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Gaudete Sunday, 2010
Isaiah 35
I Thess. 1:12-23

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  In the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice.”  This quote from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Phillipians begins the Introit of the mass for Gaudete Sunday.  Like the Psalms, masses derive their titles from their first few words.  Gaudete is the Latin command: Rejoice.  Today is also called Rose Sunday.  Rose Sunday because the priest dons pink vestments, if he has them.  The vestments mark today as different, as special, because  pink is very rarely the liturgical color.  Twice a year in fact: once today, and once in the middle of Lent on Laetare Sunday.  Twice a year the Church softens the penitential purple of the season for a welcoming pink.  Many other provisions are allowed for this day: the organ is again allowed to be played, flowers are allowed to decorate the church again, and deacons and subdeacons may wear their dalmatic or tunicles for the mass today.  The Church today reminds herself to look ahead to the “Lord who is nigh and close at hand.”  Today is a day, as Isaiah puts it, to “Shake thyself from the dust, arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”

These provisions strike us as odd today.  Most of us have not spent the past few weeks in sackcloth, lying in the ashes and dust as Isaiah assumes.  Centuries ago, when our Western society was more in tune with the Christian faith and calendar, the liturgical seasons were observed if not with more inward devotion than certainly with more outward obligation.  The sale and consumption of meat was forbidden, public revelry restricted, and attendance at mass, well, more obligatory than usual.  Fast days were privately practiced; they were also publicly reinforced – not out of authoritarian malice, but rather to ease the pain of temptation.  We can certainly see the need for some respite from such strenuous penance – a brief breather – a renewal of spirit to steel us for the more intense penance which will better prepare us for the great Feast of the Nativity.

But today is not a day to remind us of what is lost, rather it is a reminder of what is possible.  Outside of the monasteries and religious houses few experience Advent as a full penitential season today.   For many of us in the world these past few weeks have caught us up in the secular “Holiday Season”.  Amid such hubbub, what reminder do we need to rejoice?  We are surrounded by what passes for good cheer nowadays: blinking holiday lights, bubbly winter-themed music, and fake snow.  We are surrounded with things designed to make us feel good, do good and spend liberally.  There are more events, concerts, plays, and parties – especially of the onerous office variety.  And at some point, however short or long, even the most cynical of us will get caught up in the frenetic frivolity.  And at some point, however long or short, we will be poked by guilt.  Because in the midst of the bustle we are not filled with hope and joy, but an obligated feeling of doing simply to be done with.
By the Third Week of Advent, either by penance or frenzy, our souls are parched and roaming in the desert.  The Church in her wisdom gives us this day so that “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose … and rejoice even with joy and singing.”   We need this Sunday to remind us that our hope is not found in the penance, the parties or the presents.  These things when properly understood and used are not the end to themselves but instead, like the Baptist, point the way to Jesus. 
            This is the message of Gaudete Sunday: Gaudete in Domino semper – Rejoice in the Lord always.  We are the people Isaiah speaks of, those “ransomed of the Lord with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness.”   Overwhelming joy is the proper response to the overwhelming mercy of God.  A God, as the Gospel for today reminds us, who is right here in our midst, though we know him not.   The intense expectation which is built into the Advent Offices and Liturgies along with the penitential spirit of the season are suspended just for a little while to help us see that the joy and gladness of our promised redemption should never be absent from our hearts.


Phil 4:4.

Isa 52:2.

Isa 35:1-2.

Isa 35:10.

Jn 1:26

Stephen Rugg
Dec. 12, 2010

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