It’s a tradition that emerged hundreds of years ago: the introit (the verses from psalm and another portion of scripture which were read as the procession approached the altar) for the third Sunday of Advent began “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (from Philippians 4.4). In Latin, the words are “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.” The word rejoice–gaudete–gives the Sunday the name that many call it: Gaudete Sunday. Halfway through Advent, and in the midst of a whole bunch of fairly penitential readings, the introit was seen as lightening in the mood. (There’s a similar Sunday in Lent: the fourth Sunday of Lent is called “Laetare Sunday.” )
To celebrate that light-ening, the purple vestments warmed to rose; the flowers that had been were forbidden in the season were allowed; and the organ which had been quieted burst into music. Now, many of these things have changed: we keep using the organ, and enjoy flowers each week. At Nativity, we use blue for the vestments and hangings in Advent instead of the purple of Lent. And after all, very few parishes splurge on a set of rose vestments and hangings.
However, in lots of places, some of these customs are kept. Maybe your Advent candles look a bit like mine, with one rose one slipped into the mix. In places that associate the four Sundays of Advent with some of Christ’s gifts to us (peace, hope, joy, and love), this third Sunday is for joy–and it got to be that way because of Gaudete Sunday.
May you find joy in your waiting as we long for the one draws near!
And, if you want to know the whole introit, it goes like this: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand;have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. – Philippians 4.4-6 and Psalm 85.1