Mothering Sunday in Great Britain is on Sunday, March 15, 2015.

Although we are increasingly adopting the American ‘Mother’s Day’, the original name has religious significance.

It derives from an ancient tradition of people travelling back to their ‘mother’ church on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, or Laetare Sunday.  The ‘mother’ church was the one in which they had grown up.  This tradition derives from the Epistle reading which states that the source of our joy should be in knowing that we are sons of God looking forward to redemption through the risen Christ.  (The faithful celebrate Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, the greatest of all Church feasts.)

Because transport was difficult and travel lengthy — people journeyed home by horse, carriage or on foot — it was also a special occasion for their families.  Those who made this trip were said to be going ‘a-mothering’. This carried a double meaning of pilgrimage to their church and a visit to their mother. The Canterbury Tales blog says the custom lasted for 300 years and ended sometime in the 19th century.

Simnel cake (pictured above), now served more often at Easter, was the traditional cake shared on this particular day.

In terms of church services, celebrants in the Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran churches often wear a rose-coloured vestment on this Sunday recalling Isaiah 63:2:

Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?

In the Middle Ages Pope Leo XIII compared the ‘sweet odour of Christ’ to a rose. A papal tradition, that of the Golden Rose, began as a result of this contemplation. The Pope commissions a goldsmith to craft a rose — one bloom or many — which is then given to a worthy Catholic for his or her service to the Church and to humanity. The Golden Rose is not distributed every year, although it has been given to a deserving recipient most years over the past Millennium.

Laetare — the first word of the traditional Introit — means ‘rejoice’, as in ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. It is a time to focus on the glory of the Risen Christ in hope and joy as well as contemplate His upcoming Passion.

I mentioned earlier the custom of returning to one’s mother church. After the service, the congregation went outdoors to gather around the church and ‘clip’ it — holding hands to embrace it.

My best wishes go to all British mothers on Laetare Sunday. May it be a well-deserved occasion of joy and happiness.

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