Break your fast. Let your spirit of penitence turn to a spirit of joy. Rejoice, for the Lord is near.
Wait…what? What season are we in?
Don’t panic. We’re still in Advent. The calendar months have not slipped by without notice and you are not losing your mind. The fact is that there are many similarities between Advent and Lent, but we tend to forget about them because the secular world puts pressure on us to ignore them.
Today we’re marking the Third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for rejoice, and on this Sunday we’re called to pause our Advent solemness in order to recall the joy and anticipation of the Promised Redemption. That’s why we light the pink candle in the Advent wreath and the Mass vestments are pink as well.
That’s been the case since early on in the Church. But, over the centuries, there have been significant changes to the way we observe Advent.
Starting in the fourth century, Advent was a forty-day fast beginning on November 12, the feast of St. Martin and was called “St. Martin’s Lent.”
In the sixth century, St. Gregory the Great constructed an Office for the Advent season, which became the norm for the liturgical observation of Advent.
In the ninth century, St. Nicholas I (not the same jolly old guy that visits us on December 6) shortened Advent to four weeks.
In the twelfth century, the practice of fasting was changed to simple abstinence.
That’s how it’s remained these many hundreds of years. Advent is meant to be a season of penitence, of purging ourselves of what obstructs us from opening our hearts fully and receiving the Savior when he comes on Christmas.
Yes, we’re to meditate on our Lord’s first coming. But we also, and in fact, primarily, are to meditate on his second coming.
Will you be ready?
Today’s “break” allows us to glimpse the second coming of Christ and to rejoice in it’s promise. It’s not so much that the Church lets us off the hook on Gaudete Sunday, but rather that she wishes to instill in us the joy to keep going in hopeful fervor.
This is right about the time when we want to throw in the towel, forsake the solemness, and abandon our striving. So, the Church, in her wisdom, reminds us of the joy ahead and encourages us to forge ahead with renewed vibrancy.
Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul is absolutely perfect.
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)
Don’t give up your Advent efforts. Pause today to rejoice, refresh, and regroup. Then, tomorrow, take up your Advent with enthusiasm and resolve.
The Lord is indeed near.