Celebrating the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Posted by Timothy O'Malley on Mar 20, 2020 1:24:36 PM
Timothy O'Malley

OMalley Laetare Sunday title

Editorial Note: This post is part of a series intended for Catholics who are unable to participate in public celebrations of the Eucharist because of restrictions around COVID-19. Through prayerful reflection on the proper texts of the Mass each Sunday, we may still receive the fruits of Eucharistic communion.

Entrance Antiphon

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.
Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast. (cf. Isaiah 66:10–11)

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday) receives its name from the Latin word for “rejoice.” Many of us undoubtedly remember that this is the Sunday when rose is worn by the priest, when flowers once again decorate what was otherwise a barren sanctuary.

A posture of joy may be the last thing many of us desire to assume right now, quarantined in our homes, afraid of the illness that could afflict our families and friends. Not a few of us are afraid of losing our jobs, concerned that we won’t be able to pay our bills. Many of us are experiencing isolation right now, longing for just a bit of contact with our neighbors, our coworkers, and our friends.  

And yet, the Church calls us mourners to rejoice. Christian joy does not mean denying the existence of sorrow. Rather, Christian joy is our recognition that the world is meaningful, a space created for love rather than meaningless hatred or despair.

We lift up our heads to praise the living God, joyfully, because God has loved us into existence, redeemed us through the Death and Resurrection of the Son, and still is present through the power of the Holy Spirit, even as we suffer the minor and major tragedies of life.

Therefore, this Sunday, let us rejoice. Such rejoicing should not be a stoic disregard for the suffering so evident in our world. Rather, the rejoicing that breaks forth from our lips is the expression of hope. God is like a tender mother, who gathers her children into her arms, consoling us as a mom calms a newborn babe. We rejoice that this God exists.

If we take up this posture of rejoicing, we may begin to see anew why there are reasons for us to rejoice right now, even in our quarantined state. Time spent with family (even if it’s digitally mediated), concern for our neighbor, the sacrifice of many Americans for the common good, and even a deeper longing for the Eucharist that dwells in the hearts of so many Catholics unable to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord right now. 


O God, who through your Word
reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray,
that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten
toward the solemn celebrations to come.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

The Collect, or Opening Prayer, has a structure particular to Latin prayer texts in the Roman rite of the Mass. If we recognize this structure, we’re better able to attune ourselves to praying it. The Collect is addressed to God (You), remembers what God has accomplished in the past (Who), asks God to act in our day (Do), and locates our prayer in communion with the Blessed Trinity (Through).

The Collect for this Sunday remembers the reconciliation of the human race (humani generis) to God through the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Word. The text embodies the spirit of joy that the Entrance Antiphon invited us to take up. The redemption accomplished through the Word is wondrous (mirabiliter). The wonder of this redemption is that, although prophets spoke of the coming of the Messiah, no one could imagine the tender mercy that God would show to men and women through the Incarnation of the Word made flesh. How wondrous that God has joined himself in love to the human family through the Son, how marvelous that this God is still present among us in the Scriptures, in the poor, and in the Blessed Sacrament. 

The wondrous quality of this redemption provides a correction to an improper way of celebrating the Lenten season. The Latin words of this prayer recall movement. We are to possess prompt devotion (prompta devotione), as well as eager or brisk faith (alacri fide). You could almost imagine Lent, in this prayer, not as a time for quiet reflection but an occasion for quick movement—a conversion that requires the sort of immediate energy given to the most urgent projects. We do not fast, give alms, and pray as a program of gradual spiritual self-improvement. Rather, these practices allow us to run forth in joy, to assemble before the empty tomb on Easter morning.

The solemn celebrations that are to come are not only the celebration of a single Easter morning, where we stuff ourselves on chocolate and other festive foods. The “thing that is coming” (ventura) is not only Easter Day but the Resurrection of our Lord. This Resurrection is the final judgment for all of us, where God manifests the plan hidden from the foundation of the world—love is greater than death.  

Many of our churches are shuttered this Sunday, and most likely, even for Easter Sunday. But the Resurrection of our Lord comes. In our Lenten practices, celebrated even in the privacy of our homes, we run forth to greet the Lord who comes to us.

Easter is coming. Better get ready.


1 Samuel 16:1b, 6–7, 10–13a
Psalm 23:1–3a, 3b–4, 5, 6
Ephesians 5:8–14
John 9:1–41

For a commentary on these readings, see Our Sunday Visitor’s weekly column on the Sunday Scriptures, Opening the Word.  

Prayer Over the Offerings 

We place before you with joy these offerings,
which bring eternal remedy, O Lord,
praying that we may both faithfully revere them
and present them to you, as is fitting,
for the salvation of all the world.
Through Christ our Lord.

The priest offers this prayer over the gifts before the Eucharistic Prayer. The bread and wine that we offer on the altar look just like bread and wine. But they’re already destined for something more. This bread and wine will become Christ’s Body and Blood, offering to men and women an eternal remedy for sin. The naked eye alone cannot see this. Instead, the way that we recognize what is offered in these gifts, what they will become through the power of the Spirit, is reverence.

Such reverence is possible, even though we will not be able to kneel this day in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. In our living rooms, let us kneel before our televisions. Let us recognize that the sacrifice offered on that altar contributes to the salvation of the world, even if we’re not present.

In our little corner of the world, wherever that is, somewhere Christ is adored in a tabernacle. In our little corner of the world, the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice is being celebrated every day. We may not be present for the sacrifice this Sunday. But we can offer ourselves joyfully by making our lives an offering back to the Father. As you prepare to celebrate the Eucharist this Sunday, think about what you desire to offer on that altar. Know that in offering this bread and wine to the Father, your life is also part of that offering.

Eucharistic Preface 

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

By the mystery of the Incarnation,
he has led the human race that walked in darkness
into the radiance of the faith
and has brought those born in slavery to ancient sin
through the waters of regeneration
to make them your adopted children.

Therefore, all creatures of heaven and earth
sing a new song in adoration,
and we, with all the hosts of Angels,
cry out, and without end acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy . . .

Since the reforms of Vatican II, the Roman rite has expanded the number of Prefaces that take place immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer. These different Prefaces invite the one praying to focus on a specific dimension of salvation.

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Preface offers a way of understanding our relationship to the man born blind from the Gospel of John. Christ is the light that has shone into the darkness of death and despair. Through the enfleshment of the Word, we have come to know what it means now to be both God and human. God is the one who tenderly cares for us, bending down in mud and dust to heal us. And yet, Jesus also reveals to us what it means to be human. We know that human life is not about power and prestige, might defeating right, but self-emptying love. To be human is to adore Jesus. After all, that’s what the man born blind does, he throws himself down before our Lord.

The prayer also references the illumination given through the sacrament of Baptism. There is a solemn bitterness for many in listening to this Preface this Sunday, as many churches are shuttered and public celebrations of the Easter Vigil have been canceled. This Easter Sunday, we won’t likely have new Christians. We’ll have to wait for the right time, for a safer time, for the heavenly birth of new Christians into our midst.

This waiting can become a gift for both catechumens and baptized Christians. For the catechumens, the extra time can become an occasion for deeper longing. You didn’t expect to wait this long to be born into new life, to receive the chrism of salvation, to eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood. But now you’re waiting. You should understand this delay like a pause in music. This pause is not meaningless but contributes to the overall shape of the piece. Let your delay be as fruitful as a musical rest, an opportunity to further prepare to receive the light of Christ that will come through the sacramental life.

For the rest of us, we should remember what a gift our Baptism is. We have received the heavenly light. We walk in this light, even now, even when we’re apart from our parish families. As baptized Catholics, we are made to consecrate all of creation, to offer everything back to God. On this Sunday, when we do not celebrate the Mass in our parishes, we can still consecrate this world back to God. To walk in light means caring for our kids, checking in on the lonely or elderly in our neighborhoods, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours as a family or group of friends, to give money to those who are in desperate need, and to bless our children as we go to bed.

So, while we may not be at Mass, we can still join the choirs of angels, adoring the risen Lord. We may not be able to sing the Sanctus in the assembly, but we can sing it with our lives. Let us bend the knee before the Blessed Sacrament this Sunday, even if it’s on television, and take up the adoring posture of the man born blind.

Prayer After Communion

O God, who enlighten everyone who comes into this world,
illuminate our hearts, we pray,
with the splendor of your grace,
that we may always ponder
what is worthy and pleasing to your majesty
and love you in all sincerity.
Through Christ our Lord.

During this quarantine, we are asked to take up spiritual communion. The Prayer After Communion can direct our hearts to further ask for this communion. God has enlightened the whole human race through the creation and redemption of the world. As our televisions turn off, as we no longer hear the hymns of praise on television, our communion with God is not over. Pondering the splendor of grace right now should be especially easy for many of us. How much we long to unite ourselves with our Lord, to eat and drink his Body and Blood. Maybe we had grown used to this gift of love. It had become habitual. We would receive the Eucharist and let our minds turn elsewhere.

The longing we now have for the Eucharist, then, is something that we should let sink into our very flesh. Each day, over the course of this next week, ponder how much you miss dwelling in the Eucharistic presence of the Lord. Think about how much you miss singing hymns of praise in your parish church, or dwelling together in communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t dismiss this longing; meditate on it. The more you let this longing increase, to hunger and thirst for the light of the world, the more you’ll open yourself to a Eucharistic longing that will bear fruit in your home.

Prayer Over the People

Look upon those who call to you, O Lord,
and sustain the weak;
give life by your unfailing light
to those who walk in the shadow of death,
and bring those rescued by your mercy from every evil
to reach the highest good.
Through Christ our Lord.

If anything, this pandemic should remind us that evil exists. Men and women throughout the world are walking in the shadow of death. Let us remember this week especially those who are lonely, cut off from communion with family and friends. Let us remember those dying this day in hospital beds, longing for just a bit of care. Let us remember those health care workers who are serving the ill right now, risking their lives for others.

This contagion is a real evil. It is right and just that we ask God to be rescued from it, to be protected from death. And let us also pray that those who have died be brought into the light and peace of the Good Physician who heals every ill.

Questions for Discussion

The questions below are intended to help you reflect on the texts for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. If you can’t discuss them in person with family or friends, talk about them with a loved one over the phone or through some other form of digital media.

  1. What do you see as markers of Christian joy? In your experience, how is joy different from happiness or optimism?

  2. What blessings have you experienced over the last week that have offered you a reason to rejoice? What makes it hard for you to recognize the joy that comes from Christ?

  3. How have your practices this Lent in the time of COVID-19 enabled you to run forth to greet Christ? Where do you need to change or recommit yourself to these practices so that you’re prepared to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord?
  4. What light has this pandemic shed for you about human life? In the midst of so much tragedy, where have you seen the presence of Christ, the light of the world, perhaps even in surprising ways?

  5. Make a list of the small sacrifices you have made this week as a family or as an individual person. Each morning, ask God to accept these offerings as a sign of your love and fidelity. 

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Topics: Eucharist, Lent, liturgy, Mass, coronavirus, COVID-19 Resources

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