The diverse names of Laetare Sunday

March 03, 2016
Source: District of the USA

A brief examination of the several names and customs associated with the Fourth Sunday of Lent, and thus how the liturgy seeks to overflow from the altar and become absorbed into the annual customs of our lives.

Pictured above: an example of the Papal Golden Rose given to Queen Mary Adelaide of Piedmont-Sardina by Pope Pius IX in 1847.


We read in The Catholic Encyclopedia that this Fourth and middle Sunday of Lent actually has several popular names associated with it which we outline here.

  • Dominica de Rosa: The golden rose represents Christ in the shining splendor of His majesty, the "flower sprung from the root of Jesse." Originally it was natural rose, then a single golden rose of natural size, but since the fifteenth century it has consisted of a cluster or branch of roses wrought of pure gold in brilliant workmanship by famous artists. The popes bless one every year, and often confer it upon churches, shrines, cities, or distinguished persons as a token of esteem and paternal affection.
  • Rose Sunday: It has a counterpart in Advent: Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, when purple vestments are exchanged for rose ones. The point of both days is to provide us encouragement as we progress toward the end of each respective penitential season.
  • Refreshment Sunday, or the Sunday of the Five Loaves: This name stems from the miracle recorded in the Gospel of John 6:1-15, on the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes—symbols of the Eucharist to come in 18 days (on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week).
  • Mid-Lent, mi-careme, or mediana: These terms (in English, French and Spanish) obviously have their root because this Sunday marks the middle of Lent.
  • Mothering Sunday: This is an allusion to the Epistle, which indicates our right to be called the sons of God as the source of all our joy, and also because formerly the faithful used to make their offerings in the cathedral or mother-church on this day. This latter name is still kept up in some remote parts of England, though the reason for it has ceased to exist.
  • Laetare Sunday: This is by far the most popular name. Laetare means "rejoice" in Latin, and the Introit (entrance antiphon) is Isaiah 66:10-11, which begins "Laetare, Jerusalem" ("Rejoice, O Jerusalem").

The spirit of Laetare Sunday

Because the midpoint of Lent is the Thursday of the third week of Lent, Laetare Sunday has traditionally been viewed as a day of celebration, on which the austerity of Lent is briefly lessened. The passage from Isaiah continues, "rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow," and on Laetare Sunday, the purple vestments and altar cloths of Lent are set aside, and rose ones are used instead. Flowers, which are normally forbidden during Lent, may be placed on the altar. Traditionally, the organ was never played during Lent, except on Laetare Sunday.

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

Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. (Psalm) I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory be to the Father."

How to remember the difference between Gaudate and Laetare Sunday

You can remember to differentiate between Advent's Gaudete Sunday and Lent's Laetare Sunday—the two "rose vestments" Sundays—by remembering that Laetare Sunday comes in Lent, both of which begin with the letter "L."

Recalling Moses and fasting

He is the sixth and last of the patriarchs, introduced in the liturgy. He is one of the greatest men of all times. Friend of God, lawgiver, and leader of the Jews through forty years wandering in the desert, he is a type of Christ. The older breviary (prior to 1960) had the following homely on fasting written by St. Basil:

We know that Moses ascended the mountain (Sinai) fasting. For, had he not been fortified by fasting, he would never have dared to approach its smoking summit. Because he had fasted, he received the tables of the law written by the finger of God. Fasting, therefore, made possible the creation of the Old Law upon the mountain; but gluttony on the plain below seduced the people to the worship of idols.

The labor and persevering effort of forty days, during which the servant of God fasted and prayed, was rendered void by a single act of immoderation on the part of the people. How easy it is to see, if the two are compared that fasting leads to God and gluttony to the loss of salvation.

Fasting produces men of God, it strengthens and invigorates the strong. Fasting confers wisdom upon the lawgiver; it is excellent protection for the soul. It banishes temptations, arms the pious, supports the temperate. By fasting soldiers become brave, and peacemakers gain their ends. It perfects the priest, for he is forbidden to approach the altar except when fasting."

Moses is the object of several responsories (elements of the breviary) during this week. He was called by God to be the savior, leader, provider and teacher of the chosen people. After many rebuffs from Pharaoh, he led his people out of bondage on the night of the Passover. Under his direction, they slaughtered and ate the paschal lamb. With them he passed dry-shod through the Red Sea. In the desert he provided manna, obtained the law and the commandments upon Sinai, spoke most intimately with God, and mediated for his people. He bore their shortcomings with incomparable patience. On all these points, he is the prefiguration of Christ.

Indeed, Christ was sent by the Father into the world, wrestled with Hell’s pharaoh, led His people out of the land of slavery on Passover night, and offered Himself as the paschal lamb to be immolated and consumed by all. He guides His people through the Red Sea of baptism after He Himself opened the way through the Red Sea of suffering. And now he accompanies us through life’s desert, feeds us with manna, and gives us the fountain of the Eucharist from which to drink. And with ineffable patience He leads us to the Promised Land of Heaven.

Laetare Sunday customs

Mothering Day

Laetare Sunday is also known as "Mothering Sunday" because of the Epistle reading that speaks of how not the Jews, but those who come to Christ, regardless of their ancestry, are the inheritors of Abraham's promise.

The old practice of visiting the cathedral, or "mother church" of the diocese on this day is another reason for the name. In England, natural mothers are honored today, too, in a manner rather like the American "Mother's Day." Spring bulb flowers (daffodils, for example) are given to mothers, and simnel cake is made to celebrate the occasion (this cake has also become an Easter Cake of late, however). The word "simnel" comes from the Latin "simila," a wheat flour of the finest grade.

Rose Sunday—the Papal Golden Rose

The rose vestments on Laetare Sunday is a custom originating in the fact that, as a symbol of joy and hope in the middle of this somber season, popes used to carry a golden rose in their right hand when returning from the celebration of Mass on this day (way back in 1051, Pope Leo IX called this custom an "ancient institution".)

Originally it was natural rose, then a single golden rose of natural size, but since the 15th century it has consisted of a cluster or branch of roses wrought of pure gold in brilliant workmanship by famous artists. The popes bless one every year, and often confer it upon churches, shrines, cities, or distinguished persons as a token of esteem and paternal affection.

The Golden Rose represents Christ in the shining splendor of His majesty, the "flower sprung from the root of Jesse," and it is blessed with these words:

O God! by Whose word and power all things have been created, by Whose will all things are directed, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, Who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful, that Thou wouldst deign in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this rose, most delightful in odor and appearance, which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy, in order that the people consecrated by Thee and delivered from the yoke of Babylonian slavery through the favor of Thine only-begotten Son, Who is the glory and exultation of the people of Israel and of that Jerusalem which is our Heavenly mother, may with sincere hearts show forth their joy.

Wherefore, O Lord, on this day, when the Church exults in Thy name and manifests her joy by this sign, confer upon us through her true and perfect joy and accepting her devotion of today; do Thou remit sin, strengthen faith, increase piety, protect her in Thy mercy, drive away all things adverse to her and make her ways safe and prosperous, so that Thy Church, as the fruit of good works, may unite in giving forth the perfume of the ointment of that flower sprung from the root of Jesse and which is the mystical flower of the field and lily of the valleys, and remain happy without end in eternal glory together with all the saints."