On Laetare Sunday

The Window in the West


Behold the beauty, the majesty, the symbol given unto us (Source)

“Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae.”

Such is the origin of Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” This mid-point of the Lenten season, celebrated by Catholics, Anglicans, and some Protestants, serves as a brief up-springing of joy in the midst of the penance of Lent. It is a safe haven on the journey, like Faramir’s window on the west, where one can recall that which we pursuit on our quest, and our reason for doing so: for hope, for faith, for the glory of God. It is the counterpart to Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, and they share no few characteristics: the period of celebration amidst anticipation and reflection, the focus on music and beauty in the liturgy, and of course the rose (not pink!) colored garments.

These garments harken to a somewhat forgotten tradition of Laetare Sunday, the blessing of the golden rose. Dating at least back to the early Medieval period, on this Sunday the Pope would preach on the beauty, mystical significance, and inspiration of the rose, and then bless a beautifully crafted golden rose to be delivered to a ruler, shrine, or church of significance. This practice continues today (though not always on Laetare Sunday): Pope Francis has given two during his pontificate, and Pope Benedict XVI blessed 19 in his time.

Laetare Sunday has also sometimes been known as mothering Sunday, for two interesting and interwoven reasons. Originally, Laetare Sunday was the day of the year when Catholics would pray especially for, offer alms to, or visit their “mother church,” i.e. the cathedral. This practice (and the Epistle read with it, Galatians 4:22-31) inspired the day to also be associated with honoring one’s earthly mother alongside one’s spiritual mother (in the cathedral and the rose), and even to this day Mothering Sunday is the equivalent of Mother’s Day in England.

Joy, rose, mothers, and blessings: these are the features of Laetare Sunday, and we augment what they inspire with what we read in The Lord of the Rings. For not only with Faramir do we have a third firmness within which to rest, but we also have a counterpart for deep conversation. Here we can reflection upon preserving joy in times without much hope; about holding to our word and recalling our blessings even when the darkness seems to be building. And in Faramir’s love for Minas Tirith and his Gondorian people we have piercing words on mothering and beauty. Perhaps, for some of us, how Faramir describes and holds up the White City is how we think of the Church: “I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.” We critique her for her shortcomings; we desire in her greatness without use of the powers of the Enemy.

So rejoice, O Lenten pilgrims, and all who find wisdom in his book. Be joyful, all on the long road to Calvary; exult and be satisfied, for the victory is at hand.

2016’s Reflection: “On Praying for the Living and the Dead
2015’s Reflection: “On Faith


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