Traditionally the third Sunday of Advent is a day when we lift briefly the purple austerity of the season – so ordinarily the organ is allowed and flowers, and we wear rose pink vestments. It’s known as ‘Gaudete Sunday’, from the entrance antiphon, ‘Rejoice in the Lord…’ from Philippians. Advent joy is intended to be the deep joy of waiting and anticipation, grounded in hope – not a superficial back-slapping jollity, something which people are probably seeking at the moment in the midst of a lot of gloom and after a pretty gloomy and deadly year. But how do we find any sort of joy in this ‘vale of tiers’?
As Catholics one of the places where we must find the joy I am talking about is in what we can do to help and empower those who are suffering. So we’re given as our first reading at Mass the proclamation from the third part of the book of Isaiah of God’s love, through the ministry of the prophet, for the poor and the marginalised, the blind and those who are in prison, the passage Jesus himself reads in the synagogue as he begins his ministry. The message which Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasised in this pandemic is that all that we do in our response has to reflect God’s love for the poor – particularly the ways in which we should be planning to build a better and more just world. By showing love to the poor we find real joy. For all of us, particularly in a relatively affluent area like Beckenham, self-pity in these sad times is a real moral and spiritual danger, and the words of Isaiah and the pope are a good warning. Put the poor first, always, every day. Don’t feel sorry for yourself!
Another place where we can find joy is in what we are about this morning – the worship of God. As you know we’re beginning a process of renewal of our vision in this parish, and how we promote the mission of the Church through our worship is central to this, mission rather than maintenance. Fortunately in our parish people take worship very seriously – how many Catholic churches normally have three choirs singing every Sunday? – and we hope to renew and deepen our experience of this when we’re able to worship normally again: that is, when we worship with what we have lost in the last few months. Singing by you, greeting each other at the sign of peace, proper Bidding Prayers, the use of incense, more than one server, Holy Communion under both kinds, and enabling you to talk to each other and to your clergy after Mass without feeling guilty. If we understand worship properly the things we have lost at Mass since Mass are important, and it’s sad (though unavoidable) that we have lost them temporarily this year.
It’s not been easy to find joy in the rather restricted way in which we’re permitted to worship at the moment, but it is worth the effort. Joy which springs from our faith, faith in the midst of the suffering of the world this year. When we are able to worship normally again, it will be important for us to find ways of deepening this joy, but also giving people space to lament and mourn for what’s happened this year and what is still happening. In all that we try to do the teachings of Pope Francis, as I have indicated in newsletter pieces and elsewhere, will be crucial for us – such as his letter in October, Fratelli Tutti and his new book Let us Dream. These are some of the questions we should be asking:
How do we participate in the Mass?
How do we welcome people who come to worship?
How does our worship reflect the ‘joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties’ (as Vatican II puts it) of the world?
How does our worship reflect the rich diversity of cultures and backgrounds in our parish community, showing real joy?
How does our worship reflect what we believe about God’s love for the poor, showing real joy?
All these things will be increasingly critical as our country faces growing poverty and economic ruin. In the way we celebrate Mass, we will need to learn to be places of resistance and refuge; the worshipping life of the Catholic Church will be important as never before – but we need to get it right.
These are all questions we will look at in the next few months as we renew the vision for our parish life; and this should help us too as we prepare to restore normal Catholic worship, please God, when restrictions are lifted.
In the meantime, as we continue our Advent journey, may the Lord give us joy in our preparations for his coming; and may he enable us to try and bring that joy to those who suffer most in the world.
God bless and take care,
Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is traditionally known as ‘Gaudete Sunday’, because of the verses from Philippians…Posted by St Edmund’s Church, Beckenham on Sunday, December 13, 2020