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The Propers of Advent

Longing, Believing, Rejoicing, Receiving

It is one of the most frequently asked questions during Advent: "Why is there one pink candle when all the others are violet?" Answer: "The pink or rose candle is for the 3rd Sunday in Advent representing JOY. Question: "Why do we focus on JOY for the 3rd Sunday?" Answer: "Because it's almost Christmas!"

Well, not exactly...we focus on JOY for the 3rd Sunday, and the liturgical color is ROSE instead of violet, because it's "Gaudete" Sunday, named for the first word of the Introit for that day: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice." (Philippians 4:4). Since at least the 9th century - in other words, for over 1,000 years - the Church has sung these words from the epistle of St. Paul at the beginning of the Mass on the third Sunday. 
​It is sad how many Catholics know almost nothing about the "Propers" of the Mass, the texts specially designated for every Sunday and holy day in the liturgical calendar. Most do not sing these texts at all, instead substituting favorite hymns or songs at the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion processions. Wearing rose vestments, lighting a rose-colored candle, and focusing on "joy," but NOT singing some form of "Gaudete in Domino" on the 3rd Sunday of Advent sort of misses the point! 

In truth, all of the ancient Propers in the season of Advent are rich in meaning and scriptural power. Let's look at just a few:

1st Sunday in Advent ("Faith")
"To you I lift up my soul, O my God. In you I have trusted." (Ps. 25:1-2). This powerful Psalm of longing is used in both the Introit and Offertory antiphons. The theme of faith and hope is woven deeply into Psalm 25, and in the Communion antiphon, "The Lord will bestow his bounty, and our earth shall yield its increase." This is from Psalm 85 which will also feature prominently in the liturgy of the 2nd Sunday.

2nd Sunday in Advent ("Peace")
Listen to the confident tone of the Introit: "O people of Sion, behold, the Lord will come to save the nations." (Isaiah 30:19). The Offertory antiphon moves deeper into Psalm 85, and our longing has moved into peaceful assurance: "You will turn to us, O God, and restore our life, and your people shall rejoice in you." Our belief now propels us to "stand upon the heights, and behold the joy which comes to you from God." (Baruch 5). 

3rd Sunday in Advent ("Joy")
As mentioned earlier, the joy of "Gaudete Sunday" overflows, changing the penitential color of violet to the lighter color of rose. The prophecy of Isaiah, another staple of Advent, calls us to spread joy to others: "Say to the faint of heart: Be strong and do not fear. Behold, our God will come..." (Is. 35:4). 

4th Sunday in Advent ("Love")
Here, the powerful imagery in the Introit (from Isaiah 45) likens us to the earth, open and ready to receive our Holy Bridegroom: "let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring forth a Savior." The object of our love is two-fold: the long-awaited Christ and his Blessed Mother. The Offertory rings out "Hail Mary, full of grace," while the Communion quotes Isaiah again: "Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son; and his name will be called Emmanuel."

In the Advent Propers, we hear the very scriptures which define the themes of the Advent wreath and its colored candles. We long, we believe, we rejoice, we receive. Faith - Peace - Joy - Love. 

May your Advent be filled with blessed expectation!

Tags: Advent, Propers, Liturgy, Scripture, Music


One of my greatest joys is writing and teaching about liturgy. Of course, I love playing the organ, and singing, and leading liturgical efforts in the parish. I look forward to sharing the riches of Catholic liturgy with you in the coming years, and invite you to share your thoughts and questions with me by email: Alex E. Hill Director of Music and Liturgy Read More

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