What Does the Prayer Really Say? Third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” Sunday
Now we have one of what I call “nickname Sundays”: Gaudete…. a Latin plural imperative of the verb gaudeo, meaning “Rejoice!” These nickname Sundays (like “Cantate… Quasimodo… Laetare… etc.”) get their names, which go back to at least John of Salisbury in the 12th century, from the first word of the Introit chant for the Mass. Today, there is a relaxation of the stark penitential aspect of Advent, during which time traditionally (and still present in the rubrics) there were no flowers and decorations and no instrumental music (including organ unless used only to sustain congregational singing). 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. This Sunday we can have rose colored vestments, instrumental music, the organ, flowers. Christmas is near at hand.
COLLECT LATIN: Deus, qui conspicis populum tuum nativitatis dominicae festivitatem fideliter exspectare, praesta, quaesumus, ut valeamus ad tantae salutis gaudia pervenire, et ea votis sollemnibus alacri laetitia celebrare.
It is very nice to have those infinitives (expectare…pervenire…celebrare …. await … attain … celebrate) at the end of each line: in a way the sum up what we are doing in Advent. LITERAL: O God, who attentively watches your people (as they) faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s birth, grant, we beg, that we may be able to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them with eager jubilation by means of solemn offerings.
We have an image of God the Father patiently watching his people as they go about their Advent business of performing penance and just works in joyful anticipation of the coming of Christ. This image is found in that verb conspicio, which in the extraordinary Lewis & Short Dictionary can mean “to look at attentively, to get sight of, to descry, perceive, observe.” The emphasis in the prayer is on the aspect of joy, as befits “Gaudete” Sunday. I am struck by the word alacer with laetitia. Alacer is a “brisk” word, can mean “lively, brisk, quick, eager, active; glad, happy, cheerful”. Here, I choose “eager”, since the aspect of joy is being reinforced by other words in the prayer such as laetitia… “unrestrained joyfulness.” This prayer gives us the mental picture of someone rushing and tumbling, childlike, towards a long-desired thing. Rather Christmas morning-ish, no? God, as a loving Father, attentively watches the kids before Christmas present time, attentive that no one hurts himself. Banal characterization? Perhaps. Still, it is a useful way to understand the dynamic between God and ourselves during the progress of our Advent preparation following after the heartfelt petitions of the first and second week. There is a powerful sentiment of expectation in the Mass for this Sunday, and that comes out in this prayer. And the expectation does not seem to be merely ours… it is God’s as well. We describe God often using human images. This offertory embodies the word pair which describes the attitude of the season: joyful penance… penitential joy.
This is a Sunday packed with interesting traditions and history. This is the time of year in the Catholic Online Forum’s ASK FATHER Question Box when people always ask, “Why are there three purple candles and one pink on an Advent wreath?” Despite the claim of some Lutherans that they developed the Advent wreath, the answer I give is, “Because those are the colors a Roman Catholic priest wears when saying Mass on those Sundays.” But why pink or (more officially) rose on the third Sunday of Advent? Easy: rose is the color used on the fourth Sunday of Lent! Perpend: In Rome for centuries now there are celebrations of Mass during the great seasons of Lent/Easter and Advent/Christmas at “station” churches. (I will get back to this tradition of “stations” in WDTPRS at the beginning of Lent.) In Lent, the fourth Sunday is called “Laetare” (which means in Latin pretty much what “Gaudete” means…”rejoice!”). The station Mass for “Laetare” Sunday was at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem not far from the Lateran Basilica (the Pope’s cathedral in Rome). It was the custom on this day, stretching perhaps back to the time of Pope St. Gregory III (740), for the Pope to bless special roses made of gold that were to be sent to the Catholic kings, queens and notables. Thus it was called Dominica de rosa…. Sunday of the Rose. It doesn’t take much imagination to develop rose vestments from this custom. Soon the practice of using rose (the technical term for the color to be used is rosacea… from the Latin adjective for “made of roses”) spread from that basilica to the rest of the City. As a Roman practice it became part and parcel of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pius V through the world. The custom is still perfectly legitimate today and it is coming back into vogue again, thanks be to God. Once again you see rose vestments in church goods catalogues and shops. Perhaps your parish needs them? Many churches threw them in the dumpster after Vatican II, along with all their black, all maniples and burses of all colors, and anything that wasn’t polyester, wasn’t finger-painted, and didn’t drape. But I digress… Because of the parallel between Advent’s “Gaudete” and “Laetare” of Lent, the use of rose vestments spread to “Gaudete” as well. So now there are two days of the year when rose is permitted. A beautiful custom, really. NB: Blue is not an approved liturgical color for Advent. Sorry, I am not making this up. Not that I have anything against blue, of course. It is simply liturgically illegal right now. When the Holy See approves the use of blue I will happily put it on. Instead of agitating for women priests, I wish the agitators would agitate for blue vestments… without breaking the law this time. What a marvelous mental image: traditional Catholics eagerly putting on blue maniples, blue dalmatics and tunics, covering chalices with blue veils and blue burses. I am reminded of the song we made up in seminary years ago, regarding the violation of liturgical law so widespread today (to the tune of O Come, O Come Emmanuel):
O Come, O Come liturgical blue; Out with the old and in with the new. We’ll banish purple vestments from here: They say that blue is very hot this year. Chorus: Gaudy… gaudy… gaudy chasubles; In baby, navy, powderpuff and teal. They say Advent is Blessed Mary’s time, So we’ll wear blue though its liturgic crime. In place of rose we’ll wear white, and though its wrong we’ll say that it’s alright.
Chorus: Gaudy… gaudy… gaudy chasubles; In baby, navy, powderpuff and teal.
Those are not all the verses and I am not sure I got the lyrics just right, but the main point is there. My apologies to my former confreres if I got it wrong. It was a long time ago.
ICEL: Lord God, 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 doesn’t really capture the impact of the Latin prayer. It is rather flat. But I know we will all say in response, “Amen.”