This is the weekend that everybody knows: the pink candle, the rose vestments, and the funny name: Gaudete Sunday. The first two elements are clear in everyone’s mind. The pink candle is the third one lit on the Advent wreath, which takes its color from the rose vestments the clergy wear at Mass on this day and this day only in Advent. Together they reveal a brief brightening in our outlook even as we long in darkness for the coming of light at Christmas. It is a break, if you will, from the yearning and preparation that characterize the season as we await our Savior, a pause to reflect all the good that God has already done for us.
But why the funny name? There is no better occasion than today to discuss the element of the Mass called antiphons, because that name comes from the Entrance Antiphon for the Third Sunday in Advent: Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico, gaudete. Deus enim prope est. (Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.) Ergo Gaudete Sunday.
The antiphons are the texts of the Mass that are meant to be sung at the entrance of the procession to the sanctuary (the Entrance Antiphon); at the preparation of the offerings (the Offertory Antiphon) and during the Communion of the people (the Communion Antiphon). They reveal and emphasize the distinctive characteristics of that day’s Mass, often echoing passages from the Scripture readings assigned to that day. Sometimes they juxtapose elements of two or more of the readings, for example, from the Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament Epistle, to emphasize how they relate to one another to reveal something about Christ. Whatever the source of their texts, the antiphons are proper to that particular Mass, that is, they are unique and distinctive to that day.
For centuries, these texts have been sung at Mass, set to music that emphasized the meaning of the texts and the mood of the celebration, precisely because they are unique to each Sunday or holy day and therefore convey the essence of what is being celebrated that day. However, because there are unique antiphons for each major day throughout the Church year, and there is different music for each one of them, it takes many years of using these prayers that occur only once a year before they become familiar.
Last week, I mentioned that the hymns and songs we have been using at Mass for the past forty years were inserted there instead of something; it is instead of these antiphons. With the change of the Mass to English, none of the hundreds of texts was familiar and none had music for singing it, except in Latin.
Now, often in conjunction with the release of the new English translation of the Missal, these antiphons are finally available in musical settings for all the Masses celebrated throughout the year. Because the antiphons are the most distinctive sung element of any particular Mass, their contribution to both our experience and understanding of the Mass of the day is vital.
We are finally able to restore this indispensible element to our celebration of the Holy Mass here at Saint Bernadette. Listen to the tone of the music and reflect on the text of each antiphon as it is sung, and you will be drawn more deeply into the mystery of the day’s celebration. You will find relationships revealed in the Scripture readings and overarching themes clarified. The working of the powerful prayer that is the liturgical re-presentation of our salvation will be more intelligible. You will have a richer experience of every Mass throughout the year, and when the pink candle is lit, the joyful command Gaudete will be more than just a funny name.