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March 18, 2012 is Laetare Sunday and in some countries — the UK, for instance — it is Mother’s Day, which derives from the church tradition of Mothering Sunday.

The traditional Introit for Laetare Sunday includes the words

“Laetare Jerusalem” (“O be joyful, Jerusalem”)

Therefore, this particular Sunday in Lent is a time to rejoice and focus on the glory of the Risen Christ in hope and joy. Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans following ancient Lenten traditions can feel free to enjoy a special treat.

Laetare Sunday, sometimes called Rose Sunday, is also the day of the Golden Rose and one of two days when a celebrant at Mass wears a rose-coloured vestment, the other being Gaudete Sunday in Advent. (Photo of the chasuble is courtesy of Luzar Vestments in the UK.)

The Golden Rose associated with Laetare Sunday is a Roman Catholic tradition dating back to the Middle Ages (emphases mine):

The shining golden flower shows forth Christ’s majesty, appropriate because prophets called him “the flower of the field and the lily of the valleys.”[1] Its fragrance, according to Pope Leo XIII “shows the sweet odor of Christ which should be widely diffused by His faithful followers” (Acta, vol. VI, 104), and the thorns and red tint refer to His Passion. See Isaiah 63:2: “Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?”

Many papal diplomas and papal sermons when conferring it have explained the rose’s mystical significance. Innocent III said: “As Lætare Sunday, the day set apart for the function, represents love after hate, joy after sorrow, and fullness after hunger, so does the rose designate by its colour, odour and taste, love, joy and satiety respectively.” and compared the rose to the flower referred to in Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.”

Originally, the Golden Rose was comprised of a single flower. As centuries passed, they became more elaborate, with multiple blossoms. (The one pictured at right [courtesy of Wikipedia] was crafted in 1330.)

Also, for:

almost every year for more than 1,000 years, popes have blessed a rose made by skilled goldsmiths … Until the late 15th century, the Golden Rose had a red tinge to its petals.  Precious gems sometimes replaced the red hue.  In the late 1400s, Pope Sixtus IV commissioned a Golden Rose which was a set of roses formed like a Jesse Tree.  Later popes have commissioned Golden Rose arrangements in different styles, e.g. a bouquet.  The popes gave these Golden Roses to members of royal families and various dignitaries as well as to special churches and sanctuaries. However, it is given only in exceptional circumstances and not every year. Therefore, the Pope retains a Golden Rose year after year until he finally distributes itIt is more common now for a pope to give one to a church instead of a personPope Benedict XVI has given away 11 Golden Roses.

The University of Notre Dame (Indiana) awards their Laetare Medal on this day to a dignitary seen to espouse Catholic virtues. These medals are the American equivalent to the papal Golden Rose.

Before churches began using the Lectionary, the Gospel reading for Laetare Sunday was the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Therefore, this Sunday was also known as ‘the Sunday of the Five Loaves’.

The traditional Epistle read on this day was from Galatians 4 and included this verse (Gal. 4:26):

But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Hence the ancient tradition called Mothering Sunday, when people made the journey to their ‘mother’ church — often a cathedral but sometimes a large parish church — for worship. Afterward, some congregations ‘clipped’ the church, which involved worshippers gathering outside, forming a ring around the church and holding hands to embrace it.

The notion of the church as spiritual mother began to extend to earthly mothers. Children presented their mothers with a small posy of flowers after worship. Servants were given the opportunity for a day off work to visit their mothers — and their mother church. By means of a gift, they made Simnel cakes which they ate on the day with their mothers. Sometimes, the cakes were saved for a celebration lunch at Easter. As such, Simnel cake is a traditional Laetare Sunday / Easter Sunday treat. It is a fruit cake covered in and filled with marzipan. The marzipan balls on the cake represent Christ’s 11 faithful apostles.  ‘Simnel’ appears to derive from simila — ‘fine’ — referring to the flour used.

There is much more to be written about Laetare Sunday and the mothering traditions, so be sure to tune in again next year.

In the meantime, may I wish all ladies honoured on this day a happy Mothering Sunday!  I hope that your families have a delightful celebration planned for you!

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