Today the Church celebrates the Third Sunday of Advent. This Sunday has traditionally been given the title Gaudete Sunday. This title comes from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, which reads:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.
This retains the first word from the older introit, although the rest of the text is different.
In my understanding, this Sunday was seen as a respite from Advent penance, there is the option for Rose vestments (which I understand to be a lighter shade of purple, rather than the pink that I have often seen).
In earlier times, many Catholics lived Advent as a penitential season. It wasn’t as severe as Lent, but it was penitential nonetheless. In secondary school we learned a poem entitled Advent by Patrick Kavanagh. This poem speaks about Advent in the first half of the twentieth century:
We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.
O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.
I can remember my grandfather not putting milk or sugar in his tea during Advent. But nowadays most of us seem to be straight into the Christmas season once Halloween is over, if not earlier. Indeed, the idea of Advent penance seems to be absolutely foreign to the vast majority of Catholics (I won’t even get into the fact that Lent has lost its penitential dimension for many). Yet there seems to be no shortage of clergy that preach about Gaudete Sunday. It always annoys me to be told that we need to rejoice today. I know that the Christian always needs to rejoice in Christ. But on this particular day, I feel that most of us have no right to benefit from a partial respite from penance that we are not observing. Unless I am a visiting priest in a parish that has rose vestments already laid out, I use the normal Advent purple. Then while I use the Mass texts as provided, my homily will rarely center on joy, today I preached on John the Baptist as presented in today’s Gospel reading. In other years I usually base my homily on the Gospel reading and also also on the initial part of the Advent season in general (which unless we have reached December 17 is eschatological rather than Christmas in nature).
Am I too much of a curmudgeon or a killjoy? Maybe I need to reflect more on Lizette’s post from earlier in the week? I would actually like to be wrong here, so hopefully the readers will point out the error of my ways.