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Gaudete Sunday: The Season of Advent and Rejoicing

by Brant Pitre July 30, 2021 0 Comments

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Dr. Brant Pitre discusses Gaudete Sunday and why it should be a time of rejoicing during the season of Advent. This was taken from the Mass Readings Explained. Subscribers can find the full video here:


So with that in mind, let’s turn back to the Old Testament reading.  The Old Testament reading for today, not coincidentally, is nothing less than a prophecy of the Messiah.  So it's one of the most famous prophecies of the Messiah,  It is from the book of Isaiah 61.  One of the things you will notice about Advent is that if you like the book of Isaiah, this is your time of year.  Because not only in the Sunday readings, but especially if you go to daily mass during the Advent season, you're going to get prophecy after prophecy after prophecy from the book of Isaiah.  Some ancient Christians even referred to Isaiah as the fifth gospel, that the book of Isaiah was so accurate in its predictions of the Messiah and so profound in its descriptions of the Messiah, that you could kind of describe it as the fifth gospel — although it would actually be the first gospel because it would be written hundred of years before the four Gospels, but I digress.  So let's look at the reading for today, it is from Isaiah 61 and says this:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to bring good tidings to the afflicted;

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

Then it skips a section there all the way down to verse 10, where it picks up and says:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,

my soul shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,

and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,

so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise

to spring forth before all the nations.

So what's the meaning of that prophecy?  Why is this the first reading for the third Sunday of Advent?  Well a couple of things are obvious.  First, the anointing of the Messiah with the spirit of God.  So when you see that expression in the first line, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me,” the Hebrew word there for anointed is actually mashach, from which we get the noun mashiach, that just means anointed one.  That exact word gets translated into Greek as christos or Christ.  So there's a parallelism there between the mashach of Isaiah 61, the Messiah, the one was anointed, and the christos that John the Baptist mentions in the Gospel.  So first point, it's all about the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.

Second point, notice the language of good tidings or good news.  As we saw earlier on in Advent, last week with second Sunday of Mark, the good news, the gospel, is rooted in Isaiah's prophecy of the coming of God, that one day God himself is going to come.  And if that is not good news, I don’t know what is.  Because again, look at the world, not just at the time of Isaiah but at the time of John the Baptist in the first century A.D.  Rome is in charge, Herod has committed all kinds of atrocities and murders.  There is violence, bloodshed, poverty, suffering and they are longing for God to fulfill his promises, to come and save his people.  You could even imagine them crying “where are you God.  All I hear is bad news, could you give me some good news.”  Well that is what Isaiah is doing here, the spirit of the Lord is upon the Messiah.  He's going bring good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, to bind up the brokenhearted.  There was a lot of broken hearted people then, and there is a lot of broken hearted people now.  That's what we are doing during Advent, we are looking at the good news, we are preparing ourselves for the good news of the coming of God.

And then the final aspect here that is really important is that verse, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall exult in my God.”  So what's our response to God's coming?  What's our response to the coming of the Messiah?  Well it should be joy.  We should exalt, we should rejoice at the coming of the Messiah.  So this reading is particularly appropriate for the Third Sunday of Advent, because the Third Sunday of Advent, as you probably noticed, is traditionally referred to as Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is the Latin for rejoice.  This is just taken straight from Philippians 2, which is used as the antiphon for this day.  So this Third Sunday of Advent is getting closer and closer to Christmas and so we are supposed to focus on that experience of joy at the fact that the Messiah is finally going to come.  You'll notice too on the Third Sunday, that priests will often shift the colors from wearing the purple or violet of the other days and weeks of Advent, to the color rose.  Don’t say it is pink, most priests will get offended if you say they are wearing pink.  It is rose, that is the actual name of the color.  I wore red today.  I usually try to to match liturgical colors if I can, but I don't own a pink shirt and I don't own a rose shirt, and I wasn’t going to buy one just for the video.  But I am still going to rejoice because today is rejoice Sunday, and you can see that that theme is being highlighted in the Old Testament reading for today.

And not only in the Old Testament reading, but in the Responsorial Psalm.  So if you look at today, there is another surprising aspect of the readings.  Not only is the Gospel for the Third Sunday taken from John and not Mark, but the Responsorial Psalm is not taken from the Psalms, it is taken from the Gospel of Luke, and in particular from the Magnificat of Mary, her famous song of rejoicing that she sings after Elizabeth greets her during the mystery of the visitation to Elizabeth.  So if you look over and turn over to Luke 1, the Responsorial Psalm for today is Luke 1:46 and following.  It says this, after encountering Elizabeth and John the Baptist leaps in the womb of Elizabeth, we read these words:

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.

For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name…

So notice here, why does the Church make the Magnificat….which by the way, that Latin word magnificat simply comes from the Latin translation of these verses in the Latin Vulgate.  So when Mary says my soul magnifies the Lord, the Latin is magnificat.  So when I call it the Magnificat, that's why I'm saying that.  So in the Magnificat, Mary rejoices that she is being chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, to be the mother of Christ, and so as we move into the second part of Advent, and are shifting into the third week with more anticipation toward the actual birth of Jesus himself, the Church gives us Mary’s words from the Magnificat to kind of continue to foster that experience of joy on the third Sunday of Advent.  Which by the way, one of the reasons that's the case is because Advent was traditionally a penitential season.  You might have noticed that the Church’s liturgical colors during Advent and Lent are Violet.  The altar is draped in violet, the priests wear violet, why?  Because purple is the color of penance.  Everyone I think is pretty aware that Lent is a penitential season, but Advent historically developed as a season of penance as well, in which people would pray and fast in order to anticipate not just the birth of Christ, but to prepare themselves through prayer and fasting for the coming of Jesus, his second coming at the end of time.  And in the middle of that season, on the Third Sunday, you could have a relaxation of those Advent penances and have a spirit of joy that you're halfway through the season and ready to get to Christmas.  Just like in the Fourth Sunday of Lent you have the color rose as well as you make it halfway through the six weeks of Lent, you’re entering into the second half of the season, there is a relaxation of penances traditionally that has been accompanied with that Fourth Sunday of Lent.  So they are kind of parallel seasons, although obviously Advent is a less stringently penitential season, and it is more of a season of preparing for the joy of Christmas, but all this is swirling around the surface for the readings for this particular Sunday.  They're all chosen very carefully to highlight this experience of joy, the joy of the Blessed Mother becoming the mother of Christ.  Who which, by the way, notice she says here “all generations will call her blessed”and not some generations will call her blessed.  There really is an expectation that all Christians, not just Catholics, but all Christians throughout time will honor her as the joyful mother of the Messiah.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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