We Gather To Pray: An Advent Prayer Service

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Pray with the four themes of the season


The catechetical challenge for Advent is that it’s not Christmas, but everyone around us acts like it is. Advent is a time of quiet expectancy, of waiting with anticipation. It’s a penitential season, but it’s not like Lent. Instead of fasting and self-denial, people often add devotions, such as attending more weekday Masses or reflecting on Scripture. For most people, especially kids, the celebratory atmosphere of Christmas preparations obscures the ascetic, introspective mood of the Advent season. This prayer service is designed to set the proper attitude and demeanor for Advent.

Christmas commemorates God giving us the greatest gift of all time. We should be disposed to receive it with faithful and accepting hearts.

The most widely recognized devotion of this season is the Advent wreath, a circular stand
of four candles (three purple, one rose) placed inside an evergreen wreath. The candles are lit each Sunday of Advent, counting down the weeks to Christmas. Sometimes there’s a fifth white candle in the center, which will be lit on Christmas Day.

Parish faith formation classes usually break for the holidays before all the candles can be lit, so I’m introducing a slight tweak. Traditionally each candle represents an Advent theme. Rather than mark the four weeks, lit candles will present an opportunity to pray with each theme.

PRO TIP: You can modify this service to meet the needs of your community. Depending on the ages of participants, you might wish to invite young lectors to prepare for this service. You can also add personal petitions and intercessions, allow student musicians to lead singing, or use this format for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, if your pastoral
team approves.

Opening Prayer

Leader: Eternal Father, your light and life, without beginning and without end, is symbolized in the circle of this evergreen wreath. Lighting these candles, we recall how you penetrated the darkness of this world through the birth of your son, Jesus. This Advent, help us to dispel darkness, renew our faith in Jesus, and increase this light in our lives
as we prepare for Christmas.


The absolute best song for Advent is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It completely captures the spirit of Israel’s long centuries of waiting for the Messiah … a waiting that we enter into liturgically during Advent. Links to lyric videos are provided below. The one from Pentatonix is my favorite.

  • This one is sung by a traditional choir: CATmag.us/2v8AHlJ
  • Here’s a jazzy, more modern version by Pentatonix: CATmag.us/2OAmfv6
  • This last one by Selah is a combination of the two: CATmag. us/2LHhPEO

Reading Isaiah 9:2-7

This reading continues the themes of Advent introduced in the song: darkness and light, a rescuer who breaks the oppressor’s rod, a child with the Davidic king’s authority. I love the names that describe Jesus — it sends shivers down my spine.

First Candle

Light the first candle and read Isaiah 7:14.

Leader: We light this first candle in remembrance of the prophets, such as Isaiah who waited with unfailing hope and foretold the Messiah’s birth. Lord, when things get dark, help us to hope in you and trust in your way.
All: O Come, O come, Emmanuel.

Second Candle

Light the second candle and read Luke 2:12.

Leader: We light this second candle remembering the poverty of the Bethlehem manger and God’s love. Lord Jesus, in love you became poor so we could be rich. Help us use the riches of your grace to love others as you love us.
All: O Come, O come, Emmanuel.

Third Candle

Light the third candle and read Luke 2:8-11.

Leader: We light this third rose-colored candle remembering the shepherd’s joy at being the first to adore Jesus. Father, help us also rejoice in the Christmas message: a Savior was born to us, Christ, the Lord.
All: O Come, O come, Emmanuel.

Fourth Candle

Light the fourth candle and read Luke 2:13-14.

Leader: We light this fourth candle remembering the angels and their message of peace. Lord, give us your unsurpassed peace that triumphs over the worries and difficulties of this world. Help us to seek that peace this Advent.
All: O Come, O come, Emmanuel.

Fifth Candle (optional)

Light the fifth candle and read Isaiah 1:18. (If there’s no fifth candle on your Advent wreath, just make this the closing prayer.)

Leader: Last, we remember how Christ’s light entered the world at Christmas. The color white represents purity and holiness. Lord Jesus, you are our sinless, spotless, pure Savior. As we await your birth this Advent, help us be purified of sin, grow in holiness, and be made whiter than snow.
All: O Come, O come, Emmanuel.



Marc Cardaronella, MA, is director of the Office of Discipleship and Faith Formation in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick and blogs at MarcCardaronella.com.

This article first appeared in Catechist magazine, November/December 2018.

Photo: Rossario, istock

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