Christian Traditions 016: Laetare Sunday

Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria makes almost no mention of this period.


Laetare Sunday, also known as Rose Sunday, is a joyful interruption to the solemnity of Lent and is characterized by celebration with flowers, rose-colored vestments, and music. Also known as Mothering Sunday, it is the precursor to our modern Mother’s Day.


Rose. The color of Lenten penance is violet while the color of feast days is white. Rose-pink is the color of this day allegedly because it’s the mixture of violet and white. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you are probably saying, “But the mixture of violet and white produces lavender, not pink!” Yeah, I agree…


Roses especially, but flowers of any kind generally.

15 March 2015WHEN IS IT?

Laetare Sunday occurs on the fourth Sunday of Lent, which may be anywhere from 1 March to 4 April. This year, Laetare Sunday falls on 15 March.

Because this day occurs about halfway through Lent, Easter is finally in sight. That is, if you picture Lent as a hill, where Ash Wednesday is the bottom of one side of the hill and Easter Sunday is the bottom of the other side of the hill, Laetare Sunday marks the time when you are at the top of the hill and can finally see Easter. Technically, the exact middle of Lent is the Thursday prior to Laetare Sunday, and it was originally commemorated as such, but at some point the commemorative practices of the day were switched to the Sunday following the middle day of Lent.

image004WHAT IS IT?

For the first six or seven centuries, Lent started on the Sunday following Quinquagesima Sunday (now called Quadragesima Sunday), which meant Lent lasted only 36 days. By 714 AD, an additional four days were added to make the number 40 days, so that Lent started on the Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday, now known as Ash Wednesday. When the start of Lent and its accompanying traditions were moved to Ash Wednesday, the middle day of Lent became the Thursday before the fourth Sunday. As mentioned above, it was celebrated as such for a while, but the practices were moved to the Sunday following that Thursday, which became known as Laetare Sunday. I couldn’t find information on when Christians began celebrating on the fourth Sunday as opposed to the true middle day (Thursday) and therefore also could not find information on when it came to be known as “Laetare Sunday.”

Laetare Sunday acts as a joyful interruption to the solemnity of Lent. “Laetare” means “Rejoice” and comes from the first line of the introit said on this day, which is “Laetare Jerusalem” (“Rejoice, Jerusalem” or “O be joyful, Jerusalem,” which is taken from Isaiah 66:10). It is also known as Rose Sunday (discussed below), Refreshment Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday, and Mothering Sunday (discussed below). It is also called the Five Loaves Sunday in honor of the miracle found in the Gospel reading for this day (John 6:1-15).

On Laetare Sunday, priests may optionally change their vestments from Lenten violet to rose, the church is decorated with flowers, and an organ accompaniment to singing or chanting is permitted. Also on this day, the Pope blesses the church, that it would “bring forth the fruit of good works and ‘the perfume of the ointment of the flowers from the root of Jesse.’ ” Furthermore, most things normally banned in Lent (such as meat at meals and wedding celebrations) are permitted on this day.

papal_golden_roseRose Sunday. In either 716 AD under St. Gregory II or in 740 AD under St. Gregory III, the custom of sending Catholic rulers the Golden Keys from St. Peter’s Confessional once per year was introduced. However, the tradition switched from golden keys to a golden rose at least by 1050 AD (and possibly as early as Charlemagne [742-814]), with the first record of the rose from the words of Pope Leo IX in 1051 AD. This Sunday marked the day the pope would bless the golden rose and give it to Catholic sovereigns, distinguished persons, governments or cities notable for Catholic spirit and loyalty to the Holy See, or illustrious churches and sanctuaries. Hence the alternate name for this day, Rose Sunday. The golden rose may occasionally have been used as a bribe, one example being when the pope gave the rose to Elector Frederick the Wise in an attempt to curry favor with him so as to have him extradite Martin Luther out of his lands and into lands where he could be tried and burned at the stake. The golden rose has come to symbolize Christ’s Kingly Majesty and references Solomon 2:1-7, where the shepherd/king (the Messiah) refers to himself as the rose of the field and the lily of the valleys (see Footnote 1).

Mothering Sunday. On Laetare Sunday, people in ancient times would visit the cathedral (the “mother church”), inspired by Galatians 4:6, which refers to Jerusalem as our mother (and also allegedly in reference to our right to be called sons of God as the source of all our joy). Later, beginning in England but spreading all over Europe, children living away from home took this day to return home to visit their mothers and give them a gift. This was the precursor to our modern Mother’s Day. On this day, mothers allegedly baked a special cake using equal parts sugar and flour called Simnel Cake in expectation of their visiting children. The recipe is in Maria Von Trapp’s book.


Similarly to Laetare Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) is a day on which priests may wear rose (or in Anglican and some Lutheran churches, blue) instead of violet. Also similarly to Laetare Sunday, the readings on and focus of Gaudete Sunday switch from solemn penance to a brief respite of celebration and the first word of the day’s introit (“Gaudete”), from which the day gets its name, means “Rejoice.” Although both “laetare” or “laetitia” and “gaudere” in Latin are translated “rejoice” in English, the prior (“laetare”) means to rejoice manifestly (that is, openly) while the latter (“gaudere”) means to rejoice internally.


There are many traditional activities for this day. Many of them are specifically related to the church, but you can easily adapt them to your own home.

  • Readings (Traditional). The Scripture readings for this day include the introit said on this day.
    • John 6:1-15 (which tells the account of the miracle from which this Sunday gets the name Five Loaves Sunday)
    • Galatians 4:22-31 (which tells of how Christians are sons of God and from which this Sunday allegedly gets the name Mothering Sunday)
    • Isaiah 66:10-11 and Psalm 122:1-2, 6, 8, with their accompanying introit, from which this Sunday gets the name Laetare Sunday: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. Psalm: I rejoiced when they said to me: ‘we shall go into God’s House!’ ”
  • Decoration (Traditional). If you have décor in your home or small group meeting place indicating the liturgical colors, switch from Lenten violet to Laetare rose for this day only, and change back to violet on Monday.
  • Decoration (Traditional). Add flowers to the décor in your home or small group meeting place, especially roses if possible.
  • Food (Traditional). Bake a Simnel cake! This cake was traditionally baked by mothers in anticipation of their visiting children. Two locations where you can find the recipe:
    • Maria Von Trapp’s book
    • Fish Eaters blog
  • Food (Traditional). On this day, the typical Lenten fast is broken. Families may choose to eat an Easter-like feast with flowers on the table to commemorate the joyfulness of the day.
  • Gardening. Plant a rose bush on this day. You don’t have to plant it in your own yard. You may choose to plant one as a gift for someone in need.
  • Mother’s Visit (Traditional). Traditionally, people took this day to visit their “mother church,” the church where they were baptized, and to visit their mothers.


For Laetare Sunday, or Rose Sunday, we will craft a rose.

  • Knitting Patterns. You may knit a very 3D somewhat closed rose bud with or without a stem, or a relatively flat, open rose. Unfortunately, none of the below patterns give a finished size, so I can’t vouch for the sizes.
    • Closed Rose Buds. “Rose” by Jessica Goddard (here) OR “Rose” by Libby Summers (here) OR “Knitted Rose” by Lesley Arnold-Hopkins (here)
    • Flat, Open Roses. “Rose” by Kim Haesemeyer (here) OR “Rose Corsage” by Alison Hogg (here) OR “Rose” by Lesley Stanfield (here)
  • Crochet Patterns.
    • Closed Rose Buds. “Roses by Sandra Ahlberg (here) OR “Valentine’s Roses” by Crochetqueen (here) OR “Simple and Beautiful Rose with Stem” by Maggie McGhee (here)
    • Semi-Open Rose Buds. “Realistic Rose” by Lisa W. (here)
    • Flat, Open Roses. “Rose” by Rachel Choi (here) OR “Rose Ring” by Janette Williams (here) OR “Rose and leaf” by Annemaries Haakblog (here)





Footnote 1: Messiah as Rose of the Field and Lily of the Valley. I stated above that in Song of Solomon 2:1-7, the shepherd/king (who is understood to symbolize the Messiah) refers to himself as the rose of the field and the lily of the valleys. Earlier Christian scholars considered this to be the proper interpretation of the passage, which is how this passage came to have this meaning for Rose Sunday. However, it should be noted that later scholars consider it to be the woman who is speaking in verse 1, not the shepherd/king. For this reason, the femininely modest and less definite “A rose of Sharon… A lily of the valleys” is used in place of the more definite, kingly “THE rose of Sharon… THE lily of the valleys” in some versions of the Bible. Nevertheless, the Messiah is referred to as a rose or flower that springs up from the line of Jesse (father of King David) in Isaiah 11:1, so the rose of Rose Sunday can still be understood to represent the Messiah.


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