A Note From Fr. Timothy
The third Sunday of Advent is commonly known as Gaudete Sunday – from the first word of the introit (entrance antiphon) for the Mass. It is a call to “Rejoice in the Lord always . . . for the Lord is near at hand” (cf. Phil. 4:4-6). This Sunday reminds us that even though we observe a solemn season of Advent to prepare for the Lord’s coming, we should still rejoice and be joyful in anticipation of Christmas.
Advent is a penitential season, but I feel it often gets overshadowed by the season of Lent. We all know about days of fasting and abstinence during Lent and a Lenten penance we observe, but generally people do not think the same about Advent. In fact, I sometimes get the impression that the only different thing people notice about the liturgy during Advent is the change in the color vestment the priest wears at Mass.
In fact, Advent is meant to stand out as a unique season or penance and preparation. There was a time, not that long ago, where it was prohibited to use the organ at Mass during penitential seasons (i.e., Advent and Lent) so as to make it ever more evident to the people that there was something different happening. For some people it might be difficult to imagine choirs and congregations singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (or any other popular Advent hymn) without any musical accompaniment. Yet silencing the instruments and emphasizing chant helped set a tone of worship at Mass that may help counter culture’s incessant Christmas carols well before Christmas ever arrives.
However, on Gaudete Sunday it was permitted to once again decorate with flowers in the church and play the organ at Mass. It helped this Sunday stand out all the more in the season of Advent (and similarly for Laetare Sunday in the midst of Lent). It is not just a day for wearing rose-colored vestments, but a reminder that in solemn times there can still be joy, and in the darkness there is still hope.
Now the Church states that is permissible to use the organ and other musical instruments “to support the singing” during Advent and Lent (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 313). But it still leaves open the option to observe these seasons by putting away the organ. The GIRM also encourages the use of silence at Masses during these times when we might otherwise fill that silence with music (in procession, for example).
Different communities and different priests are going to have different takes on how to interpret and implement those ideas in the liturgy – and that is okay. But what we all must remember is that we should each actively enter into these seasons and celebrations, observing their differences and distinctions, so that in that spirit we might be ever more prepared for the great celebration of Christ’s birth and the Christmas season. I do not believe that Christmas will ever mean much to us, if we do not first prepare our hearts for it in the anticipation of Advent. If Christmas and all its glory fails to truly affect our hearts, it is likely because we did not allow our hearts to be affected by penance and patience in the weeks leading up to it.
My brothers and sisters, let us all do whatever we can to enter into the spirit of these remaining days of Advent, so that when Christmas arrives we can celebrate it with a joy of heart unlike anything else.
Fr. Timothy Gapinski