ASK FATHER: Subtle different between “Laetare” and “Gaudete”?

From a reader…


Can you explain the difference between gaudete and laetare? Gaudete seems to be 2nd person plural, imperative, while laetare appears to be an infinitive, both seem to mean rejoice in those respective forms. But the roots are different, so is there a subtle difference in meaning? Thanks and happy Laetare Sunday!

Firstly, Laetare and Gaudete Sundays are slight liturgical breathers before plunging back into the last period of preparation before the great feasts of Easter and the Nativity of the Lord.

The nickames for the Sundays are derived from the first word of the Introit antiphon. Gaudete (plural imperative of gaudeo) is from Philippians 4:4-6 and is Latin for Greek xairete. Laetare (singular imperative of laetor which is deponent) is from Isaiah 66:10-11 and Latin for Hebrew samah.

There is no substantial difference in meaning between the forms of gaudeo and laetor here.  You can go to the context of Philippians and of Isaiah and see if the prophet and the Apostle are talking about different objects of joy.

Isaiah 66 has the prophet explain how God rewards right worship.   He rewards with abundance and blessings.  Bad worship… not so much.  Philippians 4 says be joyful and peaceful for the Lord is near, so give yourself over to good things.

There are differences in tone between the Lenten and Adventen Sundays, as you might expect.  But don’t read much into the forms Laetare and Gaudete.  Go to the Biblical context and frame the whole context in the moment of Mass (Introit) and season.

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  1. Searching just briefly in the Latin and Greek texts on, I find that in the Latin translation of St. Paul’s letters “laetor” is used for the Greek verb “euphraino,” which is different from “chairo,” translated by “gaudeo.” Lewis and Short suggest that “gaudeo” describes “inward joy,” whereas “laetor” means “to exhibit joy.”

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  3. JabbaPapa says:

    I’d say that the semantic difference between the two is that gaudium is a more corporal, emotional, fleshly manner of joy, in Charity, such as joy within the family and so on ; whereas laetitia is more a spiritual, intellectual, reasoning manner of happiness, of a more aesthetic sort.

    But the words are rather close in meaning regardless.

  4. Bthompson says:

    Also, as a deponent, laetor’s infinitive ending is -ari rather than the normal active form -are.
    In what I have seen, many (all?) deponents use the endings that would in a regular verb be the infinitive (-are, -ere, ire) as the (singular) imperative instead.

  5. Volanges says:

    I was actually quite surprised Sunday to hear a bishop wish people “Happy Gaudete Sunday” at the start of his homily during the Mass I was watching. Then I wondered if he was tripped up by the Entrance Antiphon.

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