13 December 2009

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico ... note the pink or rose-colured robes on the Angel Gabriel and on the Virgin Mary

Patrick Comerford


O Lord Jesus Christ, who at your first coming sent your messenger to prepare your way before you: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in your sight; for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

Lectionary Readings

Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Psalm 146: 5-10; Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 7-18.

The Advent Wreath

For the past two weeks, the Advent wreath has been lighting each day at the offices and at the Liturgy. So far, we have lit two of the five candles – two of the purple or violet candles on the edge. But there is a change this week, for today is Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, when the pink or rose-coloured candle in the wreath is lit.

In churches with an Advent wreath, the rose-coloured candle is lit alongside the two violet (or blue) candles from the first two Sundays of Advent. Despite the otherwise sombre readings of Advent, the readings on the third Sunday emphasise the joyous anticipation of the Lord’s coming.

The Advent Wreath has five candles: three purple, one pink and one white. They are first lit on each of the Sundays of Advent and on Christmas Day as follows:

Advent 1: purple, for the patriarchs;

Advent 2: purple, for the prophets;

Advent 3: pink, for Saint John the Baptist;

Advent 4: purple, for the Virgin Mary;

Christmas Day: white, for Christ.

Once lit, they are each then lit again for the remaining Sundays, so that on Christmas Day they are all lit. Whether they are in a circular or stepped arrangement, the white candle should be the highest, central or most prominent candle in the arrangement. The three purple candles represent the generally penitential character of the Advent season. But the pink colour of the third candle indicates that the Third Sunday of Advent is a less solemn day.

On this Sunday, which is also known as Gaudete Sunday, rose-coloured vestments are worn instead of the Advent violet. In many parts of the Anglican Communion and in some Lutheran traditions, the colour may be Sarum blue instead. Some traditions say the custom of wearing rose-pink vestments on this Sunday – as on the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday) – comes from an old custom of the Popes distributing roses on these days.

Gaudete Sunday

The season of Advent began as a fast of 40 days in preparation for Christmas. But in the ninth century, the length of Advent was reduced to four weeks. This Sunday takes the name Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word Gaude, “Rejoice,” the first word in the traditional introit for this morning:

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

The spirit of the Liturgy all through Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the Christmas feast, as well as for the second coming of Christ. But on Gaudete Sunday, the penitential exercises suitable to the spirit of Advent are suspended, symbolising that joy and gladness in the promised redemption that should never be absent from our hearts.

On the middle or third Sunday of Advent – corresponding to Laetare or Mid-Lent Sunday – the organ and flowers, which had been forbidden during the rest of the season, were permitted once again. Rose-colored vestments were allowed instead of purple, the deacon and sub-deacon reassumed the dalmatic and tunicle, and cardinals wore rose-colour instead of purple.

Gaudete Sunday is also marked by a new Invitatory: the Church no longer invites us to prepare to greet “the Lord who is to come,” but calls us to worship and hail with joy “the Lord who is now nigh and close at hand” – a theme that is reflected in the Collect and Post-Communion Prayer for this day in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland, along with recalling Saint John the Baptist, another tradition of Gaudete Sunday.

For some families, this weekend is also traditionally the weekend for putting up the Christmas Tree.

Listening to a 1970s hit

In recent days, I have also been listening to the song Gaudete, usually sung on Gaudete Sunday. The Irish choral group Anúna sang Gaudete on their CDs Omnis (1996) and Celtic Origins (2007). But the version I have been listening to and listening to again this weekend became popular in the early 1970s. I was first introduced to English folk rock while I was in the English Midlands and writing for the Lichfield Mercury.

After Bob Johnson heard Gaudete at a folk carol service at his father-in-law’s church in Cambridge, Steeleye Span recorded Gaudete in 1972 on their album Below the Salt. The record sleeve notes said:

Mist takes the morning path to wreath the willows -
Rejoice, rejoice -
small birds sing as the early rising monk takes to his sandals -
Christ is born of the Virgin Mary -
cloistered, the Benedictine dawn threads timelessly the needle’s eye -

Steeleye Span was formed in 1969, and they often performed as the opening act for Jethro Tull. A year after recording Below the Salt, it came as a surprise to many when they had a Christmas hit single with Gaudete, when it made No 14 in the British charts in 1973.

This a capella motet, sung entirely in Latin, is neither representative of Steeleye Span’s repertoire nor of the album. Yet this was their first big breakthrough and it brought them onto Top of the Pops for the first time.

The reference in verse 3, which puzzled many fans at the time, is to the eastern gate of the city in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 44: 2). The gate is a traditional symbol of Mary as virgin.

Since the mid-1970s, despite the change in their line-up and the loss of names like Maddy Pryor and Gay and Terry Woods at different times, they often include Gaudete as a concert encore, and it was publised in 1992 in the New Oxford Book of Carols.

The original is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN9AJj9rtlk&feature=related But there are some more recent recordings at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBZ8v9L8444 and at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDc2FD-vy8M&feature=related

I posted a link to one version on my Facebook page late on Friday night, and was surprised by the reaction. Let us rejoice in good memories, let us rejoice that Christmas is coming, and in the midst of the present gloom let us rejoice that the coming of Christ holds out the promise of hope, the promise of his Kingdom, that even in darkness the light of Christ shines on us all.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

The time of grace has come
that we have desired;
let us devoutly return
joyful verses.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

God has become man,
and nature marvels;
the world has been renewed
by Christ who is King.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

The closed gate of Ezekiel
has been passed through;
whence the light is born,
salvation is found.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

Therefore let our gathering
now sing in brightness,
let it give praise to the Lord:
Greetings to our King.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

Post Communion Prayer

Father, we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts. Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit that when Christ comes again we may shine as lights before his face; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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