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Rejoice: He is near

December 10, 2015
Father Joseph Previtali

This Sunday is “Gaudete Sunday” (“Rejoice”), so named from the first word of the Introit (Entrance Chant) for the Mass for the Third Sunday of Advent, which is taken from St. Paul’s command proclaimed in our Second Reading to the Philippians and to us: “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again: Rejoice! ... The Lord is near!” This is the most honored Sunday of Advent, as its ancient “station” Mass in Rome is assigned to St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

It is remarkable that St. Paul can command us to rejoice. Usually we think of joy as only an emotion and we know from experience that emotions come and go and can’t be commanded. We learn from this command of St. Paul that Christian joy is more profound than mere emotional satisfaction, that it is a quality of the soul, a spiritual reality. St. Thomas Aquinas identifies joy with the delight we experience when we are united with our beloved. The Lord’s nearness then, Thomas explains, brings us great joy: “Then when [Paul] says, the Lord is at hand, he touches on the cause of joy. For a man rejoices when his friend is near.”

Indeed, we rejoice greatly this Sunday, as our pace quickens as we run toward the Lord, Who is running even faster to us. We sense that He is near, that soon He will be born for us in His First Coming in the stable of Bethlehem and that soon He will come to judge the living and the dead at His Final Coming in glory at the end of the world. We rejoice at this sense of His nearness and beg Him to enter our hearts by His Middle Coming into our hearts by grace. This Middle Coming applies to us the salvation won by His First Coming and prepares us to lift up our heads and rejoice at His Final Coming as Judge.

Starting on December 17, this joyful pace of Advent is made even more present in the liturgical life of the Church with the celebration of the “Greater Feriae” of Advent. These Greater Days – from December 17 to December 23 – are marked especially by the use at vespers (and in the Alleluia verses at Holy Mass in the Ordinary Form) of the “O Antiphons.” The “O Antiphons” begin with invocations of Jesus Christ under His various prophetic names from the Old Testament: Emmanuel (God-with us, December 23), Rex (King of the Nations, 22), Oriens (Rising Sun in the East, 21), Clavis (Davidic Key, 20), Radix (Root of Jesse, 19), Adonai (Lord God, 18), Sapientia (Wisdom, 17). Having invoked her Lord under each of these titles, the Church, filled with expectant joy as Bride, makes a specific petition to her Divine Spouse, asking for the graces connected with each of His glorious titles.

These beautiful antiphons and the profound chanted melodies which accompany them (easily accessible on YouTube!) are deeply evocative of the whole richness of Israel’s expectation of her Messiah. They carry forward in the Sacred Liturgy of Advent St. Paul’s command to us to rejoice in the Lord always because He is near. Read as an acrostic from the last to the first, their first letters spell “ERO CRAS,” Latin for “Tomorrow, I will be (here).” In this last part of Advent, we enter into the joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Cause of Our Joy, who stands in the person of all Israel. Our Lady is the true Daughter Zion, rejoicing in the King Who is to Come.

The experience of “Gaudete Sunday” teaches us about the joy in which we can live always. If we reject sin and live the theological virtue of charity, we have in our souls already the beginning of eternal life. Thus we receive the heavenly joy that comes from the theological virtue of hope. By theological hope, the Lord’s joy enters our hearts; by theological charity, we enter into the joy of the Lord.

Father Previtali is parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Pillar Parish, Half Moon Bay.

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