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The Fourth Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday, which is Mothering Sunday in the United Kingdom.

Mothering Sunday relates not only to mothers but to the Church:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts explain that Laetare Sunday is when clergy used to wear rose coloured vestments instead of purple. (Some still do.) It is traditionally the happy Sunday in Lent, as laetare means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening words of the traditional Latin Introit, which in English translate to ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. Salvation is coming.

This week’s readings from the Vanderbilt Divinity Library express the themes of liberation, forgiveness and salvation.

The following are readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. Emphases mine below.

The Old Testament reading has to do with the complaints of the Israelites in the desert, God’s punishment of such complaints in light of their liberation from Egypt, followed by His loving forgiveness:

Numbers 21:4-9

21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.

21:5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

21:6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.

21:7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

21:8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”

21:9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

The Psalm follows this theme of God’s loving forgiveness — His healing and deliverance from death and destruction:

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

107:1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

107:2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble

107:3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

107:17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;

107:18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

107:19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;

107:20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.

107:21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

107:22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

Paul’s Epistle discusses the deliverance from sin thanks to God’s grace and salvation through His Son Jesus Christ:

Ephesians 2:1-10

2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins

2:2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

2:3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.

2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us

2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved

2:6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

2:7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God

2:9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

2:10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

John’s Gospel mentions the serpent of the Israelites and, just as that healed them, faith in Jesus Christ brings us to salvation:

John 3:14-21

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

In closing, I wish all my British readers who are mothers a very happy Mothering Sunday.

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In Britain, Mothering Sunday — Mother’s Day — is always Laetare Sunday.

This year, mums are shortchanged, as our clocks change to British Summer Time on Sunday, March 26, 2017.

Laetare Sunday is the joyful Sunday of Lent. Some traditional Anglican and Catholic clergy wear a pink chasuble. The faithful look towards the promise of the Resurrection on this day.

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, which is how Mothering Sunday developed.

Find out more in my post from 2012:

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

I wish all my British readers who are mothers a very happy day.

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.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis - closeup detail of a HibiscusHappy Mothering Sunday to mothers in Britain who happened to arrive on this post!

Best wishes for a pleasant, enjoyable day — and weekend.

Readers wishing to know more can read my history of Mothering Sunday together with background information on Laetare Sunday.

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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