On one Sunday each Advent and Lent, the priest will come out of the sacristy wearing rose vestments and inevitably makes some sort of comment about how the color of his vestments should not be classified as “pink,” but rose. Often the priest is somewhat embarrassed, especially when his parishioners give their pastor a hard time.
Yet, the use of rose vestments during the sacred liturgy of the third Sunday of Advent has been a part of the Church’s tradition for many centuries and is a tradition we must hold onto. Rose gives us joy and a promise of hope; our world is in need of both.
Rejoice! The Lord is Near
This color, which is only used twice in the whole liturgical year, is traditionally associated with a sense of joy amidst a season of penance. On both Sundays (Gaudete in Advent and Laetare in Lent), rose is worn to remind us that the season of preparation is coming to a close and the great feast is swiftly approaching. Even the Entrance Antiphon that is sung at the beginning of Mass on Gaudete Sunday speaks of the joy we must possess:
Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum dico, gaudéte.
Dóminus enim prope est.
In English it reads:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.
Indeed, the Lord is near.
When we see rose at Mass we are called to rejoice; the preparations are nearly complete and Christmastide is almost here!
The Necessity of Joy
Pope Francis has put a lot of emphasis on joy and even dedicated an entire encyclical to the “Joy of the Gospel.” He writes in the opening paragraph,
The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. (1) [Emphasis added]
At the very start of his encyclical, Pope Francis puts this “joy of the Gospel” in stark contrast to the pervading mood of modern culture, which can certainly be applied during this time of year that too often forgets the reason for the season,
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ. (2) [Emphasis added]
At the same time, joy is not always an easy trait to acquire. Even faithful Christians can be tempted to live life without an ounce of joy. It is like living always in Advent, but never experiencing the joy of Christmas. (or as Mr. Tumnus describes Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it is “always Winter, but never Christmas”) Pope Francis puts it this way,
There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness… It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26). (6) [Emphasis added]
While it is never easy being a Christian, Pope Francis encourages us to persevere and find the key to true joy, which is not found in the many temporal things of this world,
Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. (7) [Emphasis added]
Additionally, I recently heard an explanation behind the color of the rose vestments that I have yet to find anywhere else. Besides rose being a color of joy, it is also one of the last colors seen before the sun rises.
If you were to get up early tomorrow and witness the sunrise, the sky would be marked with a beautiful hue of rose and you would know that the sun is not far behind. So too with Gaudete Sunday. On this third Sunday of Advent the Church expresses her joy that the Sun of Justice will be born; in fact, His birth is almost here! The Church cannot contain her joy at the coming of her Savior, for she knows that He will bring victory over sin and death.
This gives us great hope. In a world with such darkness, riots and many evil deeds, we know that God reigns victorious. As we eagerly await the coming of our Savior at Christmas, let us not forget the great victory He won for us on Easter Sunday. Darkness has been conquered. Death is no more. This Advent, let the light of Christ shatter your darkness and bring you a Gospel joy that endures.