Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete! Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your modesty should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. (Philippians 4:1-3)
The proximity of the Nativity compels the Church to rejoice, and to manifest her exultation, she once again takes up vestments of rosacea. As during Laetare Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday in Advent) exhibits a joyful character, a brief respite from penitential austerity. We still refrain from the song of the angels (Gloria in excelsis) for the King is not yet arrived, but the words of Saint Paul which form our Introit remind us that the penitential character of Advent is not marked by the same severity as Lent. Rather, Advent is a period of preparation and expectation, as when families ready their houses to welcome loved ones. Even here there is a latent joy, a form of that already-but-not-yet character which defines Christian existence. This expectation of the upcoming feast is a metaphor for our eschatological expectation, as we prepare for the ultimate arrival of Christ, when he will judge all men and all ages.
(To understand why the Church vests herself in rose-colored vestments, refer to Laetare Sunday.)
Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete! Paul exhorts us to a double rejoicing. In the first place, we rejoice because Christ has already arrived, taking the form of our own fallen flesh and thereby redeeming it. On the other hand, we also rejoice because, though He is risen to the right hand of the Father, we know that, as St. Paul says above, “the Lord is near.”
And yet, despite his nearness, or rather because of it, we are fearful and humbled; the proximity of Emmanuel— “God with us”– compels us to be mindful of our worthiness to receive him. Though we are joyful, we remain vigilant and alert, examining ourselves and watching for the wickedness and snares of the Evil One. We happily prepare for the Messiah’s arrival by excising sin from our lives and adhering to that sober discipline of the faithful steward (Matt 24:42-51) and the wise virgins (Matt 25:1-13), ready to greet the Master at his coming.
All this is reflected in today’s splendid rosacea color. The sign of the rose– the unity of petals and thorns, the confluence of beauty and pain– remind us that joy and penitence often accompany one another. The Paschal Mystery itself eminently symbolizes this paradoxical unity of salvation and suffering, of joy and pain. In today’s liturgical vestments (when their color is properly rosacea, not pink) the brilliant red thread intertwined with strands of silver remind us of the seed of glory in the blood of martyrdom. In the Litany of Loreto, one of Mary’s titles is “Mystical Rose”– for she whose faith brimmed with such beauty that she would bear the Son of God, had her own heart pierced by the sword of her Son’s Passion.
Despite our foreknowledge of our penitential suffering, we should “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make [our] requests known to God.” Indeed, the Lord is near, and we, marked by the sign of his Passion and Cross, will be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.
Ergo iterum dico: gaudete!