Today is known as Gaudete Sunday. The word gaudete means “rejoice.” We gather to rejoice because we are half-way to Christmas. In the ancient Church, Advent was celebrated as a penitential season like Lent, although to a lesser extent. People were expected to keep a rigorous discipline of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The priest and deacon wore violet vestments (although the vestments were of a bluer shade of purple rather than a reddish purple). The Gloria was omitted, yet the Alleluia verse before the Gospel was retained. The Church decorations were expected to be sparse. During the time of Advent people were encouraged to go to confession more frequently. In some countries (like Poland and Italy), people refrained from eating meat at the Christmas Eve meal in preparation for the great feast of Christmas. This wigilia supper was comprised of a variety of meatless dishes, some of which were only eaten on Christmas Eve. In Italy for example, one tradition calls for eating seven varieties of fish at the vigil supper.
Although many of these traditions have gone by the wayside, the Church still considers Advent to be a kind of mini-Lent. Here in the United States, we’ve modified the various disciplines to accommodate the American lifestyle. Almsgiving has evolved into collecting food and presents for the poor. The giving tree, or Jesse tree, features prominently in many parishes. Holiday concert goers are often asked to bring a non- perishable food item in order to be admitted. Extra collections of money are taken up to assist in supplementing the year- round work of Christian Service commissions. Many parishes offer extended confession times and host Advent reflections or prayer opportunities to bolster people’s faith.
On this third Sunday of Advent, the priest may wear rose colored vestments as a sign that we’re almost through the Advent season. (He also does the same on the fourth Sunday of Lent for an analogous reason.) The scripture readings remind us to “rejoice always in the Lord” for our salvation is near at hand. Because God is our savior, there is no need for us to worry. However, in our expectation of the Lord’s return, we must not allow ourselves to become lazy or complacent. We still need to live the Gospel.
In the passage from Luke, John the Baptizer reminds us that we must perform our duties with integrity and purpose. It doesn’t matter what our occupation is, we must never lie, cheat, steal or abuse others. In other words, we must attempt to live out our baptismal calling each and every day of our lives. As we hasten toward the Christmas holiday, let us not lose sight of being an Advent people: We are invited to wait in joyful anticipation of the Lord’s return to us. In our waiting and watching, we should be open to experiencing the presence of Christ in our midst here and now.
So on this Gaudete Sunday, rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.