14 December 2011

Rejoice, rejoice, waiting for the coming of Christ

‘Rejoice always … may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (I Thessalonians 5: 16, 23) … The cover photograph on our booklet this evening is an icon of Christ as Minister of Word and Sacrament, seen in a shop window in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011).

Patrick Comerford

This evening, I am presiding at our end-of-semester Eucharist, which includes the collects and readings for last Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, which is also known traditionally as Gaudete Sunday.

Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete (“Rejoice”), the first words of the traditional entrance antiphon or introit for the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper:
iterum dico, gaudete.
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:
Dominus enim prope est.
Nihil solliciti sitis:
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum.
Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

This may be translated as:

“Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I say, rejoice.
Let your forbearance be known to all,
for the Lord is near at hand;
have no anxiety about anything,
but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.
Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob."

This draws on a number of Biblical passages, including Philippians 4: 4–6 and Psalm 85: 1-2.

In many churches, rose-coloured vestments are worn on Gaudete Sunday instead of the violet of Advent. In some Anglican traditions, “Sarum Blue” is used instead.

Blue as a liturgical colour represents hopefulness. The use of blue at this time of the year as a liturgical colour in some Christian tradititions is found in the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the mediaeval Sarum Rite in England. While Sarum had blue for Advent, Lichfield had black or possibly blue, Exeter had violet, Wells had azure, dark blue or even a bright blue or purple, while Liverpool had lilac.

The colour blue is also used in the Mozarabic Rite (Catholic and Anglican), which dates to the eighth century, and the Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred colour for Advent. In his classic on liturgy, Percy Dearmer explains that violet can range from purple through to blue. But then I remember the old playground rhyme:

“Roses are red, violets are blue ...”

So I have a blue stole for Advent, with touches of red, rose and violet ... and even a touch of black.

The tradition of substituting violet with rose or pink, which was observed informally in the past by Anglicans, is provided as an option in the Church of England in Common Worship.

Similarly, the rose-coloured candle is lit on the Advent wreath on Gaudete Sunday, alongside the two violet or blue candles from the first two Sundays of Advent.

Rose is sometimes used too on Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Some people are very insistent that the liturgical colour is rose, and not pink. The Latin word used is rosacea, which means rose-coloured, but Spanish uses the equivalent phrase color de rosa for pink and Italian has something similar.

The readings for the Third Sunday of Advent also emphasise the joyous anticipation of Chris’s coming:

“Rejoice always … may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5: 16, 23).

The call to rejoice is echoed too in the choice of hymns for our Eucharist this evening.

In the Offertory hymn we sing:

And those who mourn with heavy hearts,
who weep and sigh;
with laughter, joy and royal crown
he’ll beautify.

And in our Post-Communion hymn, the refrain is:

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

That hymn is based on the O Antiphons, which traditionally begin on Saturday next [17 December]. These are the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, and also serve as the Gospel acclamations.

This evening we are looking forward not just to Christmas – although we are looking forward to that too – but to a time of rejoicing. For, as our Epistle reading this evening says:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you … May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, 23).

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

– Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

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