How did I get here so soon? Here I find myself in the third week of Advent, 2011. It seems only a few weeks ago that the Summer breezes were turning chill, and the leaves were beginning to fall. Nonetheless- here I am: time to prepare myself and my family for the entrance of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords into my heart- our hearts- our world. This is a rather daunting task, yet even so, it is a task that to be properly accomplished requires joy.
Of all the weeks of Advent, this one has a particular significance; indeed, the Church reserves it as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. Rose-colored vestments and Advent Candle highlight its uniqueness. The Latin name for this special day is derived from the opening words of the Introit, or First Reading:
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum (Psalms 84:2). Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob (Philippians 4:4-6).
The English translation of today’s First Reading is:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God (Psalms 84:2). Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob (Philippians 4:4-6).”
We are called to actively rejoice and be glad because our captivity is about to end, just like the ancient Israelites who first sang these exact words when they were released from exile. This is a dynamic call to exuberant expectation. Like Mary, our souls are to “proclaim the greatness of Lord, and rejoice in God my Savior.” We are lowly creatures, and the One, True, Eternal, Omnipotent God is willing to descend from the Throne of Grace that has rightfully be His from before the dawn of Creation, to enter our imperfect world, and our humble hearts. I don’t know about you, but contemplating the magnificence of His gift makes my heart skip a beat or two!
Gaudete Sunday compels us to make ready our hearts! Penance, prayer, sacrifice, and contemplation are the requisite tools to clean the stable of our hearts. (Yep, the sacrament of Confession is a good place to start.) While Christmas decorations, parties, shopping and gifts are important elements of the season, and can beautifully unite friends and family in Advent joy; in themselves they are not essential to Christmas. I have to keep reminding myself that when I appear before Jesus’ throne, He is not going to ask how many Christmas cookies I baked, nor how many cards I sent, and whether they arrived on time. What is essential is Christ and a ready heart to welcome Him. Each year, I grapple with the challenge of providing an Advent and Christmas that are meaningful- steeped in tradition and replete with joy. I want my children to grasp the true meaning of this sacred season, and carry with them the memories of laughter and family closeness. It is indeed a complexity that often leaves me perplexed – especially when I find myself rushing around like a deranged wind-up toy. It sounds so simple: Keep Christ in Christmas! Yet in reality, it involves daily conscious struggle.
Perhaps that is the reason the Holy Catholic Church, in Her Wisdom, instituted Gaudete Sunday. This special day has ancient roots – going back at least to the year 740 A.D. The rose-colored vestments and candles help us to comprehend that in a season of celebration, something extra-special is happening. The tradition of these rose-colored vestments is worth noting.
Both Advent and Lent are penitential seasons of preparation for the great Solemnities of Christmas and Easter. For many centuries, during Advent and Lent, special celebrations of Holy Mass occurred at “station” churches in Rome. While the third Sunday of Advent is celebrated as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, it also corresponds to a similar celebration during the fourth week of Lent – Laetare Sunday (which, by the way, also means rejoice). The station Mass for “Laetare” Sunday was the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, near the Pope’s cathedral of the Lateran Basilica. From the time of Pope St. Gregory the III (740 A.D.), it was the tradition for the Holy Father to bless special gold roses that were sent as a gesture of grace to the Catholic kings, queens and notables. That special Sunday was termed Dominica de Rosa– the Sunday of the Rose. It was as if the Holy Father was subtly reminding even the most powerful in the world of their need to keep Christ as the center of their preparation. The rose-colored vestments have grown out of this ancient tradition (source for this information is Fr. Z’s Blog).
Yesterday, I was speaking on the phone with a dear friend, Fr. Cyril Guise, O.C.D. regarding my difficulty in keeping focused on the joy of Advent amid the various pressures of the world. In response he read a lovely poem – a version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” that he had recently penned. This simple gesture had the desire effect of refocusing my attention on the Essence of Christmas. As Our Lord would orchestrate it, Fr. Cyril celebrated this morning’s Gaudete Mass at Holy Hill Basilica, National Shrine of Mary. As I watched my boys serve Holy Mass beside this wise and gentle priest, I could not help but thank God for the abundance of grace He pours upon us daily. I asked Fr. Cyril if I might share His poem, and he graciously offered it for me to post here.
The Night before Christmas.
“T’was the night before Christmas
and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse!”
“When all of a sudden I heard so
much chatter that I sprang from my bed
to see what was the matter and what to my
wondrous eyes should appear but a gathering
of angels giving praise to our God;
For there in their midst was a young married couple,
Mary and Joseph were their names,
and Mary had just given birth to a Son and mind you
this was no ordinary Son but the Incarnate Word,
Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Promise of the Ages.”
“Now I could return to my bed and continue my
slumber, for I knew that our God had blessed us
and would continue to watch over me till I woke on
– Fr. Cyril of the Mother of God, O.C.D. Shrine Minister, Director of Development
© Used With Permission.
As we all seek to follow the directive of St. John the Baptist, and “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” may you find joy!
Blessed Gaudete Sunday!
Ad Jesum per Mariam