Laetare Sunday ~ A Day of Joy in the Middle of Lent

This coming Sunday (March 15, 2015) marks the almost-center of Lent, a day of gentle celebration.  The exact middle of Lent falls on a Thursday, but the Sunday following that center point, the fourth Sunday of Lent, is known as Laetare (lay-TAH-ray) Sunday.  Traditions surrounding this special day stem back hundreds of years with a variety of influences shaping its meaning.

One of the main purposes of giving this day special notice is to offer those who have been diligently making sacrifices up to this point in Lent a sort of intermission, to let a touch of celebration seep into the day, to realize with joy that the halfway point has been crossed and that Easter is well on its way (similar to Guadete Sunday during Advent). 
Where Does the Word “Laetare” Come From?
If you were to attend a mass in Latin on the fourth Sunday of Lent, you would hear the word, “Laetare” in the entrance antiphon.  It is a Latin word for “rejoice.”

Rejoice (Laetare) with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her;  Exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her!  Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!

-      Antiphon for Laetare Sunday (Isaiah 66:10-11)

Laetare Sunday has a Few Other Names ...

Rose Sunday - Because the word Laetare means, “to rejoice,” and the traditional color associated with rejoicing is rose, priests often wear rose-colored vestments on this Sunday.  Some claim that this nickname for Laetare Sunday is also connected to the rose flower, pointing to the Bible verse:

… and from his roots a bud shall blossom.     ~Isaiah 11:1b

The bud in this verse symbolizes the promise of a king … Jesus.

The nickname of “Rose Sunday” has also brought about a tradition of the Church blessing a rose on this day and then offering it to another as a sign of goodwill.  In recent history, crafted Golden Roses blessed on Laetare Sundays have been presented as gifts to Catholic Churches or Shrines around the world.  A few of the Churches that have received a blessed Laetare Golden Rose are:

-      Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland
-      St. Joseph’s Oratory in Canada
-      Mariazell Basilica in Austria
-      Our Lady of Pompeii, Italy
-      Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the U.S.A.
-      Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Cuba

Refreshment Sunday - This title refers to an encouragement to embrace the joy of the day, to take a break from fasting and take in some refreshment. 

Sunday of the Five Loaves - This is an older name for Laetare Sunday; the Gospel Reading for the day from older missals was about the miracle of the loaves and fish (John 6:1-15).

Mid-Lent - While not exactly at the midpoint of the Lenten season, Laetare Sunday is the Sunday closest to the center of the liturgical season.

Mothering Sunday - Resources are unclear on how the nickname, “Mothering Sunday” initially came about, but some have suggested that it points to a mass reading on this Sunday from Pre-Vatican II missals, Galatians 4:22-31, which deals with the Old Testament mothers Hagar and Sarah.  It may also stem from the metaphor comparing Jerusalem to a loving mother in the Entrance Antiphon (Isaiah 66:10-11).  It has been tradition in some areas to visit the “Mother Church” of the diocese - the Cathedral - on Laetare Sunday.  In the United Kingdom, Laetare Sunday is Mother’s Day.  One tradition in England is to bake a Mothering Cake, also known as a Simnel Cake (a spice and fruit cake with marzipan topping) to honor mothers on this day.

Ways to Celebrate Laetare Sunday
There are no strict rules on how to commemorate Laetare Sunday; below are just a few ideas to add a special touch to the day …
  • Pause and evaluate your Lenten journey so far.  Ponder any adjustments you feel a need to make.
  • If you normally practice Lenten fasting on Sundays, consider taking a break on Laetare Sunday (Lent with Sundays is 46 days long; Lent excluding Sundays is 40 days long.).
  • Plant a rose bush.
  • Light a rose-colored votive candle and pray for spiritual guidance for the second half of Lent.
  • Work something rose-colored into your outfit.
  • Give a rose to someone who has spiritually influenced you … a parent, a good friend, Bible Study teacher, your children’s CCD teachers, etc.
  • Give a rose to a “spiritual mother,” maybe someone who had never had children, but has given generously to others.
  • Make a Laetare Sunday cake.  You can find many recipes for a traditional English Simnel Cake online, but any cake or special treat will do.
  • If it’s not too far away, visit your Mother Church (Cathedral).  Spend a bit of time in prayer and try to learn about one piece of artwork in the church.
  • Discuss with your family the Gospel reading of the day and how it represents joy.

Laetare Sunday Gospel Readings
If you would like to preview the Gospel reading for Laetare Sunday or read and discuss it with your family, use the chart below to help identify the correct passage.  
  • Year A (2017, 2020, 2023, etc.)   ~   John 9:1-41 – The Man Born Blind
  • Year B (2015, 2018, 2021, etc.)   ~   John 3:14-21 – For God so Loved the World
  • Year C (2016, 2019, 2022, etc.)   ~   Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 – The Parable of the Lost Son

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Stravinskas, Peter M.J., Ed.  Catholic Encyclopedia.  Huntington, Indiana:  Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1991.
Catholic Culture.  Fourth Sunday of Lent - Old Calendar: Laetare Sunday.
Catholic News Agency (October 17, 2004).  Pope Honors Largest Shrine to St. Joseph with Golden Rose.
Fisheaters. 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday).
Guruge, Anura (February 3, 2012).  Popes and Papacy.  The Golden Rose — More Information Directly From The Vatican.
Mother’s Day Celebration.  Mother’s Day in U.K.
National Shrine.  Historic Highlights.
New Advent.   Laetare Sunday. Alston, G.C. (1910). The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
Peters, Sister M. Danielle and Roten, Father Johann G., S.M.  Your Questions Answered.
Richert, Scott. Catholicism.  What is Laetare Sunday?
Stuff Catholics Like.  Laetare Sunday.


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