The Church is our Mother; we were born of her womb in Baptism. She is our Mother because, as the Introit sings, she “suckles us abundantly with the breasts of her consolations” (Is 66:11). She is our Mother because she cares for us in our weaknesses, welcomes us home after every journey, and never fails to provide for us a table laden with good things.
Tea and Sweet Cake
In England, Laetare Sunday is called “Mothering Sunday” — a reference to the Introit that, while it disappeared with the abolition of the Roman Missal and the coming of the Book of Common Prayer, remained deeply anchored in the sensibility of the faithful. In the nineteenth century, it became customary on “Mothering Sunday” for employers to give servants a day off to go home and visit their mothers. A special sweet cake, called the “mothering cake” was brought along to add a festive note to teatime. Today, “Mothering Sunday” has become the British answer to the secular American “Mother’s Day.” Few realize that it originates in the Introit of Laetare Sunday.
The Golden Rose
There is another custom associated with Laetare Sunday: the blessing of the Golden Rose. It was the custom, at least from the time of Pope Leo IX (1049–1054), for the Pope to bless a rose fashioned out of gold on Laetare Sunday. We still have the text of a sermon preached by Pope Innocent III at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme on the meaning of the Golden Rose. It is a symbol of spiritual joy, a portent of the sweet fragrance of life that will rise like incense from the empty tomb on Easter.
More recently the Pope has presented the Golden Rose blessed on Laetare Sunday to the Virgin Mary, choosing to her honour in this way one of her shrines. Czestochowa, Lourdes, Loretto, and Guadalupe have received the Golden Rose. The prayer used by the Pope to bless the Golden Rose explains its significance:
O God! by Whose word and power all things have been created,
by Whose will all things are directed,
we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, Who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful,
that Thou wouldst deign in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this rose,
most delightful in fragrance and appearance,
which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy,
in order that the people consecrated by Thee
and delivered from the yoke of Babylonian slavery
through the favour of Thine only-begotten Son,
Who is the glory and exultation of the people of Israel
and of that Jerusalem which is our Heavenly mother,
may with sincere hearts show forth their joy.
Wherefore, O Lord, on this day,
when the Church exults in Thy name and manifests her joy by this sign [the rose], confer upon us through her true and perfect joy
and accepting her devotion of today;
do Thou remit sin, strengthen faith, increase piety, protect her in Thy mercy,
drive away all things adverse to her and make her ways safe and prosperous,
so that Thy Church, as the fruit of good works,
may unite in giving forth the perfume of the ointment of that flower
sprung from the root of Jesse
and which is the mystical flower of the field and lily of the valleys,
and remain happy without end in eternal glory together with all the saints.
Laetare Sunday, Mothering Sunday, the Sunday of the Rose! Wear pink. Smell a rose. Sing “Laetare!” If you can, have a sweet cake with your tea today. Do something to mark the joy that already rises, like the Paschal Alleluia, in the heart of Mother Church. The mysteries of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection are but a few days away, the mysteries of our joy, the end of every sadness.