26 Mar Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
This Sunday, called, from the first word of the Introit, Laetare, 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 are practiced in Advent, on the third Sunday, called Gaudete. The Church’s motive for introducing this expression of joy into 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; 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 the 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. Helena, enriched it with the most precious relics, and wished to make it the Jerusalem of Rome. With this intention 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 there, and is 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 choice of it as today’s Station. Up to the 14th century, when Avignon became for a time the city of the Popes, the ceremony of the Golden Rose took place in this Church; later, it was blessed in the palace where the Sovereign Pontiff happened to be residing.
The Blessing of the Golden Rose is one of the ceremonies peculiar to the Fourth Sunday of Lent, which is also 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 (11th century); and we have a sermon on the golden rose preached by the glorious Pope Innocent III (1198-1216)—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 miter, 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 reached 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.
In later times, the ceremony was not quite so solemn; still the principal rites were observed. The Pope would bless the golden rose in the vestiary; he would anoint it with holy Chrism, over which he would sprinkle a scented powder, as formerly; and when the hour for Mass had come, he would go to the palace chapel, holding the flower in his hand. During the Holy Sacrifice, it would be fastened to a golden rose-branch prepared for it on the altar. After the Mass, it would be brought back to the Pontiff, who would hold it in his hand as he returned from the chapel to the vestiary. It was usual for the Pope to send the rose to some prince or princess, as a mark of honor; sometimes it was a city or Church that would receive the flower.
We subjoin a loose translation of the beautiful prayer used by the Sovereign Pontiff when blessing the golden rose. It will give us 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 all 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 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, forever and ever. Amen.”
Nowadays, sinners are not visibly separated from the faithful; the Church doors are not closed against them; they frequently stand near the holy altar, in the company of the just; and when God’s pardon descends upon them, the faithful are not made cognizant of the grace by any special and solemn rite. Let us here admire the wonderful mercy of our Heavenly Father, and profit by the indulgent discipline of our Holy Mother the Church. The lost sheep may enter the fold at any hour and without any display; let him take advantage of the condescension thus shown him, and never more wander from the Shepherd, Who thus mercifully receives him. Neither let the just man be puffed up with self-complacency, by preferring himself to the lost sheep; let him rather reflect on those words of today’s lesson: If the just man turn himself away from his justice, and do iniquity… the justices which he hath done shall not be remembered. Let us, therefore tremble for ourselves, and have compassion on sinners. One of the great means on which the Church rests Her hopes for the reconciliation of sinners is the fervent prayers offered up for them by the faithful during Lent.
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 is also 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 the Evangelist, “was near at hand”; and in a few days Our Lord will say to us: “With desire I have 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 remains fragments enough to fill 12 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 multitude of believers. Think of the millions, who, every year, used to partake of the Paschal Banquet; and yet, He Whom we have seen born in Bethlehem (the House of Bread) was 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 (Ps. 33: 9).
But observe, it is in a desert place, as we learn from St. 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 represented in the paintings of the catacombs and on the bas-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, which are the initials of these words: Jesus Christ, Son (of) God, Savior.
We learn from today’s Gospel that the men, whom Jesus had fed by a miracle of love and power, were resolved to make Him their King. They had no hesitation in proclaiming Him worthy to reign over them; for where could they find one worthier? What then shall we Christians do, who know the goodness and the power of Jesus incomparably better than those poor Jews? We must beseech Him to reign over us, from this day forward. In the Epistle we read that it is He Who has made us free, by delivering us from our enemies. O glorious freedom! 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 feastday 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 the Gospel; and the Bread He has in store for us will make us forget all our past fatigues. (1, 4)
Fourth Sunday of Lent:
Jesus Feeds the Multitude: Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes
by Fr. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
Gospel. John vi. 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 pennyworth 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 these 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 those 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.
It is always a grand, inspiring sight to see young people come together in great numbers to hear the word of God, to consider the wonderful deeds of God, and listen to His beautiful discourses, which have been preserved in the gospels. To day there is proposed to our consideration the wonderful feeding of five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes.
The evening was approaching, and still the crowd, charmed by the words of Our Lord in His sublime instruction, made not the least move to leave Him and go to their homes in the city, nor did they even think of procuring food. Our Lord was still busy healing the sick. What a preacher He must have been! You see the mass of people, closely gathered about Him, listening with eagerness to every word addressed to them, and so intent are they that they forget their food. In the time of Our Lord there were thousands who went to Him with a good heart; He loved them for it and this evening they were to be the guests of the divine Master. In our day we do not as a rule find that hunger after the word of God; people do not like sermons, and especially young people can hardly contain themselves and sit still to listen to the word of God. Parents can plead and threaten, the confessor can admonish, the pastor shows his zeal in vain. But what great damage results to our soul from this carelessness! From this comes that ignorance of religion and God and blindness of the mind which is the mother of all evil. From this you can trace the hardness of men's hearts, obstinacy in vice and sin, and at last eternal damnation. There is not, says St. Bernard, a more certain sign of people losing their immortal souls than their aversion to the word of God.
One day as St. Hilary was about to preach, after having finished the reading of the Gospel, many got up to go out. The saintly preacher was stirred, and he called to them to return and resume their places, saying, “You are going out, but you will not so easily go out of hell.” It is related of St. Anthony of Padua that he wanted to preach to a number of heretics, but they all went away and would not listen; he then went to the seashore and began to preach to the fishes. “Listen to the word of God, ye fishes of the sea, for these unhappy heretics will not listen to me.” With that an immense number of fishes gathered as near as they could come to him, with their heads slightly raised out of the water as if they were all attention. When St. Anthony saw this he said, “Blessed be God, for the fishes honor God more than the people of the earth.” In many churches is witnessed this eagerness to run away, and to such these words can be applied, “You can easily leave the church, but you cannot so easily get out of hell.”
Dear children, if you wish to save your souls and go to heaven, it is absolutely necessary to hear the word of God.
When our dear Lord saw this great crowd of people that had followed Him and had continued with Him so as not to lose one of His discourses, He was touched with compassion for them. Turning to Philip, one of His disciples, He asked him, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” Philip answered Him, “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one may take a little.” Our Lord, calling the Apostles about Him, asked, “How many loaves have you?” Andrew answered, “There is a boy here that hath five barley loaves and two fishes, but what are these among so many?” “Bring Me,” said Our Lord, “the little you have, and make the people sit down on the grass.” Our Lord then took the loaves, and, raising His eyes to heaven, blessed them, and distributed to them that were sat down.
What a magnificent miracle Our Lord worked for the benefit of His followers on this occasion! Be ye also true followers of Jesus; live in His holy love and fear, and He will provide for you in all your necessities. Would that you were convinced of this! There are, indeed, many who have to undergo terrible sufferings, some even die of hunger; but you must not accuse almighty God of carelessness in their regard. Often it is their own fault on account of the bad lives they have led. Wickedness produces untold evil in this world; you know there are many young people who lead impious and criminal lives, who are Catholics only in name, who never go to confession, though they have been taught to go from their early childhood; they do not go to communion nor observe Sundays and holydays; they blaspheme the word of God, and they act worse than the brute in the pursuit of the object of their passions. God will not prosper such as these, they cannot have the peace of mind which is the share of those who serve God; they are harassed by discontent and anger, and these vices sometimes produce terrible effects, and could really be a sufficient explanation of much of the misery with which we find poor humanity afflicted.
Yes, if sin could be removed from this world, no doubt many of the scourges which come upon us, many sicknesses, terrible and unforeseen deaths, would be removed also and heavenly peace would reign supreme. Often and often we read of this in the word of God. The impious are told that they are hurrying toward their destruction, and the good are the favorite children of God. But, you will say, the good are often afflicted; for we have met them suffering hunger, misery, and persecution. Why does God allow His faithful followers to be so tried, as was the good and holy Job? God permits these trials to the just to purify them, to detach them from the things of this world, and to give them opportunity to merit more for eternal life. God reigns supreme in the hearts of the just; He gives them His grace to suffer with patience whatever may come to them, and this is the reason that these trials are no longer afflictions but rather consolations. St. Paul says, “We glory also in tribulations.”
The loaves which fed such a multitude represent the Holy Eucharist. Every day this mystical bread is multiplied and distributed from the altar. What a great gift is this Blessed Sacrament, what a proof of God's love for His children, what a display of His omnipotence! The bread on our altars remains no longer bread; it is changed by the power of Jesus Christ into His sacred body and blood. With this bread you can feed your soul every day.
It is natural to suppose that the crowd that was fed miraculously had knowledge of it, and ate that blessed bread with avidity. What fervent thanks did they not return to Him who had so favored them! The same joy fills the heart of the generous young man or woman after the reception of the body of the Lord. You have felt this; it is the greatest consolation and the most exquisite enjoyment of your life. Many there are who do not realize what they do, and are cold and indevout. To them communion is without consolation; they go, perhaps from habit or because their companions of a sodality are going in a body, but not that they really hunger after this Bread of life. It is related of a young man, whose wicked parents did not wish him to go to communion, that by some means he eluded their vigilance, and at the very dawn, when no one in the house was yet stirring, he would hasten to first Mass and go to communion; then making his thanksgiving on his way back, he went to bed again before any one had noticed his absence. This young man appreciated the happiness of holy communion. Let us approach this sacred banquet and eat our fill; we will derive strength and endurance from it. If Our Lord sees us approach with affection, He will return love for love and be the greatest friend we have.
But you, smaller children, my lambs, who have not yet had the happiness of drawing so closely to Our Lord, look forward to the day of your first communion; you are now learning the teachings of the Church concerning the real presence; you are beginning to distinguish this Bread of angels from ordinary bread, and as soon as you reach the use of reason you will be admitted to the divine festival. Be anxious to know your holy faith by learning the Catechism; try to realize that it is Jesus you are going to receive, and begin now to form in your heart sentiments of great love and desire.
Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, when a young child, had a great desire to go to communion; but she was denied the happiness because she was not old enough. She had a great knowledge of Jesus on the altar in the Blessed Sacrament, and spent hours on her knees in the church. At one time her mother went to communion and little Magdalen saw her. How beautiful her mother looked! The child was so struck at the sight that she begged to be allowed to make her first communion, that she, too, might feel that great happiness. She afterwards called the days of communion days of love.
I cannot persuade myself even now to cease speaking of the Blessed Sacrament. Approach the altar with exterior as well as interior reverence and holy fear. Let the world, your companions and the parish, see that you realize the sacred act in which you are engaged. Your mind must be centred on the great God whom you are to receive, and you certainly know that you owe Him fervent love and holy fear. St. Thomas a Kempis, in his ” Following of Christ,” says, “If you had the purity of the angels or the sanctity of a John the Baptist, you would not be worthy to touch this Holy Sacrament.” Holy men and women know that they are not good enough to go to communion; still they go because Our Lord draws them to it. With what severity they judge themselves and make their confession, so that every stain of sin may be effaced! It is a dreadful action to go to Jesus and receive Him who is the God of the universe.
After this great number of people had been fed, they were enthusiastic; they wished to take Jesus and make Him their king. But Our Lord wanted no temporal dominions, so He hid Himself from them. He wishes to be king of your heart. After having received Our Lord, it is your duty to make Him the king and master of your soul. Be faithful to Him, be not a disciple like Judas, who betrayed Him. No longer allow the devil to have the direction of your actions. Let Our Lord alone have His throne there, Jesus the good Master, the Prince of peace, the God of joy and of all consolation. A great missionary once laying his finger on a wicked man's heart asked, “Who reigns in this heart, God or the devil?” Ask yourselves the same question, and your conscience will give the answer; in fact, you know it already, if you are in real earnest about your eternal welfare. (2)
Image: Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves of bread and two fish, Artist: Bernardo Strozzi, circa: early 1600s
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff