Laetare Sunday a joyful pause in a somber season

March 23, 2017

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A Joyful Sunday.  The Fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as Laetare Sunday.  Laetare is a Latin word which means “rejoice” or “rejoicing.”  Other nuances of the word include joyfulness, gladness, cheerfulness, and happiness.  This elated or jubilant mood is a striking one-day reprieve from the somber, sorrowful, penitential tone of the other days of Lent.

A Joyful Beginning to Mass.  The word “Laetare” is taken from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass:  “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.  Be joyful, all who were mourning” (see Isaiah 66:10).

Joyful Symbols.  Exceptions from normal Lenten practice are permitted on Laetare Sunday:  “In this Mass, the color violet or rose is used.  Instrumental music is permitted, and the altar may be decorated with flowers” (Roman Missal, pg. 106). Rose is the liturgical color for joy.  Instrumental music is a joy to hear.  Beautiful flowers are a joy to see.

Joyful Anticipation.  There are multiple reasons why the Fourth Sunday of Lent is cause for joy, the most important of which is the proximity of Easter.  On Ash Wednesday Easter was a long way off, six and a half weeks, but on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Easter is only three weeks away, and as the greatest of all Christian feasts draws ever nearer, joy increases.  Joy is also on the upswing because the amount of time remaining with the rigors of the Lenten discipline, the penitential practices of fasting, abstinence, and self-denial, are more than half over.

Joyful Prayers.  The Collect Prayer mentions “the solemn celebrations to come” that the Church anticipates with joy.  The Prayer over the Offerings says, “We place before you with joy these offerings which bring eternal remedy”:  not only is it a joy to celebrate Mass, the thought of everlasting life in heaven brings enormous joy.  The Preface joyfully give thanks for Jesus, light, faith, liberation from sin, the grace of Baptism, and our status as God’s adopted children.  The Prayer after Communion explains how God enlightens us which also is reason for joy.

Joyful Scripture Readings.  The texts for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A, are a series of joyful messages.  The first reading gives the joyful account of the selection and anointing of David as the future king of Israel (1 Sm 16:1,6-7,10-13).  The Responsorial Psalm rejoices over the fact that the Lord is the shepherd who refreshes our souls, guides us in right paths, and accompanies us through dark valleys (Ps 23).  The second reading conveys the joyful message that Christ has given us light and made us children of the light (Eph 5:8-14).  Finally, the gospel recounts Jesus’ encounter with a man born blind (Jn 9:1-41).  Not only was his cure reason for joy, so also was his miraculous increase in faith.

Joyful Conversion.  It is with great joy that the catechumens who are preparing to receive the Easter sacraments celebrate the Second Scrutiny on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.  Also, it was an ancient custom on this Sunday to ceremoniously present the Apostles’ Creed to each of the catechumens to highlight the tenets of the faith in which they were about to be baptized.  The thought of the upcoming Easter Vigil and the reception of the catechumens into the Church is cause for great joy for the catechumens themselves and the entire community.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun
  • Graeme Braithwaite

    Great article. May your weekend be a joyful one.