It’s optional, but I’ve always liked it — when the Church’s sacred ministers wear “pink” on Laetare Sunday — Roman Catholicism’s Fourth Sunday of Lent.
The day’s theme comes from the entrance antiphon reflecting on Isaiah 66:10-11: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exalt and be satisfied at her consoling breast.”
Laetare is the first word — meaning “rejoice” — in the Latin text. On Laetare Sunday (as similarly with the Third Sunday of Advent’s Gaudete Sunday) the Church expresses hope and joy in the midst of our Lenten fasts and penances. Call it pink — or, more fittingly, rose — this change in color indicates a glimpse of the joy that awaits us at Easter, just before we enter into the somber days of Passiontide.
The joy of Easter being around the corner is symbolized in a few other interesting liturgical possibilities. During Lent, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal forbids flowers adorning the altar. But on Laetare Sunday (as well as solemnities and feasts within the season), there’s a temporary halt to these penitential observations! I remember well decking out the altar with pink roses on that day when I was once a parish liturgy director.
At one time, marriages were generally forbidden during Lent, but Laetare Sunday was often associated as a day when marriages could be celebrated during the penitential season. While marriages are now only forbidden on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Laetare Sunday is still a fitting day for those wishing to be married before Eastertide.
Laetare Sunday is the Church’s way of giving us a “shot in the arm” as we approach the darkness and horror of the days through Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It’s an opportunity to savor and keep in the back of our minds what awaits us on Easter Sunday — the reality that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and that our hearts will always be filled with joy!
Being aware of traditions and customs assists us in celebrating the beauty of our faith. As you can see, there is much associated with even a nondescript day like the Fourth Sunday of Lent — not to mention the rest of the season, or the 50 days of Easter and beyond. Take advantage of the richness of our Catholic traditions.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s The Catholic Answer. A graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he resides in Indiana where he teaches high school theology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.