And now we dance. Today I splurged and bought a t-shirt with that phrase, celebrating the Nats’ 2019 World Series Championship. It’s an inside joke, since that’s what the local MASN TV announcer would say as a Nats player headed to the dugout after hitting a home run, then to dance the gantlet as his teammates cheered him on and pounded out a rhythm. The phrase was not used by the national-network announcers who broadcast the postseason; you have to have been there during the regular season to get the reference. I was there for the whole run, so I bought the shirt.
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. (Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again: rejoice!) With these words begins our Mass this weekend, marked by the festive rose color that breaks up the solemn violet of Advent, and we light the third candle in the wreath -- the pink one. Rejoice!
So why are we not dancing? Wouldn’t that be rejoicing? Shouldn’t there be some tub-thumping going on, some booty-shaking in the dugout? Well, honestly, no; not at all. What we are doing here, in church, in worshipping God, is different from ballgames and parties; even (especially) our rejoicing is different and distinct.
The very name of Gaudete Sunday is evidence of the reality that binds us. Like Advent, it is instructive of how and why the Liturgy is different from other human activities, and thus liturgical rejoicing is different from other forms of human rejoicing. The ancient hallmarks of the day, and the very emphasis on rejoicing at this stage in our journey toward the Nativity of Our Savior, are indications of the reality in which we participate.
The Liturgy derives its greatness from what it is, not from what we make of it. Our participation is, of course, necessary, but as a means of inserting ourselves humbly into the spirit of the Liturgy, and of serving Him Who is the true subject of the Liturgy: Jesus Christ. The Liturgy is not an expression of the consciousness of a community which, in any case, is diffuse and changing. It is a revelation received in faith and prayer, and its measure is consequently the faith of the Church, in which revelation is received. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, as quoted in The Mass and Modernity, 2005)
“The true subject of the Liturgy” is Jesus in the sense that Jesus is the subject of every verb, the author of every action, the origin of every reality that the Liturgy presents. We don’t have to be from the “Me Generation” to fall into considering ourselves the subject of our own story, to make “I” the subject of most of our thoughts and sentences. The Liturgy liberates us from this slavery. To recognize Who is acting in our presence, in our midst, and in our corporate activity is deliverance from the autocentric delusion.
Our rejoicing this weekend, and every day we pray liturgically, is articulated in a different idiom than the dugout dance party of the ballgame. The tub-thumping and booty-shaking are intelligible and accessible because they are primal, that is, rooted in the elemental origins of life. Liturgical rejoicing is formed and informed by the divine, that is, the source and goal of human life, our Creator and Redeemer. Necessarily higher and more developed, this rejoicing not only reminds us of God, but also engages us with Him, raising our rejoicing to the level of Communion in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.
Liturgy … is a human activity, but it is not merely a human activity because God takes the most important role in the celebration of the sacraments. We adore, bless, praise, give thanks, confess our sins, intercede, and present our petitions, yet it is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who is principally active in the Church’s liturgy. It is God Who constitutes the people of God in a community with a supernatural dimension, which is therefore more than a naturalistic or social entity; it is God Who displays and makes present the saving death, Resurrection, and Ascension of His Son through the work of the Holy Spirit. (Jonathan Robinson, The Mass and Modernity)
The expression, And now we dance, will long bring a smile to my lips as it reminds me of being present during the Nationals’ championship season. But a deeper and daily joy is mine, and yours, in our participation in the liturgical manifestation of our salvation in Jesus Christ, the One Who comes, whose Advent we mark in these days. The Incarnation of the living God, the Salvation of the World, is happening in our days and in our flesh! Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.