Mid-Lent Sunday

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Mid-Lent Sunday (Laetare Sunday, Mothering Sunday, Rose Sunday)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian)
Date of Observation: March-April; fourth Sunday in Lent
Where Celebrated: England, Scotland, United States
Symbols and Customs: Golden Rose, Simnel Cakes
Colors: Rose-colored vestments are worn in Roman Catholic churches on this day, in place of the purple vestments worn on the other Sundays in Lent.
Related Holidays: Ash Wednesday, Easter, Lent


Mid-Lent Sunday is part of the Christian religious tradition. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

The name "Mid-Lent Sunday" is not really accurate, since the halfway point in the forty days of LENT falls several days before the fourth Sunday. This may reflect an earlier method of computing the duration of Lent, but it is more likely that this holiday was moved up to a Sunday because Sundays were generally exempt from the Lenten fast, and breaking the fast on a weekday represented too great a departure from the restrictions of the season. In any case, there is no shortage of alternate names for this day. In the Roman Catholic Church it is called Laetare Sunday, from the Latin word meaning "rejoice," which begins the Introit of the Mass. Up until 1969, when Roman Catholic reforms reinstated all Sundays as festivals, it was also known as Refreshment Sunday because the usual Lenten restrictions were relaxed.

In the Church of England, as well as in the Episcopal Church in the United States, the fourth Sunday in Lent is known as Mothering Sunday. This designation goes back to the ancient Roman Hilaria, held on the Ides of March (March 15) in honor of Cybele, mother of the gods. The Christians took this pagan festival, symbolic of the high esteem in which motherhood was held, and turned it into a day on which offerings were brought to the "Mother Church" instead of to private chapels. As the Christian calendar took shape, this Sunday festival was shifted from midMarch to mid-Lent, and the idea of visiting the Mother Church spilled over into the family. Children living away from home returned to visit their parents, and servants were given a day off so they could do the same. They brought gifts for their mothers, typically flowers and a SIMNEL CAKE . The fourth Sunday in Lent became a popular time for family reunions throughout England, and a young person who made such a visit was said to go "a-mothering." Mid-Lent Sunday

A popular dish served at these family get-togethers was furmety, a kind of sweet porridge made from wheat grains boiled in milk and spiced. In northern England and Scotland, the preferred dish was peas that had been fried in butter with salt and pepper and made into pancakes known as "carlings." For this reason, the day was sometimes referred to as Carling Sunday.


Golden Rose

Mid-Lent Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday. Beginning in the eleventh century, it was the custom for the Pope to carry a golden rose in his hand while celebrating Mass on this day. Although it was originally a single rose of normal size, since the fifteenth century it has been a cluster or branch of roses made of pure gold and set with precious stones. This custom may originally have been connected with the arrival of spring, when flowering branches were carried by the Pope from the Lateran Palace, his official residence in Rome, to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, where he celebrated the Mass. It may also have something to do with the medieval devotion to the Virgin Mary, known as the "Rose of Sharon." The rose itself is considered a symbol of spiritual joy.

After being blessed by the Pope, the rose is sometimes sent to a particular parish in recognition of its special devotion to the Church, or to a distinguished person who has shown an unusual degree of religious spirit and loyalty. Then a new rose is made for the following year.

According to an old superstition, the Golden Rose brings bad luck to its owner. This probably dates back to the story of Joanna of Sicily, the first queen to whom the rose was sent. She was dethroned soon afterward and strangled by her nephew.

Simnel Cakes

The earliest simnel cakes were unleavened cakes or buns made of wheat flour and boiled. Sometimes they were marked with a figure of Christ or the Virgin Mary, which would seem to indicate that they were originally linked to a pagan celebration and then Christianized-like the hot cross buns originally eaten in honor of the pagan goddess Eostre, then later marked with a cross to make them more acceptable to the Christian clergy (see EASTER).

Over the years, the simple flat cake with currants and spices evolved into an elaborate raised cake with a saffron-flavored crust and a ring of almond paste on the top. The center was filled with plums, candied lemon peel, and other fruits, and the entire cake was tied up in a cloth and boiled for several hours. Then it was brushed with egg and baked, giving the crust a consistency not unlike that of wood, with an ornamental border that made it look like a crown. As early as the fourteenth century, it was the custom for young people to carry simnels as gifts for their mothers on Mid-Lent (or Mothering) Sunday. Simnel cakes were made at EASTER and CHRISTMAS as well.

There are a number of theories about the origin of the name "simnel." It may have come from the Latin simila, a very fine flour. Another theory is that the cakes were named after Lambert Simnel, a baker during the reign of Henry VII. There is also a legend about an elderly couple named Simon and Nelly. They combined the unleavened dough left over at the end of Lent with the plum pudding left over from Christmas. Then they got into an argument over whether the cake should be boiled or baked. They finally compromised and decided to do both. The result was the "Simon-Nelly" cake.

These cakes are still made in England and sent all over the world during Lent. In the towns of Devizes and Bury, the baking begins right after Christmas to allow time for delivery of cakes to people living abroad. Many emigrants left standing orders many years ago for simnels to be sent to them, and these orders have been renewed by their children and grandchildren.


Brewster, H. Pomeroy. Saints and Festivals of the Christian Church. 1904. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Hole, Christina. English Custom & Usage. 1941. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Religious Holidays and Celebrations. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1966. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984. Metford, J.C.J. The Christian Year. New York: Crossroad, 1991. Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.


Ireland Now www.irelandnow.com/mothersday.html Mid-Lent Sunday

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia www.newadvent.org/cathen/06394b.htm
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
References in periodicals archive ?
Mothers day is also known as Mothering Sunday, or Refreshment Sunday or Mid-Lent Sunday, or Laetare Sunday.
This cake was originally associated with Mid-Lent Sunday, a time when the Lenten fast was relaxed to allow consumption of richer foods.