The Liturgical Home: Laetare Sunday

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Amid the seasons of penitence and preparation in the church calendar, Advent and Lent, little gems exist known as Refreshment Sundays. On these days, the penitential tone eases, hence the name. The Refreshment Sundays are Gaudete Sunday, which falls in the middle of Advent, and Laetare Sunday, which falls in the middle of Lent.

Refreshment Sundays offer a pause in the austerity of their respective seasons, allowing us a moment of respite from the spiritual disciplines that we have taken on. They also shift the somber mood towards a more joyful anticipation. This pause is not a complete break from the season’s focus but rather a reminder that our preparation and penance have a purpose, that they lead us towards the celebration of the birth of Christ at Christmas and His Resurrection at Easter.

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A Lenten Pause

Falling on the fourth Sunday of Lent, approximately halfway through this penitential season, Laetare Sunday offers a pause  to remind us that we are almost through with our journey and that Easter is almost here! It is an apex, a turning point, where we are offered a glimmer of hope and a lightening of the somber mood. It increases our sense of anticipation and serves as a reminder of the joy that the Lord brings into our lives, even in times of waiting and preparation.

Laetare Sunday reminds us of the Christian journey’s duality: the balance of repentance with forgiveness, weeping with laughing, and suffering with joy. It reminds us that even as we prepare, reflect, and repent, we do so with the joyful anticipation of the great mystery of our faith: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Rejoice!

Laetare Sunday derives its name from Isaiah 66:10, the opening antiphon for the day. 

“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
    all you who mourn over her.”

Laetare means “rejoice” and not just “rejoice” without punctuation or emphasis. Laetare is an imperative, more like an enthusiastic exhortation or command: “Rejoice!” Right in the middle of Lent, we, as a people, are encouraged or urged to rejoice! This powerful scripture sets the tone for the day. It serves as a beautiful reminder that even in times of repentance and self-denial, there is hope!

Laetare Sunday stands as a beacon of light, guiding us through our spiritual journey with the promise of joy and renewal. It invites us to pause and reflect on our journey so far. It also strengthens us to renew our spiritual disciplines in our home and to continue on our Lenten journey towards Easter. 

Alternative Names 

Laetare Sunday has many different names. Along with Refreshment Sunday, it also bears the names Mid-Lent Sunday, Mothering Sunday, and Rose Sunday. Before the adoption of the modern common lectionaries, it was called “the Sunday of the Five Loaves” since the Gospel reading for the Sunday was the miracle of the loaves and fishes. 

Mothering Sunday

In England, Laetare Sunday was known as “Mothering Sunday.” On this day, people could return to the church where they were baptized, called their “mother church.” Those who visited their “mother church” were said to have gone “a-mothering.”

In medieval times, Mothering Sunday was a cause for great celebration because domestic servants were given the day off to visit their “mother church.” This also allowed them to visit their families and friends. Often, it was the sole occasion families could gather together since servants weren’t granted free days on other occasions.

On Mothering Sunday, it was customary for children and young people to pick wildflowers on their way to church, place them in the church, and give them to their mothers. This religious tradition may have evolved into the secular tradition of Mother’s Day.

Rose Sunday

Laetare Sunday is also called Rose Sunday because clergy wear rose-colored vestments unlike the typical penitential purple of Lent. The rose color, rather than purple, represents joy and rejoicing amid preparation and penance, serving as a visual reminder of the hope and light that the Resurrection of Christ brings to the world.

Note: If reference is made to a single “Refreshment Sunday” or “Rose Sunday,” it usually means Laetare Sunday.

Ways to Celebrate Laetare Sunday

  • Visit your “mother” church, as they do in England, where people return to the church of their baptism on Laetare Sunday, known as “Mothering Sunday.” 
  • Give your mother flowers. In some regions of the world, children present their mothers with flowers and small gifts, a custom that beautifully ties into the themes of joy and appreciation.
  • Light a rose-colored candle. Embrace the tradition of using the color rose by lighting a rose-colored candle during your prayer time or meal. 
  • Switch out your purple decor for rose.
  • Decorate your table with rose pink-colored roses.
  • Make a rose-colored dessert. In keeping with the theme of “Rose Sunday,” many families prepare rose-colored or flavored desserts. This can include strawberry or raspberry desserts, rose-colored macarons, and cakes adorned with rose petals or pink icing.
  • Make a traditional Simnel cake. The English eat Simnel cakes (special rich fruitcakes) on this day. Simnel Cake is a rich cake filled with spices and dried fruits and decorated with marzipan. The cake is decorated with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles (excluding Judas). 

Simnel Cake

Ingredients

  • ½ cup candied cherries
  • 3½ cups mixed dried fruit
  • 12 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ cup almond meal
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2½ pounds of marzipan to decorate (recipe for marzipan at the bottom of the page)
  • confectioners’ sugar for rolling
  • 1 tablespoon apricot jam (melted)
  • 1 egg white (optional)

Instructions

Take everything you need out of the fridge so it can get to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform cake tin with a double layer of brown baking paper. Chop the cherries very finely and add them to the rest of the fruit.

Cream the butter and sugar until very soft and light, and add the lemon zest. You could do this by hand, just with a bowl and wooden spoon, but I own up to using my freestanding mixer here. But it’s not crucial, not least because the intention with fruit cakes is not to whip air into them. Measure the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and ground almonds into a bowl and stir to combine.

Add one of the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar with two tablespoons of the dry flour-and-spice ingredients. Then, beat in the remaining eggs in the same way. Beat in the rest of the dry ingredients and then the milk. Finally, fold in the fruit.

Dust a surface with a little icing sugar, then roll out about 14oz of the marzipan. Cut it into an 8-inch circle, which will fit in the middle of the cake later. Spoon half of the fruit cake mixture into the cake tin, smoothing it down with a rubber spatula, and then lay the marzipan circle on top of it. Spoon the rest of the mixture into the tin on top of the marzipan circle and smooth the top again. Bake for half an hour and then turn the oven down to 300°F for another 1½ hours or until the cake has risen and is firm on top. Let it cool completely on a rack before you spring it open.

Unspring the cooled fruit cake and unwrap the lining. Roll out another 14-oz circle of marzipan, paint the top of the cake with the melted apricot jam, and then stick it on.

Make 11 apostle balls out of the remaining marzipan, roughly 1 inch in size. Beat the egg white just till it’s a bit frothy and loosened up a little, no more, and use that as glue to stick the apostles around the edge of the cake.

Now for the part I love (but you can ignore it altogether). Paint the whole cake with egg white, then blow-torch the marzipan so it scorches slightly, giving a beauteously burnished look.

Recipe from Nigella Lawson.

Homemade Marzipan

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp blanched almond flour 
  • 9 tbsp powdered sugar 
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water 
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp almond extract 

Instructions

  • First, process the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor.
  • Add the water and almond extract and pulse a couple of times until the dough holds together and forms a ball.
  • If the dough is too dry and doesn’t hold together, add a tiny bit more water. Make sure to add just a little until a thick dough is formed. If it’s too sticky and wet, add more almond flour. Take out the marzipan ball and knead it on a clean surface for about 30 seconds. You can now shape it into a log, wrap it in cling wrap, and refrigerate it. It will firm up slightly in the refrigerator.

How can we commemorate Lent at home? Check out Ashley Wallace’s new book with Anglican Compass, The Liturgical Home: Lent. The paperback and Kindle are now available exclusively on Amazon, as is her book, The Liturgical Home: Easter, also available in paperback and for Kindle.


Photo by Ibbo39 from Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Author

Ashley Tumlin Wallace

Ashley Tumlin Wallace, the author of the Liturgical Home series of books and articles at Anglican Compass, is a homeschooling mom of four and the wife of an Anglican priest. She and her family live in the panhandle of Florida.

View more from Ashley Tumlin Wallace

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