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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.

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!

A Golden Rose (1818-19), photo courtesy of Wikipedia

A Golden Rose (1818-19), photo courtesy of Wikipedia

My apologies for being later than I anticipated with this post.  This year, Laetare Sunday was March 22!

In the UK, Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday, or as it is becoming more popularly known, Mother’s Day.  The name 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.

I mentioned in my explanation of liturgical colours last week that Laetare Sunday was a break from the penitential nature of Lent.  Therefore, a reunion which was centred around a brief pilgrimage to one’s home church turned into a family reunion with a bit of a feast, as best as one could manage.  Simnel cake is linked to Laetare / Mothering Sunday, although these days it is also popular at Easter.   

As many other more timely online postings explained last weekend, Laetare Sunday is so called because ‘laetare’ means ‘rejoice’.  The words ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’ are still part of the Catholic Introit, or entrance antiphon, for that liturgy.  The priest wore — and in most cases still wears — rose-coloured vestments

Why rose?  Pope Leo XIII said that its scent should remind the faithful of ‘the sweet odour of Christ’ at His Resurrection.  The red petals and thorns tell us of his Passion as prophesied in Isaiah 63:2: ‘Why then is thy apparel red and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?’  For this reason, almost every year for more than 1,000 years, popes have blessed a rose made by skilled goldsmiths. This is called the Golden Rose. 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 it.  It is more common now for a pope to give one to a church instead of a person.  Pope Benedict XVI has given away four Golden Roses.  They went to the Sanctuary of Jasna Gora (Częstochowa, Poland), to the Basilica of Aparecida (Brazil), the Mariazell Basilica (Austria) and to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.       

The University of Notre Dame awards a Laetare Medal each year to a dignitary seen to espouse Catholic virtues.  The 2009 recipient is the former Ambassador to the Holy See (the Vatican), Mary Ann Glendon.  The University has given a Laetare Medal since 1883.  It is considered the American counterpart to the Golden Rose.  Although the announcement was made on Laetare Sunday, Dr Glendon will receive the award at the University’s Commencement exercises on May 17.

ALSO SEE — UPDATES: GOOD NEWS ON ND LAETARE MEDAL, OBAMA ‘TRUTH’ 

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