Have your students imagine themselves in a line-up prior to gym class. The teacher is really frightening, walking back and forth before everyone while marking down the grades of those not wearing the right color socks or those not standing in their assigned place. The scene is very dismal. Then, suddenly, from in the back someone begins to giggle softly. The giffling increases to full-scale laughter among everyone in that area. Soon enough the entire class is bent over laughing hysterically. then, surprise of surprise, even the mean gym teacher joins in. A dark and dreary time has been transformed to one of fun and joy.
A similar transformation takes place right in the middle of Lent. On the fourth Sunday of Lent the previously dreary church sanctuary may be decorated with flowers, and more upbeat music may be played. The priest may wear rose-colored vestments instead of the purple penitential ones.
Why the change? This midpoint of Lent is known as Laetare Sunday. Latare is a Latin word that means “rejoice.” The reason for the rejoicing is that on this Sunday or shortly after those preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil receive the sacred text of the Apostles’ Creed for the first time. The reception of the Creed by the catechumens signifies that the time of their full membership into the community of the Church is near.
For this reason, the Church an hardly contain its joy on Laetare Sunday. In previous centuries, as a symbol of this joy, the Pope would carry a golden rose in his right hand when leaving Mass. Later, the golden rose consisted of a cluster of roses made of pure gold that the popes would bless and then give to cities, churches, or shrines ad a memento.
In England, a tradition around Laetare Sunday had the boys and girls who lived away at school returning home to their “mother church” wehre they had been baptized, bringing with them gifts to place at the altar. Adult children would visit their own mothers on this day. For this reason, Laetare Sunday also became known as “Mothering Sunday”.
Soon after the catechumens receive the Creed, they also are given the text of the Our Father. These ceremonies are for those catechumens who have dutifully completed the long preparation process-today called either the catechumenate or Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults—and have passed the tests and scutinies of faith. While the catechumens currently are able to remain at Mass only until after the homily, on the night of the Easter Vigil they will be welcomed into full communion with the Church, receiving the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Then they will be able to stay for the entire Mass. Laetare Sunday is celebrated in anticipation of that occasion.
* Have the students memorize the Apostle’s Creed, and cover in more detail the meaning of each creedal statement.
* Review the signs and rituals of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist as Sacraments of Initiation.
* Explain the stages of the catechumenate: inquiry, catechumenate, enlightenment, and mystagory.
1. When was a time when you experienced joy or happiness in an otherwise dreary or sad situation?
2. What is a creedal statement that you have a question about or trouble understanding?
3. If you could give the catechumens from your parish one piece of advice about belonging to your parish, what would it be?
Have the students write welcome notes to the catechumens at their school or parish or a nearby parish. Arrange for the notes to be delivered to them after the Easter Vigil.
Collect real flowers or spray artifical flowers with gold. Have the students give them to catechumens at a nearby parish after they are dismissed from the liturgy on Laetare Sunday.