What Does the Prayer Really Say? 3rd Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” – Station: St. Peter in the Vatican
ORIGINALLY PRINTED IN The Wanderer in 2004
This article was an oddity in the series, since there were techincal difficulties in transmitting it to the publisher. So, here is just the part referring to the 3rd Sunday of Advent.
Now for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, also nicknamed Gaudete…. the plural imperative of gaudeo, “Rejoice!”. Today, there is a relaxation of the penitential aspect of Advent. In the first week of Advent we begged God for the grace of the proper approach and will for our preparation. In the second week, we ask God for help and protection in facing the obstacles the world raises against us. This Sunday we have a glimpse of the joy that is coming in our rose colored (rosacea) vestments, some use of the organ, flowers. Christmas is near at hand.
COLLECT – LATIN TEXT (2002MR)
Deus, qui conspicis populum tuum
nativitatis dominicae festivitatem fideliter exspectare,
ut valeamus ad tantae salutis gaudia pervenire,
et ea votis sollemnibus alacri laetitia celebrare.
The infinitives in our Collect (expectare… pervenire… celebrare) give it a grand sound and also sum up what we are doing in Advent. L&S informs us that conspicio means, “to look at attentively, to get sight of, to descry, perceive, observe.” Alacer is, “lively, brisk, quick, eager, active; glad, happy, cheerful” and it is put in an unlikely combination with laetitia, “joy, especially unrestrained joyfulness”. At the same time we also have votis sollemnibus. Votum signifies first of all, “a solemn promise made to some deity” (we have all made baptismal vows!) and also “wish, desire, longing, prayer”. There is a powerful sentiment of longing in this prayer, God’s as well as ours. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that expecto is from ex- + pecto (pecto, “to comb”). You won’t find exspecto “look forward to”, in your L&S, but the etymological dictionary of Latin by Ernout and Meillet says it is from ex- + *specio, spexi, spectum or ex- + spicio. Therefore, it is a cousin of conspicio: God “watches” over us and we “look” back at… er um… forward to Him. This word play is quite clever, really.
O God, who attentively does watch Your people
look forward faithfully to the feast of the Lord’s birth,
grant, we entreat,
that we may be able to attain the to joys of so great a salvation
and celebrate them with eager jubilation in solemn festive rites.
ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
may we, your people,
who look forward to the birthday of Christ
experience the joy of salvation
and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving.
This offertory embodies a word pair describing the attitude of Advent: joyful penance… penitential joy. With the last two week’s of “rushing” in our prayers and doing good works, we have now the added image of eager and unrestrained joy, an almost childlike dash towards a long-desired thing. Have earthly fathers watched this scene all of a Christmas morning? Even so should we be in our eager joy to perform good works under the gaze of a Father who watches us, a Father with a plan. This lame duck ICEL version captures little of the impact of the Latin prayer, that is, God the Father is patiently watching his people as we go about the Advent business of doing penance and just works in joyful anticipation Christ’s coming. But perhaps you will be good enough to respond with an eager and joyfully penitential “Amen” when you hear it pronounced even as you long for a better translation in the future.