"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
December 11, 2011: Third Sunday of Advent
• Isaiah 62:1-2, 10-11
• Responsorial: Luke 1:46-54
• 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
• John 1:6-8, 19-28
Theme: The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word meaning “rejoice!” The spirit of joy, which resounds in all three readings, is underscored by the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath, the altar cloths and the priest’s vestments.
The first reading comes from the second half of Isaiah known as the “book of consolation.” Jesus selected this passage to preach from when he began his public ministry in Nazareth (Lk 4:16-21). It was written more than five centuries before Christ at the end of the Babylonian Captivity. In its original context the message of liberty and release from captivity inspired great hope in the exiles and much rejoicing.
The responsorial “psalm” is from the Song of Mary, or Magnificat. Mary rejoices in God who chose her from among all women to be the mother of the Savior. Joy is also the theme of our second reading as Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “rejoice always; pray without ceasing and in all circumstances, give thanks.” Prayer and thanksgiving are necessary for joy. The Thessalonians are called to grow in holiness so as to be found blameless at the coming of Christ.
The Gospel reading focuses on John the Baptist whose role was to “cry out in the desert” and prepare the way of the Lord. When questioned by the religious authorities about his role, John quotes from another part of Isaiah (40:3) to show that the time of Israel’s true consolation has come. He was simply paving the way. In the context of Gaudete Sunday, his “cry” is one of joy.
Key verse: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul” (Is 62:10)..
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being ‘the friend of the bridegroom.’ Going before Jesus ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah,’ John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom” (No. 523).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Advent does not mean ‘expectation’ as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means ‘presence,’ or more accurately, ‘arrival,’ i.e. the beginning of a presence. His presence has already begun and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom he wishes to be present in the world. Through faith, hope and love he wants his light to shine over and over again in the night of the world.” (“Dogma and Preaching”).
Application: John the Baptist, St. Paul and the Virgin Mary were chosen by God, each in their own special way, to bear witness to Christ. We too are called to bring the light of Christ to a world slowly slipping into darkness. One way we do that is through joy expressed in worship. On Gaudete Sunday we joyfully anticipate Christmas as we “await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ” (Embolism after the Lord’s Prayer).
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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