Sunday, December 15, 2013

3rd Sunday of Advent

11th December 1954


III: Rejoice in the Lord


Rejoice in the Lord always, Again I say, rejoice.

MID-ADVENT Sunday: Gaudete : rose-colored vestments —a color which expresses optimism, which suggests a lightening of the sombre violet of the penitential season. But why is Advent a penitential season? Why no Gloria, not even today? Because it is a time of waiting, and waiting means not having: we cannot wait for what we have, we cannot hope for what we already possess, we cannot look forward to what is present before us. But in Advent we are looking forward to the Gloria in excelsis of Christmas, the song of the angels at Bethlehem. At Christmas we shall stand in spirit amid the heavenly host, and shout for joy at the birth of the Prince of Peace. But meanwhile, liturgically, we impose upon ourselves a period of waiting for that moment, the four weeks of waiting that make the moment more joyful for the waiting.

There is a special fullness in the rejoicing that follows upon anticipation, and in the anticipation itself there is a kind of restrained and silent happiness. This anticipation, this looking forward to a moment of bliss, is something that all children understand and know so well. It is indeed human to look ahead, to anticipate events; and it is normal human behavior to look ahead to better times, to anticipate moments of happiness, to depict to ourselves a rosy future, to live in hope. It is abnormal human behavior to see beyond the heavy purple clouds of the present only the black vestments of night, without spying the rising dawn, the roseate-fingered. Yet in our experience on earth, once past the clear dreams of childhood and carefree rejoicing at their day-to-day fulfilment, we sometimes find that the joy of the event pales in comparison with the hidden happiness of the anticipation. This pain is one of the shocks in the experience of growing up. But the benefit gained is the realization that the only joy in anticipation quod non fallit eventus, the only waiting that is fully rewarded, that brings no disappointment, the only hope whose fulfilment never pales, is Advent waiting for Christmas, mankind hoping for its Redeemer, the thin chants of our choirs anticipating the song of the heavenly host, earth awaiting heaven.

Herein lies wisdom: the simple human wisdom of the liturgy and its seasons, the simple meaning of the violet vestments, the absence of the Gloria, the silence of the organ: the anticipation, the waiting, the looking forward to the joy to come, with the special happiness that anticipation brings: the joy in privation, the joy in waiting. And it is this rose-colored Sunday that emphasizes that waiting has its joy: Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice. Although the Gloria is absent in Advent, the Alleluia is never stilled, and the melodies of the Advent Alleluias are particularly festive. The grand melody in the fourth mode for Gaudete Sunday reappears on no less joyful occasions than Ascension and Pentecost, and on the first Sunday in the gay green season after the Epiphany octave; similarly the eighth mode Alleluia of the First Sunday of Advent is used again on Christmas Day, in Easter week, at Ascensiontide, and on the remaining Sundays after Epiphany. The value of these observations is their demonstration of the essentially joyful nature of the Advent liturgy.

For Christian joy is a curious thing; as curious as Christian sorrow: for they are complementary and are always present together. The privation of Advent, when we identify ourselves liturgically with those who were still waiting for the Redeemer, is tempered with songs of Christmas, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. And at the height of liturgical joy, when we identify ourselves with those who first greeted the New-born King, the crucifix is always there. Indeed the presence of a crucifix in our churches, in our workrooms, our playrooms, our homes, is a normal part of Catholic life. A Catholic will sing and dance and make merry, and will not hesitate to do so with the crucifix before him. His rosary carries the image of his crucified Master. Behind the Christian's happiness is the happiness in the hope that comes from redemption: he knows that his salvation came through the Cross: for "the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed." The chastisement of our peace: our peace through his suffering. And this is how the sorrow of the Christian carries peace with it: since the Crucifixion, suffering on earth has been canonized: there is joy in it, joy in privation, joy in anticipation, anticipation of the joy that can never pale.

Here is the Alleluia in purple vestments, and in purple turned for a moment to rose, to give us courage; and the Alleluia in rose is the same melody as the silver Alleluia of the Ascension, the final triumph of the Risen Christ, homo in fine temporum, in heaven, yet with the marks of his pain; the same melody as the red-hot Alleluia of Pentecost, when the Apostles' doubts and anxiety and sadness were turned to love and courage and perseverance by the strength of the Spirit.