Even pilgrim soldiers on the march occasionally lean on their spears to enjoy a glimpse of rosy-fingered dawn. Lent’s Fourth Sunday is nicknamed “Laetare … Rejoice!”, from the first word of the entrance antiphon. According to tradition and rubrics, we can have no flowers or instrumental music in church during our season of purple penance and preparation, except for today. A sign of our slight relaxation has come to be the madder-like rose or rosacea vestments used for sacred worship on this day and its counterpart in Advent. The origin of rose vestments stems from an ancient custom of the blessing of golden roses on this Sunday by the pope and their distribution to the Church’s notable servants.

The first major prayer for Holy Mass in the Ordinary Form is a new composition stitched up from an ancient prayer and a bit of a sermon by Pope St Leo I, “the Great” (d 461): “Deus, qui per Verbum tuum humani generis reconciliationem mirabiliter operaris, praesta, quaesumus, ut populus christianus prompta devotione et alacri fide ad ventura sollemnia valeat festinare.

Current ICEL translation: “Lord God, in your surpassing wisdom you reconcile man to yourself through your Word. Grant that your Christian people may come with eager faith and ready will to celebrate the Easter festival.”

Note the marvellous parings of alacer fides and prompta devotio, “eager faith” and “ready devotion”.

Fides (“faith”) can refer to the supernatural virtue bestowed in baptism and also to the content of what we believe. There is a faith by which we believe, the virtue God gives us, and a faith in which we believe, the content of the faith. Faith’s content can be both the things we study and memorise and, more importantly, the divine Person whom we must seek and lovingly contemplate.

Speaking of devotion, whereas fides is a supernatural virtue, devotio is an “active” virtue. St Thomas Aquinas wrote: “The intrinsic or human cause of devotion is contemplation or meditation. Devotion is an act of the will by which a man promptly gives himself to the service of God.” (STh II-II 82, 3). The Jesuit preacher Louis Bourdaloue (d 1704) underscored devotion as especially “a devotion to duty”.

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