This Sunday, called, from the first word of the Introit, Lætare Sunday, is one of the most solemn of the year. The Church interrupts her Lenten mournfulness; the chants of the Mass speak of nothing but joy and consolation; the Organ, which has been silent during the preceding three Sundays, now gives forth its melodious voice; the Deacon resumes his Dalmatic, and the Subdeacon his Tunic; and instead of purple, Rose-colored Vestments are allowed to be used. These same rites were practiced in Advent, on the third Sunday, called Gaudete. The Church’s motive for introducing this expression of joy in today’s Liturgy is to encourage her Children to persevere fervently to the end of this holy Season. The real Mid-Lent was last Thursday, as we have already observed; but the Church, fearing lest the joy might lead to some infringement on the spirit of penance, has deferred her own notice of it to this Sunday, when she not only permits, but even bids, her children to rejoice!
The Station at Rome is in the Basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem, one of the seven principal Churches of the Holy City. It was built in the fourth century, by the Emperor Constantine, in one of his villas, called Sessorius, on which account it goes also under the name of the Sessorian Basilica. The Emperor’s mother, St. Helen, enriched it with most precious relics, and wished to make it the Jerusalem of Rome. It was with this intention that she ordered a great quantity of earth, taken from Mount Calvary, to be put on the site. Among the other Relics of the Instruments of the Passion which she gave to this Church, was the Inscription which was fastened to the Cross; it is still kept there, and it called the Title of the Cross. The name of Jerusalem—which has been given to this Basilica, and which recalls to our minds the heavenly Jerusalem, towards which we are tending—suggested the choosing it as today’s Station. Up to the fourteenth century (when Avignon became, for a time, the City of the Popes), the ceremony of the Golden Rose took place in this Church; at present, it is blessed in the Palace where the Sovereign Pontiff happens to be residing at this Season.
The blessing of the Golden Rose is one of the ceremonies peculiar to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which is called, on this account, Rose Sunday. The thoughts suggested by this flower harmonize with the sentiments wherewith the Church would now inspire her Children. The joyous time of Easter is soon to give them a spiritual Spring, of which that of Nature is but a feeble image. Hence, we cannot be surprised that the institution of this ceremony is of a very ancient date. We find it observed under the Pontificate of St. Leo IX (eleventh century); and we have a Sermon on the Golden Rose, preached by the glorious Pope Innocent III, on this Sunday, and in the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. In the Middle Ages, when the Pope resided in the Lateran Palace, having first blessed the Rose, he went on horseback to the Church of the Station. He wore the mitre, was accompanied by all the Cardinals, and held the blessed Flower in his hand. Having reached the Basilica, he made a discourse on the mysteries symbolized by the beauty, the color, and the fragrance of the Rose. Mass was then celebrated. After the Mass, the Pope returned to the Lateran Palace. Surrounded by the sacred College, he rode across the immense plain which separates the two Basilicas, with the mystic Flower still in his hand. We may imagine the joy of the people as they gazed upon the holy symbol. When the procession had got to the Palace gates, if there were a Prince present, it was his privilege to hold the stirrup, and assist the Pontiff to dismount; for which filial courtesy he received the Rose, which had received so much honor and caused such joy.
At present, the ceremony is not quite so solemn; still, the principal rites are observed. The Pope blesses the Golden Rose in the Vestiary; he anoints it with Holy Chrism, over which he sprinkles a scented powder, as formerly; and when the hour for Mass is come, he goes to the Palace Chapel holding the Flower in his hand. During the Holy Sacrifice, it is fastened to a golden rose branch prepared for it on the Altar. After the Mass, it is brought to the Pontiff, who holds it in his hand as he returns from the Chapel to the Vestiary. It is usual for the Pope to send the Rose to some Prince or Princess, as a mark of honor; sometimes, it is a City or a Church that receives the Flower.
We subjoin a free translation of the beautiful Prayer used by the Sovereign Pontiff when blessing the Golden Rose. It will give our readers a clearer appreciation of this ceremony, which adds so much solemnity to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. “O God! by whose word and power all things were created, and by whose will they are governed! O thou, that art the joy and gladness of all thy Faithful people! we beseech thy Divine Majesty, that thou vouchsafe to bless and sanctify this Rose, so lovely in its beauty and fragrance. We are to bear it, this day, in our hands, as a symbol of spiritual joy; that thus, the people that is devoted to thy service, being set free from the captivity of Babylon, by the grace of thine Only Begotten Son, who is the glory and the joy of Israel, may show forth, with a sincere heart, the joys of that Jerusalem, which is above, and is our Mother. And whereas thy Church, seeing this symbol exults with joy, for the glory of thy Name—do thou, O Lord! give her true and perfect happiness. Accept her devotion, forgive us our sins, increase our faith; heal us by thy word, protect us by thy mercy; remove all obstacles; grant us all blessings; that thus, this same thy Church may offer unto thee the fruit of good works; and walking in the odor of the fragrance of that Flower, which sprang from the Root of Jesse, and is called the Flower of the Field, and the Lily of the Valley, may she deserve to enjoy an endless joy in the bosom of heavenly glory, in the society of all the Saints, together with that Divine Flower, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.”
We now come to the explanation of another name given to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which was suggested by the Gospel of the day. We find this Sunday called in several ancient documents, the Sunday of the Five Loaves. The miracle alluded to in this title not only forms an essential portion of the Church’s instructions during Lent, but it also is an additional element of today’s joy. We forget for an instant the coming Passion of the Son of God, to give our attention to the greatest of the benefits he has bestowed on us; for under the figure of these Loaves multiplied by the power of Jesus, our Faith sees that
Bread which came down from heaven, and giveth life to the world. (John 6:33) The Pasch, says our Evangelist, was near at hand; and, in a few days, our Lord will say to us: With desire have I desired to eat this Pasch with you. (Luke 22:15) Before leaving this world to go to his Father, Jesus desires to feed the multitude that follows him; and in order to do this, he displays his omnipotence. Well may we admire that creative power, which feeds five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, and in such wise, that even after all have partaken of the feast as much as they would, there remain fragments enough to fill twelve baskets. Such a miracle is, indeed, an evident proof of Jesus’ mission; but he intends it as a preparation for something far more wonderful; he intends it as a figure and a pledge of what he is soon to do, not merely once or twice, but every day, even to the end of time; not only for five thousand men, but for the countless multitudes of believers. Think of the millions who, this very year, are to partake of the banquet of the Pasch; and yet, He whom we have seen born in Bethlehem (the House of Bread), He is to be the nourishment of all these guests; neither will the Divine Bread fail. We are to feast as did our fathers before us; and the generations that are to follow us, shall be invited as we now are, to come and taste how sweet is the Lord. (Psalm 33:9)
But observe, it is in a desert place, (as we lean from St. Matthew, (Matthew 14:13) that Jesus feeds these men, who represent us Christians. They have quitted the bustle and noise of cities in order to follow him. So anxious are they to hear his words, that they fear neither hunger nor fatigue; and their courage is rewarded. A like recompense will crown our labors—our fasting and abstinence‐which are now more than half over. Let us, then, rejoice, and spend this day with the light-heartedness of pilgrims who are near the end of their journey. The happy moment is advancing, when our soul, united and filled with her God, will look back with pleasure on the fatigues of the body, which, together with our heart’s compunction, have merited for her a place at the Divine Banquet.
The primitive Church proposed this miracle of the multiplication of the loaves as a symbol of the Eucharist, the Bread that never fails. We find it frequently represented in the paintings of the Catacombs and on the base-reliefs of the ancient Christian tombs. The Fishes, too, that were given together with the Loaves, are represented on these venerable monuments of our faith; for the early Christians considered the Fish to be the symbol of Christ, because the word Fish, in Greek, is made up of five letters, each of which is the initial of these words: Jesus Christ, Son (of) God, Savior.
The Greek Church, too, keeps this Sunday with much solemnity. According to her manner of counting the days of Lent, this is the great day of the week called, as we have already noticed, Mesonēstios. The solemn adoration of the Cross takes place today; and, breaking through her rule of never admitting a Saint’s Feast during Lent, this mid-Lend Sunday is kept in honor of the celebrated Abbot of the Monastery of Mount Sinai, St. John Climacus, who lived in the 6th century.
The seventy-year captivity will soon be over. Yet a little while, and the captives shall return to Jerusalem. This is the idea expressed by the Church in all the chants of today’s Mass. She ventures not to pronounce the heavenly Alleluia; but all her canticles bespeak jubilation; for, in a few days hence, the House of the Lord will lay aside her mourning, and will be keeping the gladdest of her Feasts.
Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and meet together all you who love her; rejoice exceedingly, you who have been in sorrow, that you may leap for joy, and be satiated with comfort from her breasts.
Ps. I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. ℣. Glory. Rejoice.
In the Collect, the Church acknowledges that her Children deserve the penance they are going through; but she begs that, today, the hope of the coming divine consolations may refresh their spirits. The full force of the closing word of her prayer is that they may breathe awhile.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we, who are justly afflicted according to our demerits, may be relieved by thy comforting grace. Through, etc.
The second and third Collects are given on the First Sunday of Lent.
Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Galatians 4:
Brethren: It is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond woman, and the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bond-woman, was born according to the flesh; but he by the free-woman, was by promise. Which things are said by an allegory. For these are the two testaments. The one from Mount Sina, engendering unto bondage, which is Agar; for Sins is a mountain in Arabia, which hath affinity to that Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But that Jerusalem, which is above, is free; which is our mother. Fir it is written: Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not: break forth and cry, thou that travailest not; for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then, he that was born according to the flesh, persecuted him that was after the spirit, so also it is now. But what saith the scripture? Cast out the bond-woman and her son; for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman, but of the free; by the freedom wherewith Christ hath made us free.
Let us then rejoice!—we are children not of Sina, but of Jerusalem. Our mother, the holy Church, is not a bond-woman, but free; and it is unto freedom that she had brought us up. Israel served God in fear; his heart was ever tending to idolatry, and could only be kept to duty by the heavy yoke of chastisement. More happy than he, we serve God through love; our yoke is sweet, and our burden is light? (Matthew 11:30) We are not citizens of the earth; we are but pilgrims passing through it to our true country, the Jerusalem which is above. We leave the earthly Jerusalem to the Jew, who minds only terrestrial things, is disappointed with Jesus, and is plotting how to crucify him. We also have too long been grovelling in the goods of this world; we have been slaves to sin; and the more the chains of our bondage weighed upon us, the more we talked of our being free. Now is the favorable time; now are the days of salvation: we have obeyed the Church’s call, and have entered into the practice of the spirit of Lent. Sin seems to us now to be the heaviest of yokes; the Flesh, a dangerous burden; the World, a merciless tyrant. We begin to breathe the fresh air of holy liberty, and the hope of our speedy deliverance fills us with transports of joy. Let us, with all possible affection, thank our Divine Liberator, who delivers us from the bondage of Agar, emancipates us from the law of fear, and, making us his new People, opens to us the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, at the price of his Blood.
The Gradual expresses the joy felt by the Gentiles when invited to enter the House of the Lord, which is now become their own. The Trace shows God protecting his Church, the new Jerusalem, which is not to be conquered and destroyed as was that first one. This holy City communicates her own stability and security to them that are in her, for the Lord watches over both the Mother and her children.
I rejoiced at the things that were said to me; we shall go into the house of the Lord.
℣. Let peace be in thy strength, and abundance in thy towers.
They that trust in the Lord, shall be as Mount Sion; he shall not be moved forever that dwelleth in Jerusalem.
℣. Mountains are round about it; so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth now and forever.
Sequel of the Holy Gospel according to John 6:1-15
At that time: Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is that of Tiberias; and a great multitude followed him, because they saw the miracles which he did on them that were diseased. Jesus therefore went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. Now the Pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand. When Jesus therefore had lifted up his eyes, and seen that a very great multitude cometh to him, he said to Philip: Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat? And this he said to try him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him: Two hundred penny-worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, saith to him: There is a boy here that hath five barley loaves, and two fishes; but what are they among so many? Then Jesus said: Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. The men therefore sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to them that were sat down. In like manner also of the fishes, as much as they would; and when they were filled, he said to his disciples: Gather up the fragments that remain, lest they be lost. They gathered up therefore, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above to them that had eaten. Now these men, when they had seen what a miracle Jesus had done, said: This is of a truth the Prophet that is to come into the world. Jesus therefore, when he knew that they would come to take him by force and make him king, fled again into the mountain himself alone.
These men, whom Jesus has been feeding by a miracle of love and power, are resolved to make Jesus their King. They have no hesitation in proclaiming him worthy to reign over them; for where can they find one worthier? What, then, shall we Christians do, who know the goodness and the power of Jesus incomparably better than these poor Jews? We must beseech him to reign over us, from this day forward. We have just been reading in the Epistle that it is He who has made us free, by delivering us from our enemies. O glorious Liberty! But the only way to maintain it is to live under his Law. Jesus is not a tyrant, as are the world and the flesh; his rule is sweet and peaceful, and we are his Children rather than his Servants. In the court of such a King “to serve is to reign.” What, then, have we to do with our old slavery? If some of its chains be still upon us, let us lose no time—let us break them, for the Pasch is near at hand; the great Feast-Day begins to dawn. Onwards, then, courageously to the end of our journey! Jesus will refresh us; he will make us sit down as he did the men of our Gospel; and the Bread he has in store for us will make us forget all our past fatigues.
In the Offertory, the Church again borrows the words of David, wherewith to praise the Lord; but today, it is mainly his goodness and power that she celebrates.
Praise ye the Lord, for he is good, sing ye to his Name, for it is sweet: what he pleased he hath done, in heaven and on earth.
The Secret is a prayer for the increase of devotion. We ask it by the merits of the Sacrifice at which we are assisting, for it is the source of our Salvation.
We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully regard this present Sacrifice that it may both increase our devotion, and advance our salvation. Through, etc.
The second and third Secrets are given on the First Sunday of Lent.
In the Communion-Anthem, the Church sings the praise of the Heavenly Jerusalem, which is figured by the Basilica of Holy Cross, as we have already explained. She speaks of the joy of the tribes of the Lord, who are assembled in this venerable Temple, and are contemplating, under the graceful symbol of the Rose, the Divine Spouse, Jesus. The fragrance of his perfections draws our hearts after him.
Jerusalem, which is built as a city, which is compact together; for thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to praise thy Name, O Lord.
The divine Mystery of the Bread of Life has been brought before us, that we might believe and love it. The Church, therefore, in the Postcommunion, prays that we may have the grace to receive this august Mystery with becoming respect and careful preparation.
Grant, we beseech thee, O merciful God, that we may sincerely respect, and receive with faith thy holy mysteries, with which thou daily feedest us. Through, etc.
The second and third Secrets are given on the First Sunday of Lent.
The psalms and antiphons are given earlier in the volume.
Brethren: It is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond woman, and the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bond-woman, was born according to the flesh; but he by the free-woman, was by promise. Which things are said by an allegory.
The hymn and versicle are given earlier in the volume.
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT
Jesus therefore went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.
LET US PRAY
Grant, we beseech thee, O almighty God, that we, who are justly afflicted according to our demerits, may be relieved by thy comforting grace. Through, etc.
We borrow the following stanzas from the Triodion of the Greek Church. They are in keeping with today’s Office, and with the sentiments we should have on Mid-Lent Sunday.
(Dominica IV. Jejuniorum.)
We have passed one half of our journey through the holy Fast; let us, then, as it behooves us, joyfully complete what remains. Let us anoint our souls with the oil of good works, that we may be made worthy to celebrate the divine sufferings of Christ our Lord, and to be brought to his venerable and holy Resurrection.
Jesus, he that planted the vine and hired the laborers, is near at hand. Come, ye brave Fasters! let us receive the reward; for he that pays us, is rich and merciful. After our short labors, he will requite our souls with his mercy.
O God, thou Giver of Life! open to me the gate of penance. My spirit keepeth watch in thy holy temple; but the temple of the flesh, which I have to carry with me, is defiled with many sins. Have pity on me, notwithstanding; and in thy tender mercy, cleanse me.
Come, let us, who are in the mystic Vine, produce fruits of penance. Here laboring, let our feasting be, not in meat and drink, but in prayer and fasting and good works. Our Lord, being pleased with our labor, will pay us with that, whereby he, the one God, rich in mercy, will forgive us the debt of our sins.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)