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Vicar's Musings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

15 March, 2015

Today we celebrate reaching the half-way mark, on our 40 day journey of Lenten fasting and prayer, in preparation for the great feast of Easter. Our church tradition encourages us to take a modest break in the austerities of Lent, and as a symbol of this rest from our Lenten disciplines we distribute Simnel Cake to parishioners. For those observing Lent in the traditional way, fasting sugar, this may be 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 eleven balls of marzipan icing representing the eleven disciples (Judas is excluded). The name probably comes from the Latin word for fine wheat flour, simila, but 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 Mother's Day (May 10th this year) which is American in origin. In England the minor feast of Mothering Sunday 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. The giving of flowers to our mothers, godmothers, or those who are like mothers to us, is therefore another tradition observed on this day.

Dominica de rosa, or Rose Sunday, is another name for the fourth Sunday in Lent, when rose-colored vestments may be worn in place of the Lenten purple. 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.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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