What is Laetare Sunday?
A little light breaks into Lent this Sunday
The Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 18th) is called Laetare Sunday, when the Church takes a bit of breather from Lenten practice and opens Mass with the Entrance Antiphon, “Rejoice, Jerusalem … Be joyful, all who were in mourning!” – taken from Isaiah chapter 66.
To get a deeper insight into this “Rejoice” Sunday, we asked Father Matthew Ernest to explain some of the theology and practice related to the celebration. Father Ernest was ordained in 2004 for the Archdiocese of New York, where he serves at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Scarsdale. He holds a doctorate in Liturgy from The Catholic University of America and has assisted in the preparation of the new translation of the Roman Missal.
Fathers for Good: Where does the name “Laetare Sunday” come from?
Father Ernest: Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, takes its name from the Latin word which begins the entrance antiphon (introit) for that day. Laetare means rejoice, and this Sunday is marked by a relaxation of the penitential character of the Lenten season. In church, flowers may be used to adorn the altar on this day, and the organ may be played more fully.
FFG: Are we supposed to "Rejoice!" in the middle of Lent?
Father Ernest: Indeed we are! On this Sunday, we look with expectation to the great Solemnity of Easter for which we have been preparing ourselves as a Church during the Lenten season. By its anticipation of the joy of Easter, Laetare Sunday is meant to give us hope and encouragement as we slowly progress towards the Paschal Feast.
FFG: Did the priests used to wear pink rose vestments on this Sunday?
Father Ernest: Not only did priests used to wear rose vestments, but they still may! On both Laetare Sunday and Gaudete Sunday (the Third Sunday of Advent), a priest may wear rose vestments. The color rose is used as a sign of the joy which characterizes these two Sundays. The use of rose vestments probably stems from an ancient papal tradition of blessing golden roses which would be sent to Catholic heads of state in Europe on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
FFG: Are there traditional (or contemporary!) celebrations or observances that a family might observe to make this Laetare Sunday more memorable?
Father Ernest: In addition to attending Sunday Mass, a family might choose to mark Laetare Sunday by anticipating the Easter feast; a Sunday brunch with roses on the table would be appropriate. A family might also wish, during this beginning period of spring, to plant a rose bush on this day. Finally, there was a medieval tradition of visiting one’s “mother church” (the church where one was baptized) on this day. A family trip to see where mom and dad or the children began their journey of faith could make for a fine Sunday afternoon outing!