Gaudete Sunday versus the Third Sunday of Advent

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.

17 comments

  1. I think it is fine to preach on whatever aspect of the readings seem relevant to you. But I would hope you would wear the rose vestments even if they are pink. (To me, rose is a shade of pink, but people have different color perceptions.) Think of the people you may be confusing or the parents who told their children to look out for the rose vestments. We have to row together as a Church or we will all drift separately.

    1. Thanks Renee

      Just to point out, I presided the Sunday Eucharist in three different churches between Saturday and Sunday this weekend, none of them had Rose/Pink vestments. I realize that many if not most US churches have one in their sacristy (although the parish where I was weekend assistant in the US for many years did not have a set). That is not the case here in Ireland. In fact I don’t recall seeing any pink/rose vestment since I returned to Ireland in 2013. Unless some priest has specifically told people to expect the pink vestments or is known to have a set from previous years, I sincerely doubt that any Irish parent has prepared their children to be on the look out for them! It is an option (just as Black is an option on November 2 and at funerals). It just happens to be an option that is not used universally in Ireland.

  2. This essay makes sense to me.

    Rose is optional. Not every community has rose (or good rose) vestments to begin with. One might make one’s choice based on the local community’s longstanding custom – IF there is one of longstanding – but it would be best to refrain from making a point of telling (showing should be sufficient).

  3. Even if Advent is not the penitential season that Lent is, it is one that prepares us for the Christmas festival. Hopefully everyone is doing something special for Advent that makes it different from Ordinary Time. So we rejoice today because the Christmas Festival is near, and the rose vestments are a reminder that we are closer to it than we were two weeks ago. I vote that you are a curmudgeon, LOL!!

  4. Is there really such a surfeit of joy in the world that we must argue against an emphasis on rejoicing in today’s liturgy?

    Does an emphasis on rejoicing make sense only to those who have done penance beforehand?

    Must we make statements with purple on one of two days a year when rose is permitted?

    Yes…this is curmudgeonly.

    1. My question is WHY is it permitted? As the calendar changed with the Novus Ordo, the Sunday is now officially “Third Sunday of Advent”. All four Sundays are about the season.
      I had one Mass-goer tell me that the Violet in the ordo is for vestment but the optional rose is for the Advent wreath.
      I wonder if it was kept as an option as a concession to conservatives and nostalgic conservatism.
      If only we knew what the calendar revisers were thinking.

  5. I would approach the question from an existential viewpoint. This time of year is very dark, and many, many people are feeling pressed on many fronts — discouraged because of the pandemic, worried about the economy, grieving the loss of loved ones, struggling with divisiveness and rancor, and yes even violence and natural disasters, feeling anxiety about the future, anger, and despair — you name it. Most people I know are not having a jolly time. And the relentless pretense of jollity in our public spaces can make it all even more depressing.

    This is why we need Advent joy. The joy that arises from hope in God. It’s not because we need a break from fasting. We need Advent joy as a break from the worries and the stress that life is piling on us, from the burdens we carry — and that some try to “power through” by turning to alcohol or drugs or overeating, and other self-destructive activities.

    We need the quiet, peaceful joy of Advent, the childlike wonder of trusting in God’s promises, and we need it desperately. That means digging down through the muck to reach the pure stream of grace in our lives, a stream that arises solely from God’s love for us. That’s the joy to which the prophets bear witness. It’s one of Advent’s most precious gifts to us.

    1. Thanks Rita. I agree with you. But isn’t this is more or less the general Christmas message? As Christians, Christmas is not simply about playing happy families, especially given that not everybody is a member of a happy family. Many people are facing depressing times and the liturgy provides hope. But Jungmann’s Pastoral Liturgy makes that point that this is how Christmas became to be the high point of the liturgical year, displacing Easter for the number one spot “North of the Alps.” I know that we are anticipating Christmas on Gaudete Sunday. But isn’t that the case for every day of the Advent season? Indeed, every week, throughout the year, I sit down with the Sunday readings and craft my homily as an answer to the question of how a message of salvation, hope, and good news can be found and proclaimed in the Sunday readings. I know that we have many suffering people in our churches (and many who may look well, but be facing extraordinary challenges in secret). Or is it that instead of looking for a hook in the readings to announce comfort to God’s people, on this Sunday we use the word Gaudete and some traditions around it?

      1. The congregation probably won’t remember the sermon, but they might remember rose vestments and flowers on the altar. As the layman, I sure taught my children to look for those markers in the church year, among others. Ripping them away or blantantly disregarding them for no good reason and taking away the hope that they give does nothing more than disillusion and disappoint people, and like me, and may send them off to find them someplace else.

      2. Hi Neil,

        I love your way of reflecting on the Sunday readings for how a message of hope can be proclaimed. That’s wonderful.

        You are asking a couple of different questions. Good questions. Let me see if I can respond to them. First, I do think Advent joy is different from the joy of Christmas. It’s the contrast between anticipation and fulfillment. I see Advent joy as more eschatological — looking forward to a coming fulfillment that isn’t here yet, but by believing it will come this changes everything in our mental landscape. John is the eschatological figure in the Advent lectionary, but Paul’s writings are drenched in eschatological hope too, since the early church believed Christ’s coming was immanent. The joy of Christmas on the other hand is the sense of being “in the moment” of a promise fulfilled, today, now. (Hodie Christus natus est!) An analogy might be the joy of getting engaged is an Advent joy, compared to the joy you feel on your wedding day, which is completely different (I know you can’t relate as a celibate, but you get my point! 🙂 ).

        The second good question you raise is whether it wouldn’t be preferable to have Advent joy throughout Advent, rather than tacking it onto one Sunday. I think that’s the goal, you know, but the spotlight being placed on the theme of joy during one Sunday can illuminate the whole season, as it were. And, if you’re like me and have had a hard time this year ramping up to any kind of Advent spirit for the first two Sundays, the third Sunday functions as a wake-up call to enter into the Advent spirit that you were too tired or distracted to really “feel” up to this point. Some years I am immersed in Advent spiritually from day one. This year, I had a hard time engaging with the season — too much else going on. So it was not until yesterday that the Advent season seemed to take wing. And I think it’s because of the focus on Advent joy. The thing is, Gaudete Sunday has retroactively changed the frame for the first two Sundays, and now I am present to the whole of Advent…

  6. I think Rita’s hit on something important here. It’s about context: the secular context for joy and rejoicing compared to the Scriptural context for the Advent season. Advent doesn’t promote a joy that’s free of worry, stress, and physical hardship. It promotes a joy that transcends these.

    One tradition that I try to keep each year is an “Advent walk”. I pick a time during Advent, sometimes Christmas night, to walk in a place where I’m unlikely to run into anyone else. During this walk, I look up at the stars, feel the cold in the air, and think about the Advent events. What did the Magi experience, traveling night and day to reach the Christ on Epiphany? Were they cold, tired, disappointed with the leaders around them, longing for something transcendent that would reshape the world? What did the Holy Family experience, fleeing into Egypt in the middle of the night? Did they have similar feelings as the Magi, but for completely different reasons? How did John the Baptist feel, sitting in the desert at night, looking at the starts, knowing that the advent of Christ was just beyond the horizon, so to speak? What type of anticipation, trepidation, or resolution did they feel? Did they have trouble feeling joyful because of what lay in front of them, despite what (or Who) they knew was happening? How did they find a deeper, more permeating joy that goes beyond mere revelry and lack of worldly cares?

    Regarding the OP, do I think that including rose vestments is a good idea? I think probably yes, as it provides a landmark, so to speak, for the journey that is Advent. A journey without landmarks is dull and confusing. Do I think Father has a point about taking a break from something that you never started? Sure. It’s hard to pick out what’s “loud” when a musical score never varies in volume.

    1. Thank you for sharing that “Advent walk.” What a powerful and beautiful spiritual exercise for this season!

      1. @Rita – Not at all. 🙂 Thanks for your OP.

        I appreciated your observations, particularly “…the relentless pretense of jollity in our public spaces can make it all even more depressing.” Those who have lost a child or a spouse, especially during late months, may be “guilted” into a superficial revelry by those who don’t want a downer in the group who ruins their mood. This can lead the person affected to even more depression and the “self-destructive activities” you mention.

        With this in mind, I would make a plea to everyone this Advent / Christmas season, although this applies all year. Please do not assume that everyone around you is equally joyful, equally enthusiastic, etc. about a celebration, even at church functions or parties. Significant loss and the resulting effects are often disguised and hidden, so you can easily find yourself rubbing salt in an open wound without any indication to the contrary. Treat everyone as individuals and try to give each person room to experience the upcoming Holy Days in a way consonant with their life, however difficult or tragic, as superficial joy can simply be grief wearing a mask.

  7. It is not true that the “rest of the text is different.” The Latin Introit from the Graduale Romanum is Philippians 4: 4-6, and the Roman Missal antiphon is an abridged version of that – v. 4 and the end of v. 5.

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