Our work at the Garaventa Center keeps my colleague Karen Eifler and meconstantly on the move. Often, one of us is rushing into the office whilethe other is rushing out. On these occasions, Karen will sometimes say,”anticipatory set,” and follow up with a hurried word about some new ideaor piece of news that she intends to unfold at greater length when wehave time. As a result, “anticipatory set” has become something of acatch phrase around our place.
Karen is a professor of Education, and the phrase features in herscholarly discipline. As I understand it, in educational psychology, ananticipatory set is a short, pithy, preview of material to be presented indetail at a later date. It’s intended to whet students’ appetite for what isyet to come. If the new material is related to what has gone before, theanticipatory set reminds them of what they already know. If the materialwill be entirely new to the students, the anticipatory set creates space intheir brains and in their hearts for what is to come. It does this bychanging neural networks and synapses to create new connections. Asyou can imagine, working with Karen has certainly changed my brain!
This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as “GaudeteSunday.” “Gaudete” is the Latin word for “rejoice.” The origins ofGaudete Sunday go back to a time when Advent was understood as apenitential season a kind of “second Lent.” “Rejoice Sunday” wasestablished by the Church out of pastoral concern for Christians whomight be pushing their penitential practices too far. It was intended toafford them an occasion to relax their austerity in anticipation of thejoyful feast soon to come. For some Christians it may still serve thispurpose.
For them, and for all of us really, this Gaudete Sunday can serve asa kind of spiritual anticipatory set. Our readings, with their insistentdemand that we be joyful, are a reminder of what we already know: thatby his saving death and Resurrection, Christ, has already accomplished ourredemption. They also prepare us for what is yet to come, by creatingspace in our minds and in our hearts for the holy child whose birth we willsoon celebrate. The Christmas season will be the time to reflect fully onthe meaning of his birth for each of us. Meanwhile, in the words of St.Paul to the Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”