Today is Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. We've passed the midpoint of Lent, and the Church offers us a little break today, substituting rose vestments for the penitential purple usually used during the Lenten season and reciting the Creed for the first time since Ash Wednesday.
If our Lenten fasting has been strenuous, now is the time for a little celebration; if we still haven't quite hit our stride, now is a good time to redouble our efforts, starting with Confession. St. John Chrysostom, in a famous Easter homily which is still read in Eastern Orthodox and many Eastern Rite Catholic churches on Easter, reminds us that it is never too late to get our spiritual house in order--both the man who has fasted from the beginning of Lent and the one who only fasts for a day or so at the end share in the joy of Easter.
In the Scripture Readings for the Fourth Week of Lent, we see the institution of the Old Testament priesthood, which, unlike the eternal priesthood of Christ, passes away. The sacrifices of the priests of Israel, too, need to be repeated again and again, but Christ's sacrifice is offered only once, then made present again on the altar at every Mass. The contrast reminds us that the Promised Land that we strive for, unlike the one to which Moses led the Israelites, will never pass away.
Laetare, the first word (in Latin) of the Introit or entrance antiphon for this Sunday, means "Rejoice." Drawn from Isaiah 66:10-11, the entrance antiphon is an expression of our joy:
Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts.
This little reminder of our heavenly destiny refreshes us, as we prepare for the final three weeks before Easter 2014.