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Sunday, 18 March 2012

LAETARE SUNDAY, 4TH OF LENT, 2012


From The Liturgical Year, by Abbot Prosper Gueranger, OSB:

This Sunday, called, from the first word of the Introit, Laetare Sunday, is one of the most solemn of the year. The Church interrupts her lenten mournfulness; the chants of the Mass speak of nothing but joy and consolation; the organ, which has been silent during the preceding three Sundays, now gives forth its melodious voice; the deacon resumes his dalmatic, and the subdeacon his tunic; and instead of purple, rose-coloured vestments are allowed to be used. These same rites were practised in Advent, on the third Sunday, called Gaudete. The Church's motive for introducing this expression of joy into to-day's liturgy is to encourage her children to persevere fervently to the end of this holy season. The real mid-Lent was last Thursday, as we have already observed; but the Church, fearing lest the joy might lead to some infringement on the spirit of penance, has deferred her own notice of it to this Sunday, when she not only permits, but even bids, her children to rejoice!

The Station at Rome is in the basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem, one of the seven principal churches of the holy city. It was built in the fourth century, by the emperor Constantine, in one of his villas called Sessorius, on which account it goes also under the name of the Sessorian basilica. The emperor's mother, St. Helen, enriched it with most precious relics, and wished to make it the Jerusalem of Rome. With this intention she ordered a great quantity of earth taken from Mount Calvary to be put on the site. Among the other relics of the instruments of the Passion which she gave to this church was the inscription which was fastened to the cross; it is still there, and is called the Title of the Cross. The name of Jerusalem, which has been given to this basilica, and which recalls to our minds the heavenly Jerusalem towards which we are tending, suggested the choice of it as to-day's Station.

Up to the fourteenth century, when Avignon became for a time the city of the Popes, the ceremony of the golden rose took place in this church; at present, it is blessed in the palace where the sovereign Pontiff happens to be residing at this season.The blessing of the golden rose is one of the ceremonies peculiar to the fourth Sunday of Lent, which is called on this account Rose Sunday. The thoughts suggested by this flower harmonize with the sentiments wherewith the Church would now inspire her children. The joyous time of Easter is soon to give them a spiritual spring, of which that of nature is but a feeble image. Hence, we cannot be surprised that the institution of this ceremony is of a very ancient date. We find it observed under the pontificate of St. Leo IX. (eleventh century); and we have a sermon on the golden rose preached by the glorious Pope Innocent III., on this Sunday, and in the basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem.

In the middle ages, when the Pope resided in the Lateran palace, having first blessed the rose, he went on horseback to the church of the Station. He wore the mitre, was accompanied by all the Cardinals, and held the blessed flower in his hand. Having reached the basilica, he made a discourse on the mysteries symbolized by the beauty, the colour, and the fragrance of the rose. Mass was then celebrated. After the Mass, the Pope returned to tile Lateran palace. Surrounded by the sacred college, he rode across the immense plain which separates the two basilicas, with the mystic flower still in his hand. We may imagine the joy of the people as they gazed upon the holy symbol. When the procession had reached the palace gates, if there were a prince present, it was his privilege to hold the stirrup, and assist the Pontiff to dismount; for which filial courtesy he received the rose, which had received so much honour and caused such joy.At present, the ceremony is not quite so solemn; still the principal rites are observed.

The Pope blesses the golden rose in the vestiary; he anoints it with holy chrism, over which he sprinkles a scented powder, as formerly; and when the hour for Mass has come, he goes to the palace chapel, holding the flower in his hand. During the holy Sacrifice, it is fastened to a golden rose-branch prepared for it on the altar. After the Mass, it is brought to the Pontiff, who holds it in his hand as he returns from the chapel to the vestiary. It is usual for the Pope to send the rose to some prince or princess, as a mark of honour; sometimes, it is a city or a Church that receives the flower.We subjoin a free translation of the beautiful prayer used by the sovereign Pontiff when blessing the golden rose. It will give our readers a clearer appreciation of this ceremony, which adds so much solemnity to the fourth Sunday of Lent. 
'In the Greek Church this is the last day of the week called, as we have already noticed, Mesonestios. Breaking through her rule of never admitting a saint's feast during Lent, she keeps this mid-Lent Sunday in honour of the celebrated abbot of the monastery of Mount Sinai, St. John Climacus, who lived in the sixth century

 Dom Gueranger comments on the Gospel of the Multiplication of loaves because that is the Gospel in the old rite; but, in the three year cycle now in use in the Novus Ordo, the Gospel is John 3, 14 - 21 which fits very well into the theme of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.   Jesus says, "The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him."   Jesus on the cross is the clearest, most profound revelation of God to humankind.   God the Father is revealed in his Son as utter  self-giving and costly love.   God in the Blessed Trinity is total Love.


This defines the kind of joy celebrated on Laetare Sunday.   This Sunday is not a consumerist interlude in a season of uncharacteristic self-giving, sacrifices and penance.   
It is the joy of the poor in spirit;
it is the joy of those give and who are thus receiving;
it is the joy of those who are dying in Christ and are already sharing in the resurrection;
it is the joy of those who prefer nothing to the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus;
it is the joy that can only be attained by sharing Christ's Holy Cross, the joy of Lent.


Dom Gueranger comments on the Multiplication of Loaves to say that the joy of this Sunday is caused by the wonderful presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This theme complements our theme of self-giving, as we see in Eucharistic Prayer III in which the priest prays:
"...grant that we who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.   May he make of us an eternal offering to you..."
By becoming one with him in communion, we become one with him in his sacrifice, in his self-giving; and by being one with him in his sacrifice through the Eucharist, we offer ourselves and become self-givers in union with him.   Only this will give us the fullness of joy that we celebrate on Laetare Sunday.

Solesmes uses the Novus Ordo but with the "hermeneutic of continuity"
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