What Is Laetare Sunday During Lent?

A Time to Rejoice During Lent

The Gospel at the Solemn Mass on Laetare Sunday, Pusey House.
James Bradley/Wikimedia Commons

Most Catholic people in the U.S. are used to Mass being conducted in English (or their native language) and rarely think about the fact that Latin remains the official language of the Catholic Church. But occasionally, Latin terms sneak back in as in the case of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent. The date is moveable as it is dependent on the date of Easter, which changes annually based on lunar activity.

Christian Denominations Use of the Term

The term Laetare Sunday is used by most Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, and by some Protestant denominations, particularly those with Latin liturgical traditions like Lutherans.

What Does Laetare Mean?

Laetare means "Rejoice" in Latin. The 40 days of Lent are a time for solemnity according to Roman Catholic doctrine, so how is it possible to celebrate during a time for meditative reflection? Quite simply, the church recognized that people need a break from sorrow.

The fourth Sunday was considered a day of relaxation from the normal rigors of Lent. It was a day of hope with Easter within sight. Traditionally, weddings, which were otherwise banned during Lent, could be performed on this day.

Religious Doctrine and Biblical Reference

In both the traditional Latin Mass and even after the shortening of church rituals during Mass with the Novus Ordo, the short chant that is sung prior to the Eucharist is from is Isaiah 66:10-11, which begins Laetare, Jerusalem, which means "Rejoice, O Jerusalem."

Because the midpoint of Lent is the Thursday of the third week of Lent, Laetare Sunday has traditionally been viewed as a day of celebration, on which the austerity of Lent is briefly lessened.

The passage from Isaiah continues, "Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow," and on Laetare Sunday, the purple vestments and altar cloths of Lent are set aside, and rose ones are used instead. Flowers, which are normally forbidden during Lent, may be placed on the altar. Traditionally, the organ was never played during Lent, except on Laetare Sunday.

Other Names for Laetare Sunday

Laetare Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, or Mothering Sunday. Historically, servants were released from service for the day to visit their mothers, hence the term "Mothering Sunday." 

Laetare Sunday has a counterpart in Advent season or the Christmas season in preparation of the birth of Jesus. Gaudete Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent when purple vestments are exchanged for rose ones. 

The point of both days is to provide you with encouragement as you progress toward the end of each respective penitential season. 

Other Traditions During Lent

Lent is a moveable date dependent on Easter. Lent traditionally starts 40 days before Easter and gets calculated prior to Easter, and usually does not include Sundays.

Usually, Roman Catholics do not sing the Alleluia song during Lent. This song of praise and great joy is replaced  with a more penitent phrase such as, "Glory and Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ."

During Lent, there are rules for Catholic people, who may fast.​ And, since technically Sundays are not considered part of the Lenten period, you may stop your fast or abstinence on the six Sundays leading up to Easter.