The Fourth Sunday Of Lent

March 25, 2017 Column Father De Celles

Laetare Sunday and Counting the Days. Today we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Lent, “Laetare Sunday,” the traditional midpoint of the penitential season. Now, we usually speak of Lent as being 40 days. But the calendar indicates that there are actually 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (inclusive). However, the counting of the 40 days has never included the 6 Sundays of Lent, because, historically, the 40 days were always days of modified fasting, and Sunday was never a day of fast since it is the Lord’s Day.

However, that count of 40 days is thrown off if we remember that Lent actually doesn’t end on Easter Sunday, but on Holy Thursday evening when the Season of the Triduum begins, the three days “touched” by the Lord’s Passion and Death (Holy Thursday evening, Good Friday and Holy Saturday). That leaves us with 38 days, if we count Holy Thursday in calculating the days of Lent (which we do). Even so, the Triduum retains the penitential character of Lent, so there are still the 40 penitential days. Confused? Sorry.

Laetare Sunday is, as I noted above, the “traditional midpoint” of Lent. But, again, if you look at the numbers, there are 25 days before and 20 days after the 4th Sunday of Lent, counting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, as above (25 + 20 + 1 for today = 46). So last Thursday at Midnight was, strictly speaking, the actual midpoint. However, up until the 7th century Lent began not on Ash Wednesday, but on what today is called the “1st Sunday of Lent.” Since there were 41 days from the 1st Sunday of Lent to Holy Saturday (inclusive), there were 20 days of Lent both before and after the 4th Sunday of Lent—which made it the midpoint of Lent by that calculation. Sometime in the 6th and 7th century the beginning of Lent was moved to Ash Wednesday in order to have 40 full days of fasting (the 46 calendar days – the 6 Sundays = 40). However, over time (centuries ago) the custom developed to continue to celebrate the 4th Sunday as the midpoint, with certain special liturgical recognition.

Whew. That being said, this midpoint is celebrated as “Laetare Sunday,” “laetare” meaning “rejoice.” It is considered a sort of a pause in the austerity and somberness of Lent as we remember to slightly shift our gaze to look beyond the Cross and see the Resurrection it led to; we pause in our sorrow for our lives of sin and rejoice in the forgiveness and new life won by the Paschal Mystery. The Rose Vestments symbolize this: the dark purple of repentance and sorrow mingled with the light of forgiveness and joy.


What Must We Do to be Forgiven?  In order to be forgiven our sins the Church teaches that three things are required of every sinner/penitent: 1) contrition, 2) confession of our sins, and 3) satisfaction. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches [1452-1460]:


Contrition is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again… When it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called “perfect”… Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.” Note, since it is practically impossible to be certain if we have such “perfect contrition,” so we should not presume it, and are still required to receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion if we are aware of an unconfessed mortal sin.

Most of the time contrition is usually not “perfect,“ so it is called “imperfect” (or “attrition”).” Imperfect contrition is born not from pure love of God “above all else” but “of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner…. Such a stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution. By itself however, imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance.”

Confession of sins “even from a simply human point of view, facilitates our reconciliation with others. Through such an admission man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church ….Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: ‘All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret…’ [T]hose who …knowingly withhold some, place nothing before the divine goodness for remission through the mediation of the priest,” and the absolution of the priest is not effective, no sins are forgiven.

“Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit.”

Satisfaction is the real effort to make up for our sins. “Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much.” This is called ‘making reparation.’

“But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance.’

“The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear. Such penances help configure us to Christ, who alone expiated our sins once for all.”


Islam-ist Terrorists. Every once in a while, someone objects to a petition in our Prayer of the Faithful at Sunday Mass that God protect us from “Islamic terrorists,” because, they say, “not everyone who is ‘Islamic’ is a terrorist.” The fact is, however, that such a petition has never been read at our Masses. Listen carefully: we pray that God protect us from “Islam-ist terrorists.” “Islamic” refers to all things Muslim, while “Islam-ist” commonly refers to a particular ideology of some “fundamentalist” Muslims that endorses terrorism. And I’m sure you would agree, we definitely need to pray for God’s protection from their attacks.


Oremus pro Invicem. Fr. De Celles