The nickname Laetare originated from the first word of the Introit chant for Sunday’s Mass, “Rejoice!”
On Laetare Sunday there is a slight relaxation of Lent’s penitential spirit, because we have a glimpse of the joy that is coming at Easter, now near at hand.
The custom of using rose vestments is tied to the Station churches in Rome. The Station for Laetare Sunday is the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem where the relics of Cross and Passion brought from the Holy Land by St. Helena (+c. 329), mother of the Emperor Constantine (+337), were deposited. It was the custom on this day for Popes to bless roses made of gold, some amazingly elaborate and bejeweled, which were to be sent to Catholic kings, queens and other notables. The biblical reference is Christ as the “flower” sprung forth from the root of Jesse (Is 11:1 – in the Vulgate flos “flower” and RSV “branch”). Thus Laetare was also called Dominica de rosa…. Sunday of the Rose. It didn’t take a lot of imagination to develop rose colored vestments from this. Remember, the color of the vestments is called rosacea, not pink (especially not baby-rattle pink). This Roman custom spread by means of the Roman Missal to the whole of the world.
Our Collect is a new composition for the 1970MR and subsequent editions of the Novus Ordo based on a prayer in the Gelasian Sacramentary and a section of a sermon by St. Pope Leo I, the Great (+461). There is some similarity between this Collect with those of Advent. On the 2nd Sunday of Advent, we heard: in tui occursum Filii festinantes… “those hurrying to meet your Son.” On the 3rd Sunday (this Sunday’s fraternal twin Gaudete, the only other day for rose vestments) we heard: votis sollemnibus alacri laetitia celebrare…”, to celebrate…with eager jubilation by means of solemn offerings.”
There is rosy anticipation in today’s Collect just as there was in Advent.
Without further delay, here is the beautiful Latin followed by the current ICEL version, the atrocious but happily obsolete ICEL version, and then… a couple of surprises!
Deus, qui per Verbum tuum
humani generis reconciliationem mirabiliter operaris,
praesta, quaesumus, ut populus christianus
prompta devotione et alacri fide
ad ventura sollemnia valeat festinare.
Sollemnia is the neuter plural of the adjective sollemnis meaning “yearly”, that which is established to be done each year. In religious contexts, it comes out as “religious, festive”. As a substantive, it is “a religious or solemn rite, ceremony, feast, sacrifice, solemn games, a festival, solemnity”. Sollemne, the neuter noun, is also, “usage, custom, practice”. In legal contexts, it can be “formality”. In later, Christian Latin words related to sollemnis came to indicate the celebration of the Eucharist. Alacer is “lively, brisk, quick, eager, active; glad, happy, cheerful”. Promptus, a, um is from the verb promo. Promptus indicates, “brought to light, exposed to view” and by extension “at hand, i. e. prepared, ready, quick, prompt, inclined or disposed to or for any thing.”
O God, who by Your Word
wondrously effect the reconciliation of the human race,
grant, we beg, that the Christian people
may be able to hasten toward the upcoming solemnities
with ready devotion and eager faith.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, who through your Word
reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray,
that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten
toward the solemn celebrations to come.
Note the marvelous parings of alacer fides and prompta devotio … “eager faith” and “ready devotion”. We know that fides “faith” can refer to the supernatural virtue which is given to us in baptism and also to the content of what we believe. This content must be understood as both the things we can learn and memorize with love, but more importantly the divine Person whom we must learn and contemplate with love.
There is a faith by which we believe, the virtue God gives us, and a faith in which we believe, the content of the Faith. On the other hand, whereas fides is a supernatural virtue, devotio is an “active” virtue according to St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica. The Angelic Doctor wrote: “The intrinsic or human cause of devotion is contemplation or meditation. Devotion is an act of the will by which a man promptly gives himself to the service of God. Every act of the will proceeds from some consideration of the intellect, since the object of the will is a known good; or as Augustine says, willing proceeds from understanding. Consequently, meditation is the cause of devotion since through meditation man conceives the idea of giving himself to the service of God” (STh II-II 82, 3).
The Jesuit preacher Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704) underscored devotion as especially “a devotion to duty”. What we do, including our “devotions”, must help us keep the commandments of God and stick to the duties of one’s state in life before all else. There is an interplay between our devotions and our devotion.
Each of us has a state in life, a God-given vocation we are duty bound to follow.
We must be devoted to that state in life, and the duties that come with it, as they are in the here and now.
That “here and now” is important. We must not focus on the state we had once upon a time, or wish we had, or should have had, or might have someday: those are unreal and misleading fantasies that distract us from reality and God’s will. If we are truly devoted and devout (in the sense of the active virtue) to fulfilling the duties of our state as it truly is here and now, then God will give us every actual grace we need to fulfill our vocation. Why can we boldly depend on God to help us? If we are fulfilling the duties of our state of life, then we are also fulfilling our proper roles in His great plan, His design from before the creation of the universe. God is therefore sure to help us. And if we are devoted to our state as it truly is, then God can also guide us to a new vocation when and if that is His will for us. Faithful in what we must do here and now, we will be open to something God wants us to do later.
This attachment to reality and sense of dutiful obedience through the active virtue devotio is a necessary part of religion in keeping with the biblical principle in 1 John 2:3-5:
“And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he bides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.”
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Father of peace,
we are joyful in your Word,
your Son Jesus Christ,
who reconciles us to you.
Let us hasten toward Easter
with the eagerness of faith and love.
This makes you want to pound your head against the table.
What would happen if we translated the ICELese back into Latin? If the ICEL were accurate, you might expect some similarities, right?
WARNING: Do not attempt this at home. Spiritual harm and damage to property can be caused by thinking about these ICEL versions. Leave this sort of thing to trained professionals and people with tough foreheads.
LATIN REVERSION of the OBSOLETE ICEL:
in tuo Verbo, Iesu Christo filio tuo,
qui nos tibi reconciliat, laetamur.
Fidei studio et amoris
ad diem Paschalis festinemus.
So, just for kicks we can see how the Google translates the Latin original.
GOOGLE TRANSLATOR MACHINE VERSION:
O God, who by your word
reconciliation of the human race dost wonderfully,
grant, we beseech Thee, that the Christian people
with ready devotion and eager faith
the formalities to come to the be able to hurry up.
Oookaayyy… ‘nuf said about that, I think.