Laetare Sunday: The Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2019

The Pastor's Page

Rose in Stained GlassA Joyful Term. Laetare is a Latin term for joy, rejoicing, or gladness. The Entrance Antiphon sets the mood. It begins, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all you who were mourning; exalt” (see Is 66:10).

A Joyful Break. Lent is a somber, penitential season. It is unpleasant to spend forty days concentrating on our sinfulness. As we examine our consciences, it is sad and humbling to count the number of sins that we have committed. The process can be demoralizing. Laetare Sunday is supposed to be a bright and happy occasion, a one-day breather, not dwelling so much upon our sinfulness but upon the joyful promise of God’s mercy.

Joyful Progress. Laetare Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, roughly the midpoint of the season. Three and a half weeks are completed and only three weeks remain. This means that our Lenten disciplines, the fasting, abstinence, self-denial, and other rigors are over half completed, and that the end of our self-mortification is in sight.

A Joyful Outlook. It is uplifting to know that Easter Sunday is only three weeks from today.

A Joyful Exception. “During Lent, it is not permitted to decorate the altar with flowers” (Roman Missal, 70), but Laetare Sunday is an exception to this rule. On that day “the altar may be decorated with flowers” (Roman Missal, 106); the liturgical color is violet, but the color rose may be used; and the music typically is more subdued, but the use of instruments and more upbeat melodies is appropriate.

Joyful Orations. The Collect begins with the joyful news that the human race is reconciled to God, and it mentions the “solemn celebrations to come,” the joyous celebration of the Triduum, the Institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, salvation and redemption on Good Friday, and the Resurrection on Easter, all reasons for joy. The Prayer over the Offerings states, “We place before you with joy these offerings which bring about an eternal remedy,” everlasting life in heaven with God. The Communion Antiphon repeats the joyful theme, “You must rejoice, my son, for your brother was dead and has come to life” (Lk 15:32). The Prayer after Communion makes the joyful observation that God enlightens everyone who comes into this world.

Joyful Scripture Readings. The first reading from Joshua recounts a joyful moment in the history of Israel when the forty year sojourn in the desert was over and they were about to cross over into the Promised Land (Jos 5:9a,10-12). The Responsorial Psalm says, “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy” (Ps 34:6a), and gives multiple reasons for joy: God listens to our prayers, delivers us from our fears, and saves us from distress. In the second reading St. Paul makes mention of two joyful realities, how through Christ we have been made into a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and our trespasses are no longer counted against us (2 Cor 5:19).

A Joyful Gospel. The Parable of the Forgiving Father is a joyful description of the mercy of God. It should bring us great joy to know that as the father welcomed the sinful son, so God welcomes us when we go to him, and the way that the father embraced the son is the way that God embraces us, even after we have failed (Lk 15:20). It is reason for celebration and rejoicing when the dead sinner comes to life again (Lk 15:24,32).

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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.

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