In my own life experience, I was slow to recognize the gift of Gaudete Sunday (just as I’m slow in getting this post up a day late). The Third Sunday of Advent is given the name Gaudete, Latin for “rejoice.” On this day a pink or rose colored candle is lit on the Advent wreath instead of a purple one and the clergy wear purple vestments. This Sunday represents a shift in attitude from waiting for the Lord to recognizing that “God is with us,” Emmanuel. More on the history and practice of Gaudete Sunday can be found at Catholic Encyclopedia.
I first heard of Gaudete during my freshman year at the College of William & Mary. Due to bizarre sleep patterns I found myself atypically awake at dawn on a clear, sunny December morning. I went for a walk and came upon a poster for the Catholic Student Associations Gaudete Sunday Mass a 9 o’clock with caroling to follow. I was all set to put on a clean shirt and necktie and head to the church when I noticed that the event actually took place at 9 PM on Saturday night. In my long sleep and lethargy I had missed it. I had to wait a whole year to experience Gaudete CSA style.
The next year I ensured I’d be part of the Gaudete Mass by signing up to be lector. It was in fact the first time I was ever lector at any Mass. It didn’t help that I had a lifelong fear of public speaking. In the hours leading up to the Mass I was holed up anxiously reading and practicing proclaiming the verse I’d been assigned. One of my first tasks during the Mass was to carry a candle through the darkened parish center and light small candles for people throughout the congregation. I recall walking down an aisle lighting candles to my left and to my right, and then turning around to return down the aisle and being amazed by the blazing gauntlet before me (yes, I suffered from pyrophobia as well).
While it took me a while to settle in, the Gaudete Mass had some special touches. It began triumphantly with trumpets blasts of “O Come Emmanuel” and then a procession accompanied by “Prepare Ye, the Way of the Lord” from Godspell, first sung by one voice and growing to include the voices of everyone present. The candle-lighting followed, again with just one small flame growing to light the faces of all the students in the parish center. Some very symbolic and awe-inspiring moments. Gaudete Sunday grew to be one of my favorite events in college and remains so to this day.
Not related to the Catholic church but to my college experience is the Yule Log ceremony. This is a big event at the College of William & Mary although I didn’t participate until my Junior year. You’ll remember I was sleeping the first year and practicing my reading the next year. I made up for it by attending the Yule Log two more times after graduation. The ceremony involved songs, prayers, stories, a W&M-themed “Night Before Christmas” read by a college official and a dramatic reading of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by the President of the College, Tim Sullivan decked out in a Santa suit. Then a Yule Log would be carried through the gathering while students attempted to hit the log with a sprig of holly. Inside the Wren Building, students could throw their holly into a blazing fire, symbolic of unburdening their anxieties. Both events occurred on the same night, Yule Log followed by the Gaudete Mass, and provided for my friends and I a break from exams, a communal experience, and a spiritual renewal.
As I’ve grown older Gaudete in many ways has taken over the feelings of anticipation and joy I had for Christmas as a child. Typically I participate in activities such as the Christmas Revels and the Advent-Christmas concert at the Paulist Center on the weekend of Gaudete. For me it is a time of friends and family, singing joyfully, and reflection on the important things in life. It is a time to rejoice that God is with us.