Laetare Sunday has typically been viewed as a “break” from Lent before we enter the final two weeks of Lent in Passiontide and Holy Week. At first blush, there is a lot to support this theory. The priest’s vestments are changed, gone is the talk of penance in the prayers, and after this Sunday, the sanctuary slowly but surely begins to look barren as statues and other images are covered up in the build to Good Friday, in which the normally ornate sanctuary is empty and somber.
While this view has been traditionally held, I also think it’s an incorrect view. Our Lenten disciplines remain in force after Sunday. The Scriptures do not speak of people taking a break from their devotion before undertaking a long journey. If anything, they speak of it intensifying. As Christ prepared for his confrontation in the temple, he began increasing his visibility amongst the people, and his message developed a greater sense of force and urgency. The most important reason we shouldn’t look upon this Sunday as a vacation from Lent is that it’s nowhere to be found in the prayers. Nowhere do we see talk of a break or rest. Instead, we see frequent talk (and examples) of rejoicing and consolation.
Rejoicing is difficult. Sometimes we even think rejoicing during Lent seems out of place. What is there to rejoice about? Sometimes we’ve grown irritable from self-denial; all this reflection on death and suffering can weigh the heart down, etc. Yet when we look at the apostles, what do we see? After being physically beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching Christ (and no doubt warned that further preaching would lead to further trouble), they rejoiced. Rejoicing is easy when there are abundant reasons to rejoice. After winning the lottery or the Super Bowl, men will easily thank and glorify God. How many do so after an injury or an accident? How many do so after getting laid off? On social media, are we rejoicing in and out of season, or are we crying for attention by complaining about this or that person? The Church tells us to rejoice not because she is taking a break from Lent, but reminding us that even during Lent, we must rejoice.
Another reason for rejoicing is that of consolation. In the first two propers, the theme is directly mentioned. In the Gospel, Christ feeds the five thousand, providing a hungry audience their fill. In the Postcommunion, we are constantly filled with “Thy Holy Mysteries.” We rejoice because even in hardship, God still provides for us. While getting laid off from your job can crush one’s heart, we know that in time God will provide for us, and that this is in preparation for the next step of our lives. We might not win the lottery, but his consolation can lead to the kind of happiness you can’t put a price tag on. To get this consolation, we need only be like the men in the Gospel who were willing to follow Christ, but when he commanded, were willing to sit down.
The reason for this consolation is because we are, as St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle, children of promise. God promised us heaven, and if we will trust Him, He will provide it. I think that’s a major problem in the Church today. Just like previous generations, we are the children of promise. While we have that promise, we don’t want to trust God. We are too worried that trusting God will lead to being ostracized from social circles. We are afraid of coming across as too judgmental, of imposing our beliefs upon others. Previous generations wanted entire nations to submit to Christ, and we are lucky to proclaim our own household should submit to him. How often do we take consolation in being the children of promise, and then act like it? When are we going to put aside those fears of being harsh and judgmental, and realize that when trusting in God fully, He will change our hearts so we can call all to Christ without that harsh spirit? We are the children of promise, so we need to stop making excuses. That’s part of what Lent is about. We stop making excuses for why we can’t give up this or that habit, why we can’t add this or that good work, why we can’t devote more to prayer, and we start doing so. Hopefully as Lent goes on, we realize that it was always possible, and will remain possible. Let the consolation we receive in Laetare Sunday move us forward in our journey.