My friends, this is Gaudete Sunday, or in more common language, “Joy Sunday.” Ever since the Second Vatican Council, when some “windows were opened,” and our liturgical practices were updated, the Season of Advent became more about “hope” as we awaited the coming, in memory, of course, of Jesus, our brother, into our lives.
In the past, before Vatican II, the seasons of Advent and Lent were traditionally known as seasons of penitence. With the Council and Advent becoming more about hope, and rightly so, this change was signified by the use of blue vestments as a way to distinguish it from the theme of penitence traditional for the season of Lent and identified by the color, purple.
The idea of hope in the Incarnation became the dominant theme for Advent. The color blue was one that signified royalty, creation and was, in some part, in deference to Mary and what her presence in Salvation History truly meant.
The Catholic church has always been rich, in its rituals, signifying a deeper meaning for us to reflect on: purple signifies penitence—but also, royalty, green indicates hope, red is used for martyrs and the coming of the Spirit, white and gold for joy and new life, and blue—a special time of joy and hope. With Vatican II, black was left by the wayside, as it signified death and was used for funerals—only now the focus was placed on new life, so white became the color for funerals.
A curious thing happened during the long papacy of John Paul II. Everyone knew that he was against the changes of Vatican II, or became aware of it during his 28-year reign, because he systematically “walked back” the changes, “closing [most] windows” to the fresh air of change, established during this sea-change Council.
Recently I read an explanation of the Advent colors wherein the source explained that either purple or blue were acceptable choices. Another piece stated that the Advent wreath had no connection to liturgical colors of the Church, represented in the vestments of the priest and for Advent, it is purple.
Now, I am here to say that this is simply wrong! As I said earlier, the Catholic church has always been significant in its rituals, showing us as followers the way to go and it does matter that everything for each season has a common theme. Most true liturgists and celebrants know this, so to say that a parish can choose between purple or blue for the Advent wreath when clearly the vestment worn in many churches today is purple, putting aside the vision of Vatican II, makes no liturgical, ritual sense.
Now, if you are thinking that I am perhaps protesting too much, I would have to disagree. Advent is meant to give us hope, not throw us into a time of penitence lamenting on how terrible we are. Let’s remember and our Church fathers should too, that our loving God incarnated among us out of sheer love—no other reason, and that is a cause to rejoice, not beat our breasts! Thus, “blue” depicts this much better than does purple.
And just a word on the place of Mary in the Advent Season—something most men in leadership of the Church won’t mention, because as we know, to them, women, as a group, are not held in high esteem. It is so much easier to relegate Mary to the shadows, and by connection, all women, then to uplift them as the strong, dedicated, visionary, and yes, “called” people that they are. And blue is a much better color to indicate this awareness.
We should not lose our focus—the Church gives us these distinctive, definitive colors to help us keep our focus in each liturgical season of the Church Year. That focus should not be set aside over issues of power and control, a main theme of the papacy of John Paul II.
So, an action item for those of you who attend a traditional Catholic parish alongside ours, is if you see the color purple used during Advent, ask the pastor to explain “why” to your satisfaction.
My friends, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, when we are encouraged to “ramp up” the joy, in this season of joy and hope, signified by the white candle; what do the prophets have to say?
Isaiah, preaching to the Israelite people, who are feeling that if they ever needed a “messiah,” it is now, encourages them with the words, “God is coming!” He continues with the words, “Courage, do not be afraid!”
Understandably, the people would have asked, “How will we know this?” “When you see that the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf are cleared, the lame leap like the deer and the mute sing for joy”—the time is near, Isaiah says.
Our brother in the faith, John the Baptist—in prison, experiencing true humanity, begins to despair and sends word to Jesus whom he earlier, in fact, proclaimed to be, the Messiah, asking if indeed, he truly is! Jesus the prophet can do nothing more effective than remind John of Isaiah’s words: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the Good News preached to them! Joy and gladness are the operative words for this season—without a doubt, and blue is the color for that!
And James, in his usual, simple way says that, “We must be patient,” that our models must be the prophets.
So, to conclude my friends—Advent, this whole season, calls us to hope, in big ways, and this Sunday—rightly so, allows us to begin being joyful, in earnest. We ask the question too, along with John—as we experience our own depressed and sad times, wondering when the blind might see, the deaf might hear and new life come to us all, in our country, in our world.
And the answer, Jesus has already given and we my friends—must hear it—“Blessed [are] the ones who find no stumbling block in me!”
Jesus makes a point of praising John the Baptist in today’s gospel proclaiming that, “no person, born of woman is greater than John!” And having said that, he continued—“yet, the least born into this kindom is greater than he!”
What can we make of that? Only one thing—our God holds us, each of us, in great esteem and knows what we are capable of! This is something we can’t take lightly.
And this is why I come down hard on our Church fathers for “muddying the waters” as far as practice and ritual are concerned, taking from themselves and us clear signs about what our faith is all about simply to protect their power and perhaps, “the way it was.”
When we allow the waters to be muddied with themes during Advent pushing us toward Jesus’ inevitable crucifixion “due to our sinfulness” instead of concentrating on his human fragility in becoming one of us in poverty—challenging all of us to be aware of such inequality in our midst; we do the faithful a disservice.
When we fail to see that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were immigrants in a foreign land as so many are in our country today, not making the connection between the two, we do the faithful a disservice.
When we fail to see that Mary has been relegated to the shadows as a pure virgin, instead of as an unwed mother as the people of her time no doubt saw her and fail to make the connection to the second-class status of all women in our world today, we do the faithful a disservice.
When we fail to understand that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were most probably dark-skinned humans in the time and place that they lived and not make the connection to the evil of white supremacy in our world, we do the faithful a disservice.
If we do not make these connections then the awesomeness of the Incarnation loses its true meaning! Our Church and world are longing, I feel, to hear the silent voices of Church leaders on any number of issues, and instead, we get muddied theology and ritual that has little to do with the world in which we live. As we said last week, “lamb and lion stuff!” Amen? Amen!