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Celebrating Laetare Sunday




Amid the seasons of penitence and preparation in the church calendar, Advent and Lent, little gems exist known as Refreshment Sundays. On these days, the penitential tone eases, hence the name. The Refreshment Sundays are Gaudete Sunday, which falls in the middle of Advent, and Laetare Sunday, which falls in the middle of Lent.


Refreshment Sundays offer a pause in the austerity of their respective seasons, allowing us a moment of respite from the spiritual disciplines that we have taken on. They also shift the somber mood towards a more joyful anticipation. This pause is not a complete break from the season’s focus but rather a reminder that our preparation and penance have a purpose, that they lead us towards the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas and His Resurrection at Easter.


A Lenten Pause


Falling on the fourth Sunday of Lent, approximately halfway through this penitential season, Laetare Sunday offers a pause to remind us that we are almost through with our journey and Easter is almost here! It is an apex, a turning point, where we are offered a glimmer of hope and a lightening of the somber mood. It increases our sense of anticipation and serves as a reminder of the joy that the Lord brings into our lives, even in times of waiting and preparation.


Laetare Sunday reminds us of the Christian journey’s duality: the balance of repentance with forgiveness, weeping with laughing and suffering with joy. It reminds us that even as we prepare, reflect, and repent, we do so with the joyful anticipation of the great mystery of our faith: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 


Rejoice!


Laetare Sunday derives its name from Isaiah 66:10, the opening antiphon for the day. 


“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,    
all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her,    
all you who mourn over her.”

Laetare means “rejoice” and not just “rejoice” without punctuation or emphasis. Laetare is an imperative, more like an enthusiastic exhortation or command: “Rejoice!” Right in the middle of Lent, we, as a people, are encouraged or urged to rejoice! This powerful scripture sets the tone for the day. It serves as a beautiful reminder that even in times of repentance and self-denial, there is hope!


Laetare Sunday stands as a beacon of light, guiding us through our spiritual journey with the promise of joy and renewal. It invites us to pause and reflect on our journey so far. It also strengthens us to renew our spiritual disciplines in our home and to continue on our Lenten journey towards Easter. 


Alternative Names 


Laetare Sunday has many different names. Along with Refreshment Sunday, it also bears the names Mid-Lent Sunday, Mothering Sunday, and Rose Sunday. Before the adoption of the modern common lectionaries, it was called “the Sunday of the Five Loaves” since the Gospel reading for the Sunday was the miracle of the loaves and fishes. 


Mothering Sunday


In England, Laetare Sunday was known as “Mothering Sunday.” On this day, people could return to the church where they were baptized, called their “mother church.” Those who visited their “mother church” were said to have gone “a-mothering.”


In medieval times, Mothering Sunday was a cause for great celebration because domestic servants were given the day off to visit their “mother church.” This also allowed them to visit their families and friends. Often, it was the sole occasion families could gather together since servants weren’t granted free days on other occasions.


On Mothering Sunday, it was customary for children and young people to pick wildflowers on their way to church, place them in the church, and give them to their mothers. This religious tradition may have evolved into the secular tradition of Mother’s Day.


Rose Sunday


Laetare Sunday is also called Rose Sunday because clergy wear rose-colored vestments, unlike the typical penitential purple of Lent. The rose color, rather than purple, represents joy and rejoicing amid preparation and penance, serving as a visual reminder of the hope and light that the Resurrection of Christ brings to the world.


Note: If reference is made to a single “Refreshment Sunday” or “Rose Sunday,” it usually means Laetare Sunday.


Ways to Celebrate Laetare Sunday


  • Visit your “mother” church, as they do in England, where people return to the church of their baptism on Laetare Sunday, known as “Mothering Sunday.” 

  • Give your mother flowers. In some regions of the world, children present their mothers with flowers and small gifts, a custom that beautifully ties into the themes of joy and appreciation.

  • Light a rose-colored candle. Embrace the tradition of using the color rose by lighting a rose-colored candle during your prayer time or meal. 

  • Switch out your purple decor for rose.

  • Decorate your table with rose pink-colored roses.

  • Make a rose-colored dessert. In keeping with the theme of “Rose Sunday,” many families prepare rose-colored or flavored desserts. This can include strawberry or raspberry desserts, rose-colored macarons, and cakes adorned with rose petals or pink icing.

  • Make a traditional Simnel cake. The English eat Simnel cakes (special rich fruitcakes) on this day. Simnel Cake is a rich cake filled with spices and dried fruits and decorated with marzipan. The cake is decorated with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles (excluding Judas). 

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