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BY Jimmy Akin
The third Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete Sunday.”
In the readings, we hear about miracles associated with the Messianic age, its coming, and what we need to do to prepare.
We also learn about the doubts of John the Baptist, how he dealt with them, and the blessing that makes us even more fortunate than John was.
Here are 11 things to know and share . . .
1) Why is the third Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete Sunday?
Its name is taken from the entrance antiphon of the Mass, which is:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.
This is a quotation from Philippians 4:4-5, and in Latin, the first word of the antiphon is gaudete (Latin, “rejoice”; it's also pronounced with three syllables: gau-de-te)
2) What significance does this have?
Advent is the season of preparing for the arrival of the Lord Jesus (both his first coming and his second coming), and by the third Sunday of Advent, we are most of the way through the season.
Thus it is appropriate to rejoice as we see the goal of the season approaching: “The Lord is near.”
3) What is the appropriate liturgical color for this day?
According to the rubrics:
In this mass the color violet or rose is used.
It can thus be either one. It doesn’t have to be rose; it can also be violet.
4) What does the first reading say?
The first reading is Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10. (You can read it here.)
It opens with a prophecy that the desert region will rejoice and sing and bloom with abundant flowers.
The reason is: “They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.”
It then contains an exhortation to strength and courage, and explains the reason why:
Here is your God, he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense he comes to save you.
It then contains the significant statement:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.
And it concludes:
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy;
they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.
5) What does this mean?
This prophecy uses nature imagery to convey the sense of joy that the Jewish people would experience upon their return from exile.
This is what is meant by the statements that the desert will sing and be covered with flowers that “see the glory of the Lord.”
It depicts God’s coming with vindication to save his people after their exile, and it depicts urges patience until it arrives.
It portrays God working miracles among his people, such as healing the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute.
It promises that he will bring back those he has ransomed and give them everlasting joy, from which sorrow and mourning will flee.
Taken up into the Christological realm, this passage points to the joy of those God redeems through Jesus from their sins and the deliverance and spiritual homeland that he provides.
It contains elements that point forward to both the first advent of Christ—when he performed miracles such as curing the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute.
And it contains elements that point forward to the ultimate consummation that will occur with his second advent, when “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
6) What does the responsorial Psalm say?
The responsorial Psalm is Psalm 146:6-10. (You can read it here.)
It contains a series of praises of God, stressing the good things that he does: He keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets captives free, etc.
Among the notable things that the Psalm declares is this:
The Lord gives sight to the blind.
The reading concludes:
The LORD shall reign forever; your God, O Zion, through all generations.
7) What does this mean?
The Psalm gives voice to the worship of God’s faithful on behalf of his wondrous deeds, including miracles, such as the restoration of sight to blind people.
This particular miracle was also mentioned in the third reading, and it will become significant again in the Gospel reading.
The conclusion of the reading—the statement that God will reign forever—gives voice to our confidence in God and his ever-present providence in our lives.
On a Christological level, it also points to the eternal reign of the Son, which has been inaugurated with the first coming and which will be consummated at the second coming.
8) What does the second reading say?
The second reading is James 5:7-10. (You can read it here.)
It contains an exhortation to be patient until the coming of the Lord.
James compares the patience the reader must have to that of a farmer, who must wait until his crop “receives the early and the late rains.”
As in the Psalm for today, James exhorts the readers to strength and courage (“Make your hearts firm”) because “the coming of the Lord is at hand.”
He also tells them not to complain about each other, that they may not be judged.
Finally, he tells them that the Judge is standing before the gates and that they should follow the prophets as an example of hardship and patience.
9) What does this mean?
Rain did not fall year-round in Israel, but only at certain times. The early rains took place from mid-October to mid-November, and later rains took place from mid-December to mid-January. There were also rains in March and April.
Farmers were thus dependent on the arrival of these rains for the success of their crops and had to wait patiently for the rains to come and the crops to ripen.
The prophets, likewise, had to endure hardship and patience, particularly because their prophetic mission caused opposition—just as the Christian message did (and does).
These facts make both the farmers and the prophets models of patience and endurance for Christians in James’s day—and in ours.
Ultimately, God will reward our faith and patience, but we must be prepared to wait and to endure hardship.
As we do so, we must live in harmony with each other. One manifestation of this is resisting the urge to complain about each other, for in the way we judge others, we too will be judged. (That is, if we are unmerciful to others, we will obtain less mercy for ourselves.)
This latter statement is noteworthy because of how well it harmonizes with things Jesus says. James does not directly quote his kinsman, Jesus, in his letter, but as this passage shows, his thought was permeated by that of Christ.
10) What does the Gospel reading say?
The Gospel reading is Matthew 11:2-11. (You can read it here.)
The reading contains two parts.
In the first, John the Baptist, who is in prison, sends messengers to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?”
Jesus replies by telling them to report to John what they have seen:
the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.
In the second part of the reading, as the messengers are preparing to leave, Jesus pays tribute to John the Baptist by asking the crowd a series of rhetorical questions about why they went out into the desert to see John when he was ministering.
The implied answer to the questions is “no” (no, they did not go out to see a reed shaken by the wind or someone dressed in fine clothing) until he names going out to see a prophet.
At this point Jesus affirms that they did go out to see a prophet, “and more than a prophet.”
He then identifies why John is more than a prophet: He is the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1, in which it is said:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.
Finally, Jesus states:
Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
11) What does this mean?
The Jewish people in Jesus’ day had certain ideas about what the Messiah would be like and what he would do.
It was common to envision him as an earthly king who would deliver Israel from the dominion of the hated Romans by violent revolution.
John the Baptist may have shared some of this expectation, for even though he had received a revelation pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:30-34).
Despite this revelation, Jesus’ subsequent actions (his failure to start a revolution?) apparently caused John to question whether Jesus was the Messiah.
Rather than lose faith or let his doubts eat away at him, John decided to confront the issue directly, and so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if his understanding of Jesus’ Messiaship was correct.
Jesus indicated that it was, pointing to the fact that he had been fulfilling the predicted miracles and the preaching of the good news proper to the Messianic age.
One of these miracles was the recovery of sight to the blind (already mentioned in the first reading and the responsorial Psalm).
Jesus then states that those who do not take offense at him (i.e., who do not reject him) are blessed.
In the original context, it applies to John the Baptist (he will be blessed for maintaining faith in Jesus, despite his doubts).
The same principle, however, applies to us as well.
As John’s messengers are departing, Jesus pays tribute to their master, stating that he was a genuine prophet—and even more than that—he was the messenger prophesied in Malachi, who would be the herald of the Messiah.
This makes him the greatest prophet of all, which is why Jesus says that among those born of women, none has been greater than John.
Despite this, Jesus states that “the least in the kingdom of heaven” is even greater.
In this context, the kingdom of heaven is understood in its earthly manifestation as the Church, in the Christian age, which John did not live to see.
Every Christian—man, woman, and child—is more blessed than John because we didn’t just get to herald him. We get to live in the age he inaugurated, to share in its many blessings, and to be part of his mystical Body.
(That also goes for his mother, Mary, incidentally).
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