WDTPRS: Laetare Sunday

Here is an excerpt of the article I wrote for the print version of WDTPRS about Laetare Sunday.   This year, in the print version, we are focusing on the Extraordinary Form of Mass rather than the Novus Ordo as we have for the last 7 years:


Today is known by the first word of the first chant of Mass, the Introit, in this case, “Laetare … Rejoice”!  This is one of two days of the year we use rose (rosacea) colored vestments and the only day during Lent when we can use instrumental music.  On Laetare Sunday we momentarily relax the penitential character of Lenten Sundays.  Traditionally during Lent, and still by the Novus Ordo rubrics, there should be no flowers, decorations, or instrumental music (organ should be used only to support congregational singing).  Today this can be relaxed.  The tradition of rosacea vestments grows from the history of the Roman Stations.   The Station church today is the Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, where the Emperor Constantine’s mother St. Helena placed relics of Cross and Passion brought back to Rome from Jerusalem.  At this basilica on this day, Popes blessed roses made of gold to be sent to Catholic monarchs and distinguished sons and daughters of Holy Mother Church.  Therefore Laetare was also nicknamed Dominica de rosa…. Sunday of the Rose.  This is how rose-colored vestments developed for that church on this Sunday.  The color spread to the rest of Rome, and then spilled over to the corresponding Sunday in Advent, GaudeteRosacea was diffused to the whole world with the promulgation of the Missale Romanum by St. Pope Pius V in 1570. 

Pope Innocent III (+1216) wrote about the significance of the rose and Laetare Sunday: “As Laetare Sunday, the day set apart for the function, represents love after hate, joy after sorrow, and fullness after hunger, so does the rose designate by its color, odor, and taste, love, joy, and satiety respectively.”  Innocent says the rose is the flower spoken of in Isaiah 11:1: “there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root”.  Pope Leo XIII (+1903) wrote that the beautiful golden flower signifies Christ in His majesty, spoken of by the prophet as “the flower of the field and the lily of the valleys”; the flower’s fragrance shows the sweet odor of Christ which should be diffused through the whole world by His faithful followers. The thorns and red color symbolize His Passion, harkening to both the real event of the Crucifixion and its foretelling by the prophet Isaiah 43:2: “Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread in the winepress?” 

These themes are in the prayer the Popes used to bless the golden roses. The rose, then, connects not only the penance we do in honor of the Passion (Lent) but also the joy of the resurrection (Easter). It points to Christ who reigns as King, but from a wooden Cross.
Rosacea vestments are making a comeback.  It was once impossible, for example, to buy new rose vestments.  Now, church supply stores around the world have good selections.  Changes in attitudes about our beautiful Roman liturgical tradition are unerringly reflected in the marketplace: demand calls forth supply.

Today’s prayers and antiphons focus on Jerusalem and on joy.  Psalm 121 (122), one of the “gradual canticles”, songs of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, dominates the Mass: “I rejoiced (laetatus sum) at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord”.  Keep before your eyes the image of catechumens preparing for baptism at the Vigil of Easter.  They have experienced the scrutinies, the toughest of which would have been during this last week.  They were exorcized last Sunday the Basilica of St. Lawrence. They are now drawing close to entering the safe-haven, the Jerusalem which is Holy Church. Today’s Station, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, with its relics of the Passion, was symbolically Jerusalem for the Romans, and therefore a symbol of the heavenly Jerusalem for which we all long. 

According to very ancient Roman tradition, serious penance and fasting did not begin until Monday of the third week before Easter (the day after this Sunday).  Thus, Laetare was the last day before the period of strict discipline. It was not until later that Lent was lengthened to forty days, making a Tuesday into “Mardi Gras” literally in French “Fat Tuesday”, the day people had to use up the animal fats in their houses.  Laetare is therefore a refreshment stop on the pilgrimage toward Easter: think of water-stations along the route of a Marathon race.  Together with the joy of approaching Easter, this Sunday is about the heavenly Jerusalem we long for, which is anticipated in the Church and the Most Holy Eucharist.  Moses is also an important figure in today’s Mass.  He obtained manna from God for the People in the wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land.  Eucharist and journey. Joy and Jerusalem.

Let’s move now to the prayers for the 4th Sunday of Lent. 

COLLECT (1962 Missale Romanum):
Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus:
ut, qui ex merito nostrae actionis affligimur,
tuae gratiae consolatione respiremus.

The splendiferous Lewis & Short Dictionary says, under the lemma mereo, that meritum is a noun for “that by which one deserves any thing of another”, which can thus mean, negatively, “demerit, blame, fault”.  Respiro is “to fetch one’s breath again, to recover breath; to recover, revive, be relieved or refreshed  after any thing difficult”.

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God:
that we who are being afflicted because of the blamefulness of our acting,
may revive by consolation of Your grace.

Ancient Roman prayers are courtly, elegant.  They turn divine characteristics, such as glory and grace, into forms of address, like “tua gratia”.  In England people address Cardinals as “Your Grace”.   Latin gratia concerns “favor”, the kindness extended to us or the thanks we return (gratias agere).   Conceptually it also has, like meritum, an undertone of recompense.   “Grace” in the Christian view is something God is in no way compelled to give: it is free gift. 

There is a tension in the prayer between “merit” (on our part) and “favor” (on God’s).  On our own, we merit nothing good.  We are not totally corrupt because of original sin, but only God’s involvement in our actions can make what we do good, meritorious.  On our own, we merit only hell.

Look also at actio (from ago, agere) which is “a doing, an acting” and especially, “public functions, civil acts, proceedings, or duties”.  At the heart of the Church’s Eucharist liturgy is the actio, the Roman Canon.  Christ is the true Actor in the actio.  By baptism we participate actively in the Actor’s actio by receiving what He freely gives.  By the merits of our own actio we are justly afflicted.  By the merit of Christ’s actio we are saved.

I also like that respiremus, “may we catch our breath”.  I have the image of someone at the end of the long pilgrimage, maybe to the heavenly Jerusalem, who finally and has attained relief… who finally can rest. 

Our Secret is an ancient prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary, surprisingly among prayers for Advent.  It is straightforward.

Sacrificiis praesentibus, Domine,
quaesumus, intende placatus:
ut et devotioni nostrae proficiant, et saluti.

Daily Liturgical Missal (Baronius Press):
Look favourably upon these present Sacrifices,
we beseech Thee, O Lord,
that they may profit us unto both devotion and salvation.

The final prayer for Mass survived in the Novus Ordo for Saturday of the Third Week of Lent.  It is an ancient prayer, found in the Gelasian Sacramentary on the fifth feria of Holy Week, Holy Thursday, for the Chrism Mass. 

Da nobis, quaesumus, misericors Deus:
ut sancta tua, quibus incessanter explemur
sinceris tractemus obsequiis:
et fideli semper mente sumamus.

In the eternal angelic hymn, the trisagion, God is “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus”.  What is of God is sanctum.  The neuter plural sancta, literally “holy things”, are identified by the liturgical dictionary we call Blaise/Dumas as the Eucharistic species or, at this point in Mass, the Eucharistic offerings upon the altar.  Expleo is at the same time “to full up” and also “to fulfill”.  Tracto is first of all “to draw violently, to drag” but then, “to treat, use, or conduct one’s self towards a person in any manner”, and in an intellectual sense, “to handle, treat, investigate, discuss any thing, mentally, orally, or in writing”. For St. Augustine of Hippo (+430), a tractator divinarum scripturarum, an “investigator of Scriptures”, was a way of describing a “theologian”.  Obsequium is “compliance in love, yielding, consent; obedience, allegiance”.  The Second Vatican Council document Lumen gentium, 25 states that Catholics must accept the Church’s ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium with “loving religious submission (religiosum obsequium) of mind and will”.  Sumo is “to take, lay hold of” and “to take as one’s own” and “to take for some purpose, i.e. to use, apply, employ, spend, consume”.  It has a technical meaning in ancient rhetoric.  In an oration, disputation, etc. sumo is “to take for certain or for granted, to assume, maintain, suppose, affirm”.

Daily Liturgical Missal (Baronius Press):
We are constantly filled with Thy holy Mysteries, O merciful God:
grant, we beseech Thee,
that we may celebrated them with sincere homage
and always receive them with steady faith.

I like the Baronius Press hand missal, but I don’t like this translation. We can drill more deeply into it with a

Grant us, we implore You, O merciful God:
that we may treat with acts of sincere loving compliance Your holy things,
by which we are ceaselessly fulfilled:
and we may assume them always with a faithful mind.

I find the conceptual link between tracto and sumo fascinating.  Note that the highly complex mens, in addition to meaning “the mind, disposition; the heart, soul” can be “plan, purpose, intention, design”.  Consider now how we might “treat” (“mentally investigate”), what we “consume” or “assume” in Communion, with an “intention” or “purpose”, our heart, will and mind (mens), the sancta… mysteries holy things.  We can hear this prayer as an expression of our whole person being filled and satisfied by consumption of the Eucharist.  We can hear it as a radical interior adherence by a complete loving submission to the holy things we have encountered to a reality so transcendent that its draws from us the application of our intellect in an ongoing, super-fulfilling dialogue with Christ in the Eucharist.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA, WDTPRS. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TNCath says:

    Nice vestment. Unfortunately, this will be the only rose-colored vestment I’ll get to see this year. Oh well…

  2. Father J says:

    Dear Father Z – never give up this WDTPRS ministry! It is SO needed! Laudate Dominum!

  3. Father J: Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Alex says:

    “In England people address Cardinals as “Your Grace”.”

    Not so, I’m afraid. “Your Emminence” is more appropriate for those
    of Cardinalatial dignity. We use “Your Grace” for Archbishops, and in
    the secular world, for Dukes. I am willing to stand corrected, but I
    think this is the protocol.

    But a fine article, as ever, Fr Z.


  5. Alex says:

    “In England people address Cardinals as “Your Grace”.”

    Not so, I’m afraid. “Your Emminence” is more appropriate for those
    of Cardinalatial dignity. We use “Your Grace” for Archbishops, and in
    the secular world, for Dukes. I am willing to stand corrected, but I
    think this is the protocol.

    But a fine article, as ever, Fr Z.


  6. Henry Edwards says:

    TNCath: Unfortunately, this will be the only rose-colored vestment I’ll get to see this year.

    Well, at least in the same state with you:


    These pix were taken on Laetare Sunday two years ago, and you see only one altar server. Today I’ll probably see an MC, a thurifer, 2 acolytes, and 6 torchbearers. (Maybe a bit joyful for Laetare — and contra Fortescue who recommends restraint with servers — but virtually every single boy of age in our small community wants to serve in cassock and surplice.)

  7. AJdiocese says:

    Some rose colored vestments that I’ve seen are very pink and so many do not wish to wear them because of this.

  8. Gregor says:


    this is my understanding, too. In Germany, FWIW, all bishops used to enjoy the formal address of “Euer (erz)bischöfliche Gnaden” (“Your [archi]episcopal Grace”; I have a secular book of Etiquette of my parents from the 50s which still prescribes this, noting that “Ew. Exzellenz” [Your Excellency] is less formal), but I think this has fallen into complete disuse. Most bishops today want to be addressed as “Herr Bischof”.

  9. ALL: I stand corrected on the the title “Your Grace” for Archbishops (I knew that too, but I was tired). However, do not lose the important point: tua gratia can mean more than just the immediate surface meaning.

  10. Richard says:

    Did the Pope give a rose this year?

  11. bigus benedictus says:

    I’m just curious if anyone knows what the pope wore today? (vestments, i mean not prada shoes!)

    Was there a return of ‘marini-pink’ or did he wear traditional rose?

  12. Bailey Walker says:

    Not only a rose chasuble on our celebrant, but a rose stole for the deacon (no dalmatic, however). And, mirabile spectu, a rose veil on the Tabernacle!!!

  13. TNCath says:

    Thanks, Henry! And thank you, Fr. Z., for all you do for us every day. I just returned from Mass where absolutely no mention was even made of the fact that this is Laetare Sunday, much less a rose vestment.

    Bigus Benedictus: While I have no idea what the Pope wore today, I do know that the rose colored vestments worn at St. Peter’s by the Chapter of Canons at Mass and at vespers are more of a salmon color than a “Marini pink.” This is the first Laetare Sunday in Rome I’ve missed in four years. Perhaps next year.

  14. Anon this time says:

    To celebrate Laetare Sunday we had substantial bread (made with honey, white flower, and sugar), grape juice, purple vestments, a guitar solo for 2 minutes after one of the songs, and a lay gospel reader.

    Of course, it wasn’t any different from any other Sunday during Lent.

    Fr. Z is just about my only lifeline right now! Keep it up!

  15. prof. basto says:

    The Golden Rose is blessed today, but it can be delivered at any time during
    the year.

    And concessions of the golden rose are rare nowadays.

    Pope Benedict made only three awards so far, and all three were to places, and not to people (all
    post-conciliar awards of the Golden Rose were to places, not people). The last
    award, to my knowledge, was made to the Mariazell Basilica.

  16. Larry Brooks says:

    Just visited the “deacons bench” and discussion of “laetare intolerance”. Enjoyable. But I got to thinking about all the priests and people who are afraid that they are branded by wearing “rose” or even the dreaded “pink”. Frankly I ‘ve always enjoyed these two Sundays for a couple of reasons. First, their significance; we’re getting closer to the Celebration (and end of seasons of fasting etc.) Second because the color rose or pink is refreshing and brings us out of the dullness of purple or violet.
    The problem these days is that we have allowed ourselves to be robbed of our symbols by people we assume are doing what is wrong. Considere this; we are robbed of rainbows which from Genesis we are told is a covenental symbol of God’s Promise. We are robbed of roses which are pink and red and many other colors because they are seen as feminine or effeminent; but, we all give roses to our wives and our Lady. Curiously, the statue of Jesus that came alive and spoke to Mother Angelica was wearing a pink or rose garment. But consider this as well. Red and Black worn together was always a little suspicious. Green worn on Thursdays was a sure sign back in the ’60s among highschoolers, men wearing purple or violet shirts and ties, huh! That leaves us with white and gold as the only two liturgical colors not associated with alternative life styles. Let’s not givein to Liturgical Homophobia! Take back our symbols and Laetare!

  17. brother says:

    any pics of the Holy Father in Rose Vestments — for this Sunday, that is (2008)??

  18. clayton says:

    I decided to focus on a different aspect of each prayer in making a translation. I was particularly interested, in the latter prayer, how the sense of “duty” is present (obsequium). “Fides,” which is so often translated as “faith” is a little more, especially in the context of this prayer, than what is usually implied by the term. However, whenever we think about it in terms of “good faith and equity” which are legal terms, I think we get the better idea.

    I understand and appreciate your reflection on the “religiosum obsequium.” But I would add how important it is to reflect on the meaning of “religiosus” in the modern day! It is not merely devotion, but the return of duty towards God, as debtors to their creditors.

    Hence, I made a slightly more paraphrased version, if anyone is interested in critiquing.

    Collect: Almighty God, we ask that we who have been justly troubled on account of our works, may be relieved by the consolation of Thy grace.

    Secret: Look down favorably, O Lord, on the sacrifices before Thee, so that they may aid our devotion and salvation.

    Postcommunion: Merciful God, grant, we beseech thee, that we may be dutifully disposed towards thy sacraments, which are always given to our satisfaction, and receive them ever in a steadfast mind.

  19. JPG says:

    At Sacred Heart in New Haven, a first time for me,the celebrant wore Rose( a deep Rose trimmed in violet. The deacon and subdeacon wore violet trimmed in rose. This was my first experience of a High Mass. I am 48. I still have not taken it all in.
    JPG Fairfield CT

  20. Robert says:

    Since it was Laetare our very funny and very French FSSP chaplain gave permission, no insisted, afterward that I should have substitued this:


    for the Boellmann Processional I had offered. I had no idea we even possessed such a magnificent Rose cope. It was splendid.

  21. Trevor says:

    It surely is a beautiful vestment Father. On Gaudette Sunday, one of our local priests decided to wear a rose chasuble (when celebrating the Ordinary Form). Sadly, it was the most plain poncho-esqe vestment I’d ever seen.

    It’s good to see one of higher quality.

Comments are closed.