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12/05/2003
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Advent is the best antidepressant
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni

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The Good News for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

The transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from curmudgeon to Pollyanna epitomizes the Christmas spirit. If Advent does its work, this season should transform us from depression to hope and from sorrow to joy. Advent works this wonder more solemnly than the ghosts of past, present and future, and more surely than over-the-counter antidepressants.

We can always use some cheering up. News and weather reports prefer bad news to good. Headlines are written to unnerve us enough to buy a paper. A newscaster's story frightens us into paying attention. Even winter weather reports sound gloomier than the weather usually turns out to be. The media like to keep us on edge. So do advertisers. If we're unhappy, we'll buy their products. We look for ways to cheer up.

Even the Catholic Church too often carries an unhappy face. Recent changes in the liturgy have come accompanied with a host of rubrics, more numerous than Herod's troops. So far the liturgical law of the 21st century seems more about creating restrictions than about celebrating the Eucharist.

The third edition of the "Missale Romanum," the book that will replace our sacramentary, is available in Latin now. The English translation will follow in a few years. It has many wonderful points, including the addition of some new Masses for groups of martyrs from different countries around the world.

Two of the Masses for various needs and occasions, however, stress the unhappy undercurrent of striving to live the Christian life. One is called the Mass Ad postulandam continentiam, which I like to translate as the "Mass for Behaving Yourself." Another comes under the heading of Masses for the forgiveness of sins, but it used to be known as the Missa ad petendum compunctionem, or what I like to call the "Mass for Feeling Really, Really Sorry for your Sins." It was also known as the Mass for Tears because it includes a prayer ut peccata nostra plangere valeamus - "that we be able to weep for our sins."

We have those options awaiting us when the new book comes out. There will be no new "Mass for Cheering Up."

Fortunately, we already have one. And it falls on a Sunday each year. The Third Sunday of Advent used to be called Gaudete Sunday. Like Laetare Sunday (the Fourth Sunday of Lent) and Quasimodo Sunday (the Second Sunday of Easter), it got its name from the first word of the introit, or the entrance antiphon.

The entrance antiphon is ignored on most Sundays now because we replace it with an opening hymn. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal now calls it the entrance chant, but it remains to be seen whether that name will catch on. (Will we really start hearing the song leader announce at the beginning of Mass, "Please stand and sing the entrance chant"?)

Almost all the introits drew from short Scripture texts. The one for Gaudete, which is still the Entrance chant for Advent's third Sunday, comes from Philippians 4:5-6. "Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice! The Lord is near!" Those lines, in turn, come from the second reading of the same Mass once every three years. And this is the year (Philippians 4:4-7).

Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi is one of his most upbeat. The Philippians were his first missionary success story, and he wrote warmly to them from his prison cell. Hard to imagine, but the man who wrote the words giving Gaudete Sunday its name was a prisoner at the time, telling people on the outside, "Cheer up! Rejoice! The Lord is near." If a prisoner can be chipper, certainly the free can be.

What was Paul's secret to happiness? Very simply, he turned all his cares over to God. "Have no anxiety at all," he says with a smile. "In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God." Paul found happiness by letting go. He did not wait for God to remove his cares, to change his fortunes, or to answer prayers his way. Paul turned his cares over to God. "Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

We hear this reading during Advent because of four words: "The Lord is near." We rejoice that Christmas is near, but more especially that Jesus is coming back. And even when he seems far, he is always near, ready to unbind the fetters that shacklevery Scrooge. Cheer up!

Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.

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