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Laetare – Rejoice! with Mothers

On two days of the year, celebrants at Mass are able to wear rose coloured vestments: Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent), and today, Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent). It is also Mothering Sunday – why?

The name, as with many feast names, comes from the first word of the Introit as Mass (Isa: 66, 10-11):

Laetare, Jerusalem: et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. Ps. Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus.

Rejoice! O Jerusalem, and come together, all you who love her: rejoice with joy, you who have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. Ps. I rejoiced because they said to me, We will go up to the house of the Lord.

Altar dressed with rose vestments for Laetare Sunday

Sunday's are always Our Lord's day and Lenten penances are not observed. As such, days were added to the beginning of the Lenten season, ahead of the First Sunday (starting on Ash Wednesday), in order to ensure 40 days of penance in the season. Despite this, Holy Mother the Church remains penitential on all Sunday's of Lent – e.g. without flowers on the altar, without the organ playing.

The Fourth Sunday falls about halfway and Holy Mother the Church has deigned it is good for souls to have some relief with an overt rejoicing on this Sunday. Instead of purple, the celebrants vestments can be rose coloured. Altar flowers appear and the organ is able to accompany chants at Mass.

Further customs developed alongside these, including a tradition that Catholics would return to visit their mother, and specifically their mother church – the place of their baptism, on this day. This focus on maternal origins – temporal and spiritual – resulted in today becoming 'Mothering Sunday.'

Golden Rose of the Pope - Gift of Clement XIV to Queen Maria Carolina of Sicily and Naples, 1773

Another custom on this day was the blessing by the pope of a golden rose, gifted to rulers, cities or places of pilgrimage.

Last year, one of the golden roses appeared in an auction and includes more historical information:

"Golden Roses have been awarded to people - men, women, and one married couple - as well as to states and churches."

"Until the sixteenth century Golden Roses were usually awarded to male sovereigns. From the sixteenth century onwards it became more common to award them to female sovereigns and to the wives of sovereigns. The last male to receive a Golden Rose was Francesco Loredan, Doge of Venice, in 1759. The last female and the last sovereign to receive a Golden Rose was Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg in 1956."

"In the twentieth century Pope Pius X, Pope Benedict XV, Pope John XXIII, and Pope John Paul I made no awards of the Golden Rose.

  • Pope Pius XI revived the practice which was continued by Pope Pius XII.

  • Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) made five awards

  • Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) made nine awards

  • Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) made eighteen awards

  • Pope Francis has made five awards of the Golden Rose during his reign (in November 2013, July 2016, May and October 2017, June 2019)"

In this penitential period, this Sunday, Rejoice! with gratitude for your spiritual and temporal maternity.

Look ahead also to the Feast of St. Joseph (transferred to tomorrow, Monday 20 March) and The Feast of the Annunciation (next Saturday, 25 March).


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