Laetare Sunday: A Joyful Pause In A Somber Season

March 16, 2012

The Pastor's Page

Roses symbol for love and joy and Mary from Holy Trinity in Huron SD

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 departure 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” (a translation of Isaiah 66:10).

Joyful Symbols.  Certain 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, 106).  Rose is the liturgical color for joy.  Instrumental music is a joy to hear.  Beautiful flowers bring joy to the heart.

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 feast draws ever nearer, joy increases.  Joy is also on the upswing because the amount of time left with the rigors of the Lenten discipline, penitential practices like fasting, abstinence, and self-denial, is more than half over.

Joyful Readings.  The Scriptures texts for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B, are a series of joyful messages.  This first reading from 2 Chronicles is the joyful proclamation by King Cyrus of Persia that the Babylonian Captivity is ended, the temple in Jerusalem could be rebuilt, and those held in bondage were free to return home.  The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins with the joyful statement, “God is rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), and it emphasizes that salvation is God’s gift to us through the power of Jesus Christ.  Finally, the gospel proclaims the joyful good news that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16) … “so that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17).

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