Dec 112016
 

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Today is the third Sunday in Advent, commonly called Gaudete Sunday. The day takes its  name from the first word of the introit of this day’s Mass:

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.

[Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.] (Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1)

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One of the candles surrounding the Christ Candle in the Advent wreath is rose colored, for Gaudete Sunday (Joy Sunday). Likewise, in churches that worry about such things, priests have the option to wear rose vestments instead of the normal violet or blue for the Advent season. Being a reasonably ardent Protestant pastor (with cynical edges), I don’t care about vestments at all. But colors matter in some ways. My congregations liked to have different colors on the pulpit for different seasons in accord with Presbyterian rules for worship, and I went along. Purple is the Advent color, and I always had a candle-lighting ceremony at the Advent wreath (which I wrote myself and had various families carry out) at the beginning of each Sunday service. It was a nice ritual touch.

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The lectionary readings for Gaudete Sunday deal with Christian joy as well as the mission of St. John the Baptist and his connexion with Advent. In my oh-so-humble opinion the John the Baptist bit is spurious – an attempt by the gospel writers to bring two disparate communities of disciples together. The focus on joy is another matter. Theologians have spilt considerable ink discussing joy, and its radical difference from happiness. You might want to read Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis to get a feel for the issue. I have very little time for Lewis’s general Christian apologetics which seem lame, to me, at best. But this book is different. It really does wrestle with the idea of JOY as a product of spiritual awakening, which Lewis quite evidently experienced personally. Oddly, the book is not about his meeting with the love of his life, Joy Davidman; it was written before they met. Her name is just a pleasant coda to the narrative. The title comes from Wordsworth:

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?

Joy is an elusive emotion, rather different from happiness. It resides on another plane of experience, and cannot be described. You either know it or you don’t. It’s also alarmingly transient.

The word Gaudete is now inextricably linked with the carol of the same name that was popularized by Steeleye Span in the 1970s. That’s how I first ran into it, but then some years later when I was doing research on early church music I discovered that Steeleye had changed the music considerably from the 16th century original. Here’s a halfway decent attempt at recreating the original:

The harmonies for the refrain part are modern, but the verses are in unison, as would have been normal, with no measures marked by bar lines, just notes. I gave the original notation to my church organist when I was devising a Christmas concert, and she had to draw bar lines in for guidance, even though they are unnecessary.

I’ve just fed my puddings with brandy for the third successive Sunday. They’re coming along nicely – redolent of brandy and spices, with the bags they are in getting messier by the week as the brandy they are soaking in gets dark and syrupy. Now I must focus on a suitable dinner for Joy Sunday.

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I had no idea what to make, so I went out to the market to get some ideas. By chance I found a piece of meat called “reale di vitello” which is obviously veal, but I had no idea what cut. A lot of digging eventually uncovered the fact that “reale,” which can mean “real” or “royal,” is a cut of veal similar to chuck in beef. So I treated it the same way with slow braising. To make it suitable for Christmas I used a braising stock laced with allspice and ginger. For accompaniment I made lentils with the usual additions – mushrooms and leeks – but I added sultanas, as well as some allspice, ginger, and hot pepper. It’s just a spur of the moment thing, but may give you some ideas.

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