Mothering Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Although it is often called ‘Mothers’ Day’, it has no connection with the American festival of that name.
Traditionally, it was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants, were given a day off to visit their mother and family. Today it is a day when children and adults give presents, flowers, and home-made cards to their mothers and Christians celebrate the nurturing role of the Church as our ‘Mother’, the loving Motherhood of the Virgin Mary as Mother of Jesus and Mother of all Christian believers and the unique roles of both biological and other ‘mother-figures’ in our lives as human beings today.
History of Mothering Sunday
Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worship at their nearest parish or ‘daughter church’. Centuries ago it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. So each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit their ‘mother’ church – the main church or cathedral of the area. Inevitably the return to the ‘mother’ church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. (It was quite common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old.) And most historians think that it was the return to the ‘Mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their mother and family. As they walked along the country lanes, children would pick wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is also known as ‘Refreshment Sunday’ in reference to its ‘mid-point’ of Lent when a certain relaxation of the strict fasting rules is/was permitted. Flowers may feature in the Liturgy, the Organ may be played other than to ‘sustain singing’, the liturgical colour may be Rose (and not Purple/Violet as in the other weeks of Lent) and a little ‘refreshment’ in diet and spirit is encouraged to spur us on all the more for the ‘latter’ part of the Forty Days leading into Holy Week and Easter.
We can see three interconnected themes in this Fourth Sunday of Lent.
(a) An expression of love for our biological and other ‘mother’ figures in our lives.
(b) Thankfulness for the presence of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, in the Church – both as the Mother of the Lord and mother to all who follow the way of Her Son.
(c) The teaching that the Church is a ‘Mother’ to all believers. This is inspired by its name ‘Laetare’ (Latin word for ‘Rejoice’) which comes from the Introit of the Day and points to the Book of Common Prayer (1662) Epistle Reading of the Day (Gal 4:21-31) which contains the reference to ‘Jerusalem above which is the mother of us all’ and reminds us that the nurture in Faith we receive as part of the Church’s fellowship (from ‘Mother Church’) encourages us to see that we are all called to be signposts to Christ through our sharing in the Paschal Mystery day by day.
Mothering Sunday is a day of many themes, many moods. Add some Simnel Cake (another tradition of Mothering Sunday)
and we have much to consider and give thanks for as we reach this moment of ‘refreshment’ on our way to Holy Week and Easter.
(c) the BBC Religions Dept and further notes by Fr David