepto-Bismol”.

In our modern times, vestments for this day have gotten a little bubble-gum crazy and, as a result, a priest risks looking like a big Care Bear every time Gaudete Sunday rolls around. Thankfully, he can also choose to simply wear violet.

The reason for the color change is to emphasize in a poignant way that the Lord is near. Advent is now more than half-way over! The bursting forth of such an unusual color has the effect of a sudden exclamation in a quiet room. In the midst of our penances and our quiet contemplation, a voice cries out: Gaudete in Domino semper! “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Those are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for today, and that’s why we call this day “Gaudete Sunday.”

80. Where does the Advent wreath come from? What does it mean?

The following explanation is from Fr. William Saunders, a popular Catholic apologist and theologian:

The Advent wreath is part of our long-standing Catholic tradition. However, the actual origins are uncertain. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreaths with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of spring. In Scandinavia during winter, lit candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn "the wheel of the earth" back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

By the Middle Ages, Christians had taken up this practice and infused it with profound symbolism as a way to prepare for Christmas. Since Jesus is the light of the world (cf. Jn 8:12), it is fitting that the wreath would produce more and more light the closer we get to Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Three of them are purple, a color traditionally associated with penance and prayer. One of them is rose, a symbol of our rejoicing. The circular shape of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life found in Christ.