Gaudete Sunday: Preparing the joy of Christmas with St. John
“Rejoice in the Lord always!” So rings forth the Introit for this Gaudete Sunday, marking the half way point of Advent. Today, the joyful return of certain outward aspects of the Church’s liturgy provide this brief respite in the preparation for the coming of Christ in two weeks time.
So it is, that even in the relatively short period of Advent, a rest is provided by the Church – a rest which calls those waiting the coming of Christ to meditate upon the glory of God as cause for rejoicing. As Dom Gueranger writes:
“To-day, again, the Church is full of joy, and the joy is greater than it was. It is true that her Lord has not come; but she feels that He is nearer than before, and therefore she thinks it just to lessen some what the austerity of this penitential season by the innocent cheerfulness of her sacred rites.”
While the previous two Sundays have been marked by a certain austerity of tone, with the removal of flowers and organ and the wearing of purple, Gaudete is marked by their brief return, and the more joyful tone of rose for the vestments. This, Dom Gueranger writes, is a demonstration of the Church’s blending of the dogmas of faith and the beauty of the liturgy.
“How touching are all these usages, and how admirable this condescension of the Church, wherewith she so beautifully blends together the unalterable strictness of the dogmas of faith and the graceful poetry of the formulae of her liturgy. Let us enter into her spirit, and be glad on this third Sunday of her Advent, because our Lord is now so near unto us. To-morrow we will resume our attitude of servants mourning for the absence of their Lord and waiting for Him; for every delay, however short, is painful and makes love sad."
This expression of joy is seen also in the Gospel, for as Gueranger notes, St. John the Baptist is full of joy that Christ has come, even though those around him are not. St. John thus gives a foretaste of how the Church is to welcome christ in a few weeks time, while those around him warn about how not to welcome Christ. Instead of being indifferent or otherwise distracted, like those in the world caught up in non-religious pursuits at Christmas, the Church calls Her children to follow the example of St. John in his joy and loving welcome for Christ.
The holy abbot Gueranger writes once more:
“This is the third week of Advent; and are all hearts excited by the great tidings told them by the Church, that the Messias is near at hand? They that love Him not as their Saviour, do they fear Him as their Judge? Are the crooked ways being made straight, and the hills being brought low? Are Christians seriously engaged in removing from their hearts the love of riches and the love of sensual pleasures? There is no time to lose: the Lord is nigh! If these lines should come under the eye of any of those Christians who are in this state of sinful indifference, we would conjure them to shake off their lethargy, and render themselves worthy of the visit of the divine Infant: such a visit will bring them the greatest consolation here, and give them confidence hereafter, when our Lord will come to judge all mankind. Send Thy grace, O Jesus, still more plentifully into their hearts; ‘compel them to go in,’ and permit not that it be said of the children of the Church, as St. John said of the Synagogue: There standeth in the midst of you One, whom you know not."