The Third Sunday of Advent is nicknamed “Gaudete Sunday” from the first word of the entrance chant, or Introit: Rejoice! Today we relax slightly our penitential focus during Advent. Advent is joyous, but also penitential. Remember: we fast before our feasts.
At the beginning of Advent we begged God for the grace of a strong will as we prepare for Christ’s coming. In the second week, we asked God for help and protection to overcome the obstacles we encounter in the world. Today we glimpse the joy that will soon be ours at Christmas. Before returning to violet, we relax our penitential joy into joyful penance for a day. Flowers and instrumental music are to be excluded during Advent, as during Lent, but today we can use them and our Mass vestments can warm up with a rosy hue. This reflects and imitates what we do even more solemnly during Lent which has its own “Rejoice” or “Laetare Sunday”.
Our Collect in the Novus Ordo, not in the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum, is lifted in large part from the Rotulus of Ravenna, which has prayers as ancient as the 5th century:
“Deus, qui conspicis populum tuum nativitatis dominicae festivitatem fideliter exspectare, praesta, quaesumus, ut valeamus ad tantae salutis gaudia pervenire, et ea votis sollemnibus alacri laetitia celebrare.”
The infinitives, expectare (“await”), pervenire (“attain”) and celebrare (“frequent; honour”) climatically summarise our Advent preparation. Conspicio (“to get sight of”) is etymologically related to exspecto. This is skillful wordplay: God “watches” over us and we “watch” for Him.
Current ICEL translation: “O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.”
Speaking of climatically, I capture in this Collect the promising potential of a Christmas Day scene. The verbs rush us towards our goal. Our heavenly Father watches over us as we run down the path toward His gift, our Saviour. Earthly fathers look over this spectacle on Christmas morning. Children don’t go by zig-zags when they catch sight of their gifts, they go straight at ’em, as Admiral Nelson told Captain Aubrey. “Make straight the path”, cries the Baptist throughout Advent. Christ, in his return, will come straight at us. Knowing that God watches over our sometimes faltering steps, always go straight at Him.