Use of Advent wreath

Question: I don’t like the Advent wreath for two reasons. First, it is a modern innovation, not proper to the Roman Rite. Secondly, it had its origins in the Lutheran Church. Are not Advent wreaths really an illicit intrusion into the Roman Catholic liturgy?

Name Withheld, via e-mail

Answer: I don’t suppose it’s an unwarranted intrusion, anymore than poinsettias are during Christmas. Things like decorations are not intrinsic to the liturgy and are not really referenced in liturgical books.

Perhaps there is some violation of liturgical norms in some parishes where a kind of paraliturgical service is conducted in Mass for the lighting of the Advent candle. I have observed where the families are invited to come up to light the candle while some verse of Scripture is read, etc. But if the Advent wreath is simply there, and the candles lit before Mass, there seems to be little harm in it.

As for Lutheran roots, most historical researchers would probably confirm this.

You are certainly free to like or dislike the tradition of the Advent wreath. Most Catholics I speak with find it meaningful. But some caution is in order regarding your rejection of something simply because it is either modern or comes from outside Catholic sources.

In the first place, your concern is somewhat at odds with the Catholic instinct, which down the centuries has often taken up things from the secular world, or other religious traditions, even non-Christian ones. It is part of the genius of Catholicism to take up whatever is good, true or beautiful in the cultures where she interacts and give them a distinctively Catholic meaning and flavor.

I would also caution you based on the words of Jesus, who counsels a kind of prudential wisdom about these things. He says: “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Mt 13:52).

Therefore, categorically excluding something because it is modern, or outside Catholic origins, is not the instinct either of the Church or Scripture.

Was Christ a real person?

Question: I recently heard an author interviewed who denies that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and even seems to wonder if he existed at all. What are we to make of this?

Arthur Johns, Sacramento, Calif.

Answer: A lot of modern skepticism regarding Jesus — and details of the Scripture — center around a rather stubborn refusal to regard the Gospels as historical sources. This priori assumption about the historical reliability of the Scriptures is a kind of skepticism that surrounds almost no other historical documents.

More has been recorded about Jesus than almost any other person in history. There are four rich essays depicting his life, which we call Gospels, and more than a dozen epistles. These combine both eyewitness accounts and credibly collected accounts by others who lived at or very near the time of Jesus.

Some modern scholars like to dismiss these accounts because they are written from the perspective of faith. But all history is written from some perspective. Simply excluding Scripture as an historical source, is neither reasonable, nor does it comport with approaches we use in studying other historical figures and events.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.