The Third Sunday of Advent (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, Mother Church takes up these words
of the Apostle Saint Paul and makes them her own: “Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)! We might well wonder why it
is that we ought to rejoice this day.
The celebration of the Lord’s Birth is now
just two weeks away. These days ought, then, to be filled with a certain childlike
joy, the giddiness of anticipation. At least they would have been so filled
twenty years ago. They certainly were when I worked in the toy store. They were
fun days to be out and about, with people humming their favorite carols and
holiday tunes, jingling bells and wearing strange hats, wishing one and all a “Merry
Christmas,” and sharing cookies and hot chocolate.
It may be that I have not gone to the
right places just yet this year, but I have not noticed much at all this year that
helps make up what we generally mean by the “Christmas spirit.” Whatever we
mean by that phrase, it seems largely to be absent this year, even from most
Christians. What is wrong? Why are we not rejoicing? If I may say so, it is
because we as a society – and perhaps even as individuals – have lost sight of
what the celebration of Christmas is all about. Does it feel like the most wonderful
time of the year?
This past Friday the Christmas tree and
Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square were dedicated. When Pope Francis received
a delegation from Peru and from Italy who helped put everything together this
year, he encouraged them not to let their celebrations of Christmas “be polluted
by consumerism and indifference.”
Is this not what has happened in our context? Have we not allowed – and perhaps
even encouraged - consumerism and indifference to pollute our celebrations of
In his great concern that we honor the Birth of the Savior
properly, the Holy Father gave this exhortation:
Let’s not live
a fake Christmas, please, a commercial Christmas. Let us allow ourselves to be
wrapped up in the closeness of God, this closeness which is compassionate,
which is tender; wrapped in the Christmas atmosphere that art, music, songs,
and traditions bring into the heart.
One of the ways that a priest allows
himself to be wrapped up in the closeness of God is through the sacred
vestments he wears for the celebration of the Sacraments. These vestments become
part of the art of the Church, part of the tradition of the Church’s
festivities, and serve – for those who know how to read them – as aids to enter
fully into the sacred mysteries and as a help for others to be filled with the
joy born of the love of God.
William Durandus, the thirteenth century
Bishop of the French Diocese of Mende, spoke movingly on the chasuble, the
outermost vestment a priest wears when offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
The word “chasuble” comes the Latin casula, meaning a “little house.”
But Bishop William noted that, in Greek, the chasuble is called the planetes,
the from which we get our word “planet,” a word that means “wanderer.” Why
would a piece of clothing be called a wanderer?
Durandus’ thought about this – which was surely
not only his – is because the border of the vestment, “wanders wide as it is
raised over the arms, signifying charity [love].” Just as charity covers a
multitude of sins, according to Saint Peter, so the chasuble, the garment of
love, “wanders over all and encloses and contains all other vestments within
itself” (I Peter 4:8).
Consisting as it does of the front and back, the chasuble “signifies the two arms
of charity,” namely the love of God and the love of neighbor, without which “the
Priest may never discharge his office.”
The Bishop even goes so far as to say that “the wideness of the chasuble is a
figure of the breath of charity.”
What are we to say then of the colors of
the chasuble? The virtue of charity, of love, has many different aspects, each
of which produces a certain joy. The various colors of the chasuble, if you
will, represent these aspects of love as though it were refracted through a prism.
White is worn on the holiest of Christian
feasts. It is the color of light and so we wear it at Christmas as we celebrate
the Birth of Christ Jesus, who is the “light [that] shines in the darkness;” at
Easter, we celebrate his Resurrection from the dead, proof that “the darkness
has not overcome” his light (John 1:5). White is also worn for the memorials of
the Saints, those who let their light “shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). White,
then, betokens the purity of joy, a joy that comes only from the pure love of God
Red is worn on Good Friday in honor of the
Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus poured out upon us from the Cross. It is also
worn on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon us. Likewise, red is
worn on the memorials of the martyrs who poured out their blood for love for
God. Red, then, symbolizes the joy of sacrifice, a necessary component of love,
and the selflessness of love that covers the beloved and brings joy to the
Green is worn throughout the year when we
are not celebrating a particular moment in the life of Jesus or preparing to do
so. Green is the color of life and growth and so it shows the joy that comes
from growth in the Christian life, motivated by love, until, as Saint Paul
says, we “attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to
mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Violet is worn as we prepare to celebrate
the great feasts of Christmas and Easter. The color of mourning and sadness,
violet reveals the repentance of sin and the conversion of heart each of us
should have as we prepare to welcome Christ when he comes. Violet then shows
the joy born of a reconciling love.
Today, though, we wear rose, a color worn,
at most, only twice throughout the year. Why acquire a chasuble that will be worn
so infrequently? Rose is a mixture of violet – the color of sorrow – and of
blue. In iconography, blue is associated with the heavens and, consequently,
with divinity. The Blessed Virgin Mary is often depicted with a blue inner
garment and a red outer garment, red being the color of the earth and of blood.
Her garments show how she carried divinity within her humanity when she conceived
Jesus in her womb. Rose, then, even as it recognizes our need for conversion,
shows, in a particular way, the joy of the closeness of God and thus is the
color of expectation.
The joy to which the Church summons us
today is not born of some mere momentary pleasure, of a quick shot of dopamine or
serotonin in the brain. No, the joy to which the Church summons us today is born
of the expectation of the closeness of God. It belongs to us to bring this joy
of the closeness of God – the joy that is Christmas – into the public square.
We receive this joy here at the altar when we hear the Word of God and receive
the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, but we cannot leave this joy here, nor
can we keep it to ourselves; we must take this Christian joy with us as we exit
the doors of this house of God and share it with each person we encounter by
inviting him or her to this same closeness of God. Let us say to those we meet,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice” because the Lord is
 Pope Francis, in Hannah Brockhaus,
“Pope Francis: Avoid ‘fake Christmas’ of commercialism by reflecting on God’s closeness,”
Catholic News Agency, 10 December 2021. Accessed 10 December 2021.
Available at https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/249845/pope-francis-avoid-fake-christmas-of-commercialism-by-reflecting-on-god-s-closeness.
 William Durandus, Rationale
Divinorum Officiorum, III.VII.1.
 Ibid., III.VII.2.