The fact that we arrange our candles in a circle rather than a square is significant because, having no beginning and no end, it suggests the eternity of God and the immortality of the soul.
The evergreens used as a base again signify undying life, and each type has its own meaning: laurel leaves stand for victory over persecution and suffering; pine, holly, and yew symbolyze immortality; and cedar branches mean strength and healing. Holly also has a special Christian symbolism: The prickly leaves remind us of the crown of thorns, and one English legend tells of how the cross was made of wood from the holly tree. Any pine cones, nuts, or seedpods used to decorate the wreath also symbolize life and resurrection which was won for us through Jesus who comes into the world at this season.
The candles used are usually four in number, and according to one legend, signify the 4000 years after Adam and Eve during which the world waited for the birth of our Redeemer. In some families a fifth candle is added in the center which is always white and signifies Christ Himself. This candle is not lighted until the day of His coming, Christmas day.
The color of the candles is also important. We use purple which is the color of prayer, penance and sacrifice with which we prepare for the coming of Christ. But why should we use purple in this season of joy? Because we rejoice that we have been given the gift of repentance. Each of us can look within and see that we have fallen short of what we could be in the life of grace. But now is when we have been given the time to turn back to our loving God and ask for the forgiveness which He so eagerly offers us. The one rose candle is used on the week of Gaudete Sunday and reminds us again of the joy of repenting and accepting this grace.
The flame of the candle is a light in the darkness of winter and the darkness of our life. Hopefully it is not a sputtering wick or a weak glow as if from a pocket flashlight, but a bright jumping flame that speaks of life and enthusiastic joyfulness.
Our candles begin as tall, stately tapers, and one by one they begin to burn down. Slowly, each night as we light them again, they are consumed, drip by drip. They can’t go back and burn tomorrow what was already depleted last night. This is a wonderful reminder to us that our life, too, is made up of passing years, days, moments. From the day we came into this world we began to spend, consume, our number of days, and our life on this earth is getting shorter, just as is the candle. Whether we are 20, or 40 or 80 years old, each day is precious and irretrievable. It helps us to use each day to the best of our ability and not put off until tomorrow what should be done today, especially in our journey toward God.
In the Lord's eyes, one day is as a thousand years
and a thousand years are as one day.
The Lord does not delay in keeping his promise -- though some consider it "delay."
Rather, he shows you generous patience,
since he wants none to perish but all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3: 8-9