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Laetare! Rejoicing in Lent and the Lenten Lands

Posted on Sunday, March 10, 2024
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by David P. Deavel
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7 Comments

AMAC EXCLUSIVE

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You may be somewhat exhausted and grumpy today because you turned your clocks forward in order that we gain more hours of daylight at the end of the day than the beginning. You may be a bit out of sorts if you are a Christian who is exercising greater discipline over your body and mind during Lent. And you may feel somewhat discouraged at the state of things in your own life or in our beloved country. But today is a day of joy no matter the circumstances.

Today is not just the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. If you are a Catholic, an Anglican, a Lutheran, or any other Christian who takes part in the season of Lent, it is also Laetare Sunday. The fourth Sunday of Lent, it marks just past the midway point of the Lenten journey to the celebration of Christ’s saving death and resurrection. Laetare is a Latin word meaning “rejoice,” and it is indeed meant to be a joyful day, a break from the rigors that (at least ought to) characterize the season and a looking forward to the joyful culmination of Easter to which the season is directed. It has been called at times “Refreshment Sunday” because of its character. In medieval England, the tradition was to eat simnel cakes, a kind of very rich fruitcake. If such cakes aren’t still eaten widely, there are other traditions that remain. Flowers, which have been absent during Lent, are allowed on the high altar. The organ, which is usually muted, is allowed to sound again. And the liturgical color of the clerical vestments is a beautiful rose rather than the more somber Lenten violet.

The name itself comes from the first word of the introit, or entrance antiphon, that begins the Christian liturgy. That antiphon is taken from Isaiah 66 and Psalm 122:

“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. I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: ‘We shall go into the house of the Lord.’”

Like all biblical commands to rejoice, the passage from Isaiah quoted does not demand that we simply put the best spin on our lives. There is no demand, as the crucified thieves sing in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, to “always look on the bright side of life.” It is to the people of God who have been in sorrow that Isaiah’s words are addressed. Rejoicing in God is to be done at all times and in all places—even, perhaps especially, when things are hardest. St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians includes his famous line, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

Why rejoice always? Because it is in the toughest times that God shows that he is still in control no matter how bad things are. And even when we feel ourselves least at home in this world, Christians understand that our true homeland, our true mother, is the Church. A traditional Epistle reading for this day is from Galatians 4, which tells about the “Jerusalem which is above, our mother.” This is the reason for another medieval tradition, that of servants and schoolboys visiting the place where they were baptized—their “mother church”—on this day. It is also the reason for yet another historical name: “Mothering Sunday.”   

Christians rejoice in that identity as Christians, children of God, who can trust that God will feed them in every way. In many Christian traditions, the Gospel reading for this Sunday is from John 6’s account of Jesus feeding the five thousand with the miraculous multiplication of a few loaves and fish (yet other historical name for this Sunday is “The Sunday of Loaves and Fishes”). It is in this story that we see Jesus take what could have been a very bad situation—a large crowd that has come out without much food—and make it a sign of his own power to care for those who follow him, the Son of God who bids those who follow him to call God “Father.”

Christians have historically read this story not just as a one-time miracle to show the people of his day who he was but as a sign of what Jesus does for us always. Christ feeds his flock with his very words in Scripture and in the Eucharistic meal. He gives grace so that Christians might be able to rise above their natures, to give thanks to God and to serve him even in the midst of the greatest of trials. As the line from Psalm 122 has it, we should rejoice to go up to the house of God.

We all know how difficult life can be. C. S. Lewis referred to this life as “the Lenten lands,” a sometimes arduous preparation for the eternal Easter of Eternity. Yet even in the midst of Lent, we hear the voice of Isaiah crying out to us to do right now what we will do forever. We rejoice because, whatever the personal, cultural, or political circumstances, Christ is in charge. His authority is not up for a vote. His promises are not subject to the winds of cultural change. And he will never fail to fulfill them.  Rejoice!        

David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X @davidpdeavel.

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Peggy
Peggy
1 month ago

David,
Thank you for these words today. I’ve had some difficult times lately. Your reminder of “God being in charge”, smacked me up the side of my head. It helped me realize that He Is always there for us..no matter what we are struggling through. Thank you.

Michael
Michael
1 month ago

Thank you

Isabel Zarazua
Isabel Zarazua
1 month ago

Very informative.

Linda Maria
Linda Maria
1 month ago

I very much appreciated reading this article on AMAC! I am an older Catholic, and appreciate AMAC’s support for all Christians! Hope to see more articles like this one!

joyce
joyce
1 month ago

Great article! I did notice the use of an organ and the flowers this morning at Mass. It felt more festive indeed.

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Купить секс куклу
1 month ago

It was a real pleasure to read. You’re doing great. Great article.

Ken Jay
Ken Jay
1 month ago

And forget not Psalm 133…
Behold how good and how pleasant it is to dwell together with brethren. It is like the precious ointment upon the head, which ran down upon the beard. Even Aaron’s beard, which went down to the skirts of his garments!

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