That’s the word — there at the top of your Sunday Bulletin when you go to Mass on March 10: “The Fourth – Laetare – Sunday of Lent”.
Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis,et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae
Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: Be joyful, all who you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be satisfied at her consoling breast.
Laetare Sunday is so called from the first word (“Rejoice”) of the Introit of the liturgy. It is also often referred to as mid-Lent Sunday, for it occurs just over halfway through Lent; and it is also known as Refreshment Sunday because, on this day, some relaxation of Lenten austerity is permitted. In medieval England simnel cakes (rich, ornamental fruitcakes) were enjoyed.
One element of that relaxation is the use of rose-colored vestments for this day. When I first came to our Parish thirty-three years ago I found that we possessed a set of vestments which were not so much rose as bubble-gum, or perhaps Pepto-Bismol, in hue. I had them re-dyed to a more seemly shade. Unfortunately I do not have a photograph of those vestments – nor of the beautiful Lent Array which was specially made for us only last year. But the photographs below provide a general indication.
In the Sarum tradition, from which our own distinctive heritage descends, the Lenten Array was used – rather than the purple which had been worn on the “ –gesima” Sundays (so happily restored, by the way, in the Calendar of the Ordinariate). The vestments and the altar frontal, (and, often, the veils that covered statues and pictures, the reredos and anything else decorative in the church) were of Lenten white which was natural linen material, sometimes referred to as ash color. According to An Introduction to English Liturgical Colours, “The explanation of this use of white, which is closely akin to ashen, is ‘in this time of Lent, which is a time of mourning, all things that make to the adornment of the church are either laid aside or else covered, to put us in remembrance that we ought now to lament and mourn for our souls dead in sin, and continually to watch, fast, pray, give alms….,’ wherefore ‘the clothes that are hanged up this time of Lent in the church have painted on them nothing else but the pains, torments, passion, blood¬shedding, and death of Christ, that now we should only have our minds fixed on the passion of Christ, by whom only we were redeemed.” This practice made a startling transformation of the church for the whole of the Lenten season so that Easter literally burst forth like the Lord from the tomb when the church was returned to normal state.
Historically, this Fourth Sunday of Lent also has another familiar title in the Anglican patrimony. It is often called Mothering Sunday, with reference to a verse from the Epistle for this day from the old Book of Common Prayer. In Galatians (4:27) we read that Jerusalem above is free; and she is our mother. If you look back to the Introit you will see that maternal theme deeply – and earthily – embedded in the spiritual essence of this day.
The modern American holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother. She then began a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States – sadly unaware, it seems, that such a day had already existed for centuries in the Western spiritual tradition. Although she was successful in 1914, she was already disappointed with its commercialization by the 1920s. But isn’t that what one might expect to happen when sentiment (but sentiment, feeling, does indeed have a central place in the honor given to motherhood in general and in the love and thanksgiving we express for our own mothers in particular) is detached from any serious spiritual and sacramental context?