Saturday, December 16, 2017


Tomorrow is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, commonly called Gaudete Sunday. Advent originated as a penitential season, modeled somewhat on Lent. It was often called St. Martin’s Lent, because a 40-day Advent fast began on the day after the feast of St. Martin (November 11). By the 9th century Advent had been reduced to four weeks in most of the Latin Church (except for the Milanese Ambrosian Rite, which still has six weeks of Advent), and by the 12th century the fast was gone. Until the 20th century, however, Advent still preserved many of the liturgical characteristics of a penitential season. Thus, on the middle (Gaudete) Sunday of Advent, as on the middle (Laetare) Sunday of Lent, the organ and flowers, forbidden during the rest of the season, were permitted, and rose-colored vestments were allowed instead of penitential purple. 

Coming midway through a season traditionally penitential in character and focused on Christ’s final coming at the end of the world, Gaudete Sunday highlights the nearness of the Lord's coming and the joyful hope that should characterize our expectation. Although Advent has lost its traditional penitential character in recent decades, today’s rose-colored vestments, remind us of Advent’s serious side, even as they continue to invite us to rejoice in Christ’s presence and action in our world.

The great 20th-century liturgical writer Pius Parsch advised those "who love the liturgy" to "celebrate such extraordinary days in a special manner and make the most of their distinguishing features."

(For a contemporary appreciation of Advent's more serious side, see, for example, Timothy P. O'Malley, "The Advent Apocalypse," at

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