We arrive at the third Sunday in Advent, and I offer this recording by St John’s College in Cambridge of Purcell’s “Bell Anthem”, Rejoice in the Lord alway. These are the words of the Officium (Introit) of the Mass. They set a similar tone to the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare.
Gaudete comes from this text of St Paul (Philippians iv.4–6):
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.
It is translated into the English text used in Purcell’s anthem, which is clear and easy to understand.
We rejoice because the object of our hope is near. We are exhorted to continue in our patience without anxiety, showing our gratitude and limpidity in the sight of God. We address our desires and needs to God in all simplicity. We might see an image of this hope in the anxieties and needs of our own time as the world has seen in times past in the midst of wars, epidemics of disease and other adversities. Indeed, this Christmas is going to be pruned back in some of its secular and social dimensions, leaving us to make the best of what we have.
Like Lent, Advent was once a forty-day fast beginning on the day after Saint Martin (11th November). For this reason it was called Saint Martin’s Lent, known as early as the fifth century and still in use in the Ambrosian Rite. We have the echo of this longer Advent in the Sarum Use with the Sunday next before Advent, rather than the Nth Sunday after Trinity. From the ninth century, Advent was reduced to four weeks (a period starting four Sundays before Christmas). It kept its character as a period of fasting and prayer. Like the Lenten Laetare, this Rose Sunday (Rosensonntag in German) gives a break to the rigours of the fast and penitential character with a little respite.
Christian joy does not depend on our being consoled from the exterior but it is the experience of divine love, and that nothing can take it away, no adversity or even the inevitability of death. This should be the true spirit of Christmas.
Here is another one of my favourites, Orlando Gibbons, This is the Record of John, sung by the choir of Kings College Cambridge directed by David Willcocks.