December 11, 2016
Why is there a rose candle in the Advent wreath and why is that candle lit on the third Sunday of Advent?
Rose as a liturgical color is used twice during the year, generally in Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic Parishes, though not exclusively, on the third (3rd) Sunday of Advent (Gaudete) and on the fourth (4th) Sunday of Lent (Laetare).
The custom developed around the tradition of the Popes who annually sent a golden rose to an esteemed personage or organization, often a monarch, but also monks, monasteries, and others, for exemplary faithfulness or duty to the "Church." The original gift was a set of gold keys to St. Peter's Basilica. One of the recipients of the keys was Charlemagne.
Sometime before the middle of the eleventh century AD, the gift was changed to a rose of pure gold. The fourth Sunday of Advent was about half-way through when the Popes encouraged a lightening of the spiritual atmosphere for the faithful. Pope Innocent III said: "As Lætare Sunday, the day set apart for the function, represents love after hate, joy after sorrow, and fullness after hunger, so does the rose designate by its colour, odor and taste, love, joy and satiety respectively." So, the conferring of the rose became associated with the Sunday of refreshment in a season of fasting.
Advent began as a penitential season, much like Lent. In fact, because it once began on November 12 (The Feast of Martin of Tours), it was called St. Martin's Lent. With that character of penitence, the Third Sunday in Advent, like the fourth in Lent, was just over half way through the preparation time. The Popes and his bishops instituted a refreshment time for the Advent Fast as well.
Parishes get to bring out and use their rose vestments and hangings for a second time in the year. And the people get a reprieve from the brooding spirit of the fast. The third Sunday of Advent marks a change from the "end time" coming of Jesus to his coming at the Nativity. With the change in the color of the vestments, churches, and candle makers, added the rose-colored candle to the Advent array. Ours too will be lit, though our vestments and hangings will remain purple.
One of the confusions that has grown up around Rose Sunday's is the idea that it something to do with Mary. Some of that may be that we are not so penitent anymore, so we do not need as much refreshment. The annunciation readings are read on the fourth Sunday of Advent, so some think rose is for that Sunday.
In any event, enjoy the refreshment of this rose Sunday and the focus from here on in of Christ's first coming.
The Rev. David Lucey