Third Sunday of Advent
GAUDETE SUNDAY. Today is “Gaudete Sunday,” or “Rejoice Sunday” (from the first words of the entrance antiphon, “Gaudéte in Dómino semper”— “Rejoice in the Lord always”). This reminds us that Advent is a season of “expectant joy” as our anticipation of the great joy of Christmas builds everyday as we draw closer to it. This is symbolized in the “rose” colored vestments the priests may where today, “rose” being a shade of advent violet that is brighter than the normal violets of Advent, as if the brightness of Christmas joy is shining through the subdued preparation of Advent.
I hope we all experience this building joy during Advent. First and foremost, we should experience this spiritually, in our prayers and meditation on the mystery of Christmas, and in reception of the sacraments. In this regard, I encourage you to go to confession this week—we rejoice because Christ was born to save us from our sins, and He pours out this salvation in this holy sacrament—there’s nothing like the joy experienced in having our sins forgiven. Remember, we have will have 3 priests hearing confessions every evening this week, Monday through Friday. I also encourage you to attend daily Mass: remember this week we have an additional Mass on Friday evening at 7pm, in the Extraordinary Form (it’s a beautiful way of experiencing the Mass.)
I also encourage you to join us this Thursday December 19, from 7pm to 8pm, for our Advent Holy Hour of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We’ll begin with Exposition, then I’ll give a half-hour talk (the 3rd and final of my “Advent Series”), followed by praying the Rosary and then Benediction. This year my topic is “The Christmas Visitors: Angels, Shepherds and Kings,” and this Thursday I will talk about the Kings/Magi who visited the Baby Jesus. Please join us.
Decorations. Of course, this growing spiritual joy also overflows into our practical lives during this season, and expresses itself in many of the customs of this season, many of which illustrate how this joy gradually builds as we approach the source of our joy, Christmas. We see this, for example, in how the decoration of our homes get more and more “Christmassy” as the days of Advent pass.
Many have observed how I don’t put Christmas decorations in the church for Advent. One reason for this is because so many decorations abound outside the church, often lacking any sense of gradualness or progression, that I think it’s important to show a contrast in our liturgies—to remind us that Christ is not here yet, that we are waiting and preparing for Him.
Even so, we do incorporate this progression in the church in several ways, including the Advent wreath, the selection of hymns, and the rose vestments. And this year we’ve put out part of our creche/nativity scene a little early—but not all of it—to be a sign that we are waiting for the Savior. “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near” (Num. 24:17).
New Creche/Nativity Scene. I’m sure you notice that we have new statues for our “Christmas creche” this year. Sadly, the old set was very old, and in need of lots of costly repairs. So, with the generous support of 3 parishioners (thanks!) I decided to purchase the new statues. Although not as large as the old figures, the new figures are more colorful and finely detailed. I hope that you like this creche as much as I do and that it will be a welcome part of many joyful Advents and Christmases for years to come.
Lessons and Carols. Another important way I like to express this gradual progression is by celebrating “Lessons and Carols,” as we did last Sunday. It was another amazing evening of music and meditation: the choir was amazing. Thanks to Elisabeth Turco and all the musicians and choir members; and to Eva Radel for organizing the children’s choir for their debut performance. Thanks also to the lectors, and to all who provided an elegant reception afterwards, especially the volunteers from Angelus Academy.
Advent and Christmas Giving. Still another practical way we experience this progressive joy is through acts of generosity. I’m sure all of you have been showing special charity to those around you, through ordinary acts of kindness revealing the joy of Christ in your hearts. But we also experience this in a special way through gift-giving. We need to be careful, though, to make the Christmas gifts we buy in some way a genuine reflection of our Christian joy. Perhaps we can do this by giving religious gifts, e.g., Bibles, rosaries, Catholic books, etc., or just being careful to give wholesome gifts that are consistent with Christian values.
This is also a time to make donations to worthy Catholic groups who will receive them with the joy of Christ. A few of the groups that I would recommend, are Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, House of Mercy, Angelus Academy, and, my personal favorite, St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, the wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily. And you can always make an extra gift to St. Raymond’s.
And Finally, Speaking of Anticipated Joy… I’m sure all of you are looking forward to the “second mural” taking its place opposite the mural of “The Sailing Saint Raymond.” Well, our waiting should come to an end this week, as the second mural of “Our Lady of Ransom Appearing to St. Raymond” should be in place before next Sunday. So say a little prayer to St. Raymond that all goes well, and hopefully….
Many people, especially newer parishioners, ask me about the story behind this mural. As you may know, in the 13th century Moorish (Muslim) pirates used to capture ships from Christian countries sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. These captured Christians were then either held for ransom, or forced to convert to Islam, and/or sold into slavery. This was the state of things when, on the evening August 1, 1218, the Blessed Mother appeared separately to three very different men in Barcelona, Spain: to St. Peter Nolasco, the son of a wealthy Spanish merchant and veteran of various battles against the Moors (Muslims) occupying much of southern Spain; to King James I of Aragon; and to our own beloved patron, St. Raymond of Peñafort, who was Peter’s confessor. Our Lady told each of them that St. Peter was to found a religious order that would dedicate itself to the ransom of Christian captives of Muslims. The members of this new order would take a vow to offer themselves personally/bodily, when necessary, as ransom or as security for the freedom their fellow Christians. St. Peter obeyed Our Lady, and with the political and financial support of the King and under the wise guidance of St. Raymond, the order, commonly called “the Mercedarians,” was founded and proceeded in its mission. This mural portrays Our Lady of Ransom (or “of Mercy”) appearing to St. Raymond.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles