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Vicar's Musings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

30 March, 2014

On Thursday we reached the half-way mark on our 40 days of Lenten fasting and prayer in preparation for the great feast of Easter. Today our church tradition encourages us to take a modest break in the austerities of Lent; even weddings are allowed, otherwise discouraged in the church during the period of fasting. As a symbol of this rest from our Lenten disciplines we distribute Simnel Cake to parishioners, which for those observing Lent in the traditional way would have been the first taste of cake or sweets since the pancakes of Shrove Tuesday. Simnel cake is a fruitcake layered with almond paste and topped with sugar violets, and 11 balls of marzipan icing representing the 11 disciples (Judas is excluded). The name probably comes from the Latin word for fine wheat flour: simila. Although there is a delightful English legend that a man called Simon and his wife Nell argued over whether to boil or bake the cake; in the time-honoured tradition of marital conflict resolution they came to a compromise, and did both, so the cake was named after them both: Sim-Nell.

This Sunday has been given many names, with the oldest derived from the first word of the Latin incipit of the Introit at Mass, drawn from Isaiah 66.10: Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam ... (Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her). Laetare Sunday is also known as Mothering Sunday, not to be confused with the more recent American celebration of "Mother's Day." In England this minor feast day became an occasion for people to go home, to their "mother church," and it became a time of family reunions. Young people working as domestic servants or apprentices would be given a rare day off to attend these family gatherings. As they walked back home along the country lanes, these young working folk who could be as young as 10 years old, would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift (See this link ...).

Dominica de rosa, or Rose Sunday, is another name for today when rose-colored vestments may be worn in place of the purple of Lent. Since 1096 the Pope has blessed the Golden Rose on this day, a jewel in the shape of a rose, which is then given to a worthy recipient as an award. Pope Francis gave his first Golden Rose to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the national shrine of Mexico.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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