Today is “Gaudete Sunday,” so named from the first word of the Introit for the Mass for the Third Sunday of Advent, which is taken from St. Paul’s command to the Philippians and to us: “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again: Rejoice! …The Lord is near!” This is the most honored Sunday of Advent, as its station Mass is assigned to St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
Today our pace quickens as we run towards the Lord, Who is running even faster to us. We sense that He is near, that soon He will be born for us in the stable of Bethlehem, that soon He will come to judge the living and the dead. We rejoice at this sense of His nearness and beg Him to prepare in our hearts the way for His Coming.
Our joy at Jesus’s nearness is signified by the use of rose vestments. Today is one of only two days in the whole Church year in which we use this liturgical color. (The other day is “Laetare Sunday,” the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which reminds us that Easter is near.) The focus of our Advent preparation shifts today from the remote task of repentance and rejection of sin to the proximate task of looking forward to the Lord’s Birth. Our attention gradually shifts from the figure of John the Baptist to the beautiful countenance of Our Blessed Mother, heavy with child, expectant of His miraculous Virgin Birth.
On Thursday, this new focus of Advent is made even more present in the liturgical life of the Church with the celebration of the “Greater Feriae” of Advent. These Greater Days – from December 17 to December 23 – are marked especially by the use at Vespers (and in the Alleluia verses in the Ordinary Form) of the “O Antiphons.” The “O Antiphons” begin with invocations of Jesus Christ under His various prophetic names from the Old Testament: Emmanuel (December 23), Rex(22), Oriens (21), Clavis (20), Radix (19), Adonai (18), Sapientia (17). Having invoked the Lord under each of these titles, the Church then makes a specific petition to her Divine Spouse, asking for the graces connected with each of His glorious titles.
These beautiful antiphons, and the profound chanted melodies which accompany them, are deeply evocative of the whole richness of Israel’s expectation of her Messiah. They are easily accessible on YouTube, which the text and musical notation on the screen as you listen to the chant. Read as an acrostic from the last to the first, their first letters spell “ERO CRAS,” Latin for “Tomorrow, I will be (here).” In this last part of Advent, we enter into the joy of the expectant Blessed Virgin Mary, who stands in the person of all Israel, the true Daughter Zion, rejoicing in the King Who is to Come.
The experience of the joy of Advent teaches us about the joy in which we can live always. If we reject sin – all that is contrary to God’s beautiful Reality – and live in expectation of our Heavenly Union with Him, which is begun already by grace in our souls right now, then we can receive the joy that comes from hope. In other words, as we wait for the Coming of the Lord, we receive a kind of foretaste of the joy that He brings. We pray today through the intercession of Our Lady for a great increase in our souls of the theological virtue of hope.
Fr. Joseph Previtali