Today is Gaudete Sunday. Today, at home and at church, we light the rose candle in addition to our two purple candles as we wait for Christmas, and the coming of Christ into our world. Gaudete comes from the Latin “rejoice” and it is taken from the Introit for this Sunday, Gaudete in Domino semper, in turn taken from Philippians 4:4-5, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” It is a Sunday carrying a lighter tone in this season of quiet penitence and preparation. Of the four themes of Advent – Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell – today we consider Heaven.
And for those of us who were present at the ordination yesterday, we were still floating in Heaven.
Yesterday we gathered to witness one of our members take his vows before our Archbishop Provence to become a deacon. It was a day of great rejoicing, for Peter has been serving the parish faithfully for many years, and his sacrificial sanctity has grown visible in time. These occasions are also ones of heartwarming unity, as clergy and out-of-town guests join us in the warm red nave and chancel before the tabernacle. In some ways it is like a great re-union of fellow faithful from other parts of the diocese and I was thankful to see them once again.
We sang the bracing and embracing hymn, St. Patrick’s Breastplate, “I bind unto myself this day the strong name of the Trinity…” as the clergy, acolytes and our ordinand, robed in white, processed up the wide red carpet, parting the sea of pews, and took places in the chancel to the left and right of the altar. Attributed to fifth-century St. Patrick, this song to the Trinity was a true warrior’s battle hymn, binding us to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to one another as Christ’s Body.
As Anglo-Catholics, we act out our belief through liturgical drama. As we moved through the service, the acolytes and deacons and priests assisting the archbishop in the sanctuary, we arrived at the moment for the singing of the Litany, a time of deep commitment. Peter prostrated himself before the altar, his arms outstretched, his body forming its own cross on the red sanctuary carpet. He lay before his Lord as the litanist chanted and we responded, “Lord have mercy…” We prayed for Peter, who would soon receive the apostolic laying on of hands, and we prayed for ourselves, all connected to Peter in this moment of time, in this ark, the Church.
Soon a chair was placed at the head of the central aisle and Archbishop Provence took his seat, wearing his miter and holding his shepherd’s staff. Peter would soon be one of his flock in a special way, for deacons belong to their bishops historically and so it is today.
Peter knelt before the archbishop and answered with a clear voice. The archbishop instructed him in his duties as deacon: to assist in the Divine Liturgy, to distribute the Eucharist, to read Holy Scripture and homilies, to instruct the youth, to baptize in the absence of the priest, to preach with the bishop’s permission, to care for the sick, poor, and helpless of the community. The archbishop then laid his hands on Peter’s head and gave him authority to do these things, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our new Deacon Towle donned his deacon’s red sash, worn angled from left shoulder to right side, then took his place in the chancel. The liturgy of the Mass continued, our greatest prayer of thanksgiving, in which we offer ourselves to God and God offers himself to us, and we received this eucharistic incarnation given to us by Christ.
As the clergy recessed, the torches burning, the crucifix raised high, Archbishop Provence made the Sign of the Cross over our heads in blessing. We sang “The Church’s one foundation /Is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is the new creation by water and the word: from heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride; With his own blood he bought her, And for her life he died.” Fighting words, I thought, words of strength to conclude the service which bound this soldier, this new Deacon Towle, to the Trinity, gave him the power to teach and to serve the Body of Christ the Church.
We gathered in the parish hall downstairs to share a meal, to congratulate our new deacon, and to give thanks for God’s many blessings to us, especially the gift of Deacon Peter Brown Towle.
Today was a true Gaudete Sunday, for we continued to rejoice in yesterday’s celebration, this moment of Heaven, as we witnessed the Sacrament of Holy Orders, a kind of incarnation in the Body of Christ. And we continue to ponder Christ’s coming at Christmas, the historic incarnation of God among us.