by Father Mark Goldasich
Rejoice! Why? Well, the headline above has given the secret away: As of last Thursday, we’ve passed the halfway point in Lent! Now, that’s something to be happy about.
Are you shocked that I’m so giddy that Lent is rolling right along? Actually, it’s the church that calls us to be joyful this Fourth Sunday of Lent, known traditionally as Laetare Sunday.
“Laetare” is Latin for “rejoice.” This Sunday gets the name from its entrance antiphon (usually replaced by an opening hymn): “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast” (Is 66: 10-11).
According to the 2017 “Sourcebook” from Liturgy Training Publications: This special Sunday “marks a joyful relief amidst the seriousness and somberness of the many weeks of preparation for Easter. . . . Even in Lent, a time of fasting and repentance, we rejoice, because we know that God is love, and our loving God will provide for all our needs.”
You may notice a few different things in church this weekend. There may be flowers around the normally bare altar and the celebrant may wear rose vestments, instead of the traditional Lenten purple.
“The color rose is used as a sign of the joy which characterizes this Sunday,” said Father Matthew Ernest, a liturgist who helped with the new translation of the Roman Missal. “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.”
While this information about the liturgical history of Laetare Sunday is nice, what does it mean for Catholics today?
Father Ernest has some practical ideas. He suggests having a nice Sunday brunch, complete with roses on the table, in anticipation of our Easter feast. If you’re into gardening, this Sunday would be an appropriate time to plant a rose bush. Finally, he tells of a medieval tradition that stemmed from this Sunday’s other name: Mothering Sunday — a time when people would make a visit on the Fourth Sunday of Lent to their “mother church,” the place where they were baptized. Father Ernest suggests that this ancient practice might make for a great family road trip.
Another priest, Father Joseph Sachs, SJ, has this wonderful suggestion for Laetare Sunday. Why not use it as an “opportunity to think of Lenten practices that open you up to become a more joyful person. . . . You might do something new that adds more joy to your daily routine.”
Bravo to all these suggestions. Let me add a few more ways to celebrate this Sunday after Mass. Because the weather looks to be pleasant, head to a park or the zoo, pack a picnic lunch, fly a kite, or just pretend you’re a tourist in your own town and check out the sights.
If you’d prefer to stay indoors, visit a museum, go bowling or dancing, or invite your neighbors over for dessert or a visit. To do something as a family, resurrect some old photos and relive your past, spring clean with the intention of donating your unwanted “treasures” to a charity, play a board game or put together a jigsaw puzzle, or maybe just have an old-fashioned pillow fight. Or just pull out your bucket list and do something from it.
Now, just to whet your appetite for rejoicing, check out this story:
A woman received a call that her daughter was sick. She stopped by the pharmacy to get medication. Coming back out, she realized that she’d locked her keys inside the vehicle.
Seeing an old, rusty coat hanger on the ground, she picked it up. Although she thought it might be helpful in opening the door, she had no idea how to use it. At her wit’s end, she bowed her head and asked God for help.
Within five minutes, a beat-up, old motorcycle pulled up, ridden by a bearded man wearing a dew rag. He dismounted and asked the woman if he could help.
Relieved, she said, “That would be wonderful. You see, my daughter is sick, and I’ve locked my keys in the car. I’ve got to get this medicine home to her. Could you use this hanger to unlock my car?”
“Sure,” he said. In less than a minute, he had the door open.
The woman hugged the man and tearfully said, “Thank you so much! You are a very nice man!”
“Lady, I am not a nice man,” the biker replied. “I just got out of prison yesterday. I was in for grand theft auto.”
The woman hugged the man again and said, “Oh, thank you, God! You even sent me a professional!”
Now, that’s funny, I don’t care who you are!