Today we light the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath and wear the rose-colored vestments. We call this Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice.” It is a day when we begin to feel that Christ’s coming is close. This year, with the short Advent, Gaudete Sunday is also the day when our attention shifts from preparing for Christ’s second coming to preparing for our celebration of Christmas. With Christmas just over a week away, we can start to feel the excitement.
As part of that preparation, please do not forget that we still have the Fourth Sunday of Advent next weekend. Recently word has been getting around that Catholics could be excused from the obligation of attending the Sunday Mass since they would then have to go to Mass on consecutive days (or perhaps even twice in the same day for those who attend a Christmas Vigil Mass). The Diocese of Pittsburgh sent a letter to every priest reminding us that no such dispensation has been given. Only the bishop can give such a dispensation, as would be the case with something like a major blizzard such as we had in 2010. No such situation is present simply because Christmas falls on a Monday.
I feel rather odd saying that one must go to Mass on Sunday. With Christmas coming, I would hope that we are not thinking of our faith in terms of obligations. It would be as if a husband were to ask if he had an obligation to buy his wife a Christmas present. I would rather hope that their relationship would be such that he would be eager to get her whatever he could. Particularly with the major feast of Christmas coming up, we should want to prepare as much as possible for the joy of welcoming Christ into our world.
Meanwhile, you will see our church looking more festive by that point. As I said, the focus of the season of Advent, in the prayers and readings, is now on preparation for Christmas. So while we are not yet at Christmas, we can begin to put up preparations in anticipation. I can think of two analogies to use. On the one hand, it is like a couple expecting a child. When they get to the ninth month of pregnancy, they generally have purchased the crib and everything they need, and the baby’s room is all set up. So while we are not yet putting out flowers or turning on the lights, notice those things that are soon going up. Think of how close we are, and consider what we can still do to prepare for Christ’s coming. The other analogy is of decorating our own homes. When my older siblings were young children, my parents would come home from Midnight Mass and only then put up the tree and all the decorations. By the time I came along, that was a bit much for them, and they had it done ahead of time. So when our committee wondered how they were going to do everything between next Sunday’s 11:00 Mass and the 4:00 Vigil Mass, I said there was no reason why they could not get a head start.