Good Zeal

Laetare Sunday

Laetare Sunday entrance antiphonLaetare Sunday, always the Fourth Sunday in Lent, is coming up soon. This name comes from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass on this day, “Rejoice, O Jerusalem!” (Is 66:10-11). Similar to its counterpart in Advent known as Gaudete Sunday, Laetare Sunday comes midway through the austere season of Lent. It is a moment of rest within the 40 days of Lent, hence the name Refreshment Sunday in the Episcopal tradition. Another name for the day, Rose Sunday, comes from the rose-colored liturgical vestments commonly worn on this occasion. Whatever one chooses to call it, this Sunday provides a gentle speed bump on the journey toward the high holy days of the Easter Triduum.

Some spiritual or religious enthusiasts tend to sway toward an unhealthy extreme in demonstrating their faith and love for God or their degree of repentance. St. Benedict was well aware of the religious fanaticism in his own day. Monks in the early Christian centuries would go days without sleeping or eating, or they practiced other dangerous bodily disciplines to demonstrate their zealous passion for God. St. Benedict, wise man that he was, saw these extreme ascetical practices as beyond what ordinary Christians needed to do to follow Christ in a faith-filled, wholistic and healthy way. He knew that some forms of religious extremism were rooted in the vice of pride, that is, intending to prove oneself holier than everyone else rather than showing sincere faith, love or repentance. Thus, in his Rule, St. Benedict teaches that all things are to be done in moderation, even religious and holy things.

With this in mind, we can consider Laetare Sunday as a way that the Church helps to moderate the austerity of Lent so that the faithful do not lose sight of the reasons for the austerity in the first place. It gives us a moment to breathe and remember that, even in the midst of Lent, we remain an Easter people. We may not be singing Alleluias or Glorias during Lenten Masses; but, the Risen Christ remains present among us. Our chosen Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are not meant to weigh down our spirits or make us gloomy. Rather, they are meant to makes us more of the people Christ has called us to be—free children redeemed by our loving God, joy-filled proclaimers of a Kingdom in which God’s love rules over all.

The gift of Laetare Sunday is moderation. It provides an opportunity to recommit to performing our Lenten disciplines for the right reason. Lenten disciplines are not an endurance test. Lenten disciplines are meant to reflect the intent of true conversion of heart.

So, all you Christian faithful who are citizens with the saints as members of the New Jerusalem, REJOICE!

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

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