By James Hanvey SJ, Service of Faith – General
‘Rejoice ye’ - Gaudete - appears to be a late 16th century Carol set
with an older medieval tune. It’s bold, lively rhythm, captures well the joyous
mood of the Carol as it invites us to celebrate the birth of Christ. The lyrics
and the pulsating rhythm work especially well when sung a cappella as here by the Jesuit students of the Gesù, in Rome.
As is so often the case with traditional carols, their
simple verses often contain a compressed theology expressing wonder at the
event of Christ’s nativity. The text and the music do this by juxtaposing
simple statements, blending the facts of the birth with its meaning. This draws
us into the strange paradoxes of the Nativity, that then open up into wonder.
Each verse tells of the grace of the Incarnation, not just some remembered past
event but present to us now in this moment - ‘the time of grace has come’
(Tempus adest gratiæ).
This is the source and the cause of our rejoicing: Gaudete! the child is now here ‘for us’. Like every
Carol, the effect of Gaudete is to
make us present with the shepherds and the kings. We become participants not
onlookers or spectators. That, too, is the grace of the music. The ancient
Christmas proclamation, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in our presence,
‘for unto us a child born, unto us a son is given...’.
Like any well crafted Carol, it goes on echoing in us
after the singers have ceased. Easily remembered and absorbed, the rhythms
enter into our interior space and memory; unfolding until we, too, are
rejoicing, filled now with an interior joy and wonder - a nativity so
simple and human, overturning all our categories; not a threat but a gift
we could never have imagined, opening up to an inexhaustible mystery. As Gaudete says, God has become man with
nature marvelling - homo factus est,
natura mirante (verse 3).
Maybe in these days of Christmas we can allow
nature to show us the way to be before the mystery. With all the darkness and
confusion of this year, to come with a simplicity and humility; to be still
before the Christ child who can teach us to have faith again, how to hope
again, how to live again in a better, more loving way. Mundus renovatus est - the world has been
renewed! And we pray that it may be so. Amen.