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Mothering Sunday: A Lenten IV Reflection The Church As "Mother".

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

What is Mothering Sunday? Mothering Sunday can best be described as a holiday which is observed by both Catholic and Protestant Christians, especially of European descent. It rests on the fourth Sunday in Lent, precisely three weeks before Easter day. Traditionally it was seen as both a day in which people would return to their mother church, as well as an opportunity to honour mothers in general. This, of course, should not to be confused with the secular holiday known as Mother's Day celebrated in a number of western cultures.

It was during the sixteenth century that people began to return to their 'Mother Church' for services held on Laetare Sunday. This was, and still is, a day when the normal rigours of Lent was relaxed. The Vestments were rose coloured and there were flowers placed about the church. It was a day of 'Hope' with the promise of Easter soon in sight.

At that time it was understood that ones 'Mother Church' was the place where they were baptized, or where there was a strong familial connection. Mothering Sunday also became a day when the serving class were given a day off to visit their particular 'Mother Church'; quite often with family members. It was truly a rare opportunity for people to come together.

There are a number of English traditions that are associated with 'Mothering Sunday'. In some Church of England parishes, it is the only day in Lent when marriages can be celebrated. There is also the practice of 'clipping the church'. This is when the congregation form a ring around the church building by holding hands and embracing it. Also, during some church services, a little bunch of flowers are given to the children to present to their mothers.

Of course, there is the Simnel Cake, which is a traditional confection associated with both Mothering Sunday and Easter. There are also the Mothering Sunday Buns, which are sweet buns covered on top with pink or white icing with multi-coloured sprinkles. In northern England and Scotland some prefer “Carlings”, pancakes made of steeped peas fried in butter.

By the early 20th century the celebration of Mothering Sunday was beginning to fade and people began to celebrate Mother's Day on the same day as Mothering Sunday. The two celebrations became intertwined resulting in many people thinking they are quite literally the same thing. In spite of this, Mothering Sunday continues to hold a special place in the heart of traditional Anglicans and it remains on the calendar of some Canadian Anglican churches, particularly those with strong English connections.

Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all. (Galatians 4:26)

As mentioned earlier, in days of past when family members moved away, they would on occasion return home to visit their family, especially their father and mother. Since the Church was central to their family life, it was not unusual for the local parish to be part of such pilgrimages. It was a demonstration of their faith and loyalty, to not only their parents and siblings, but also to their faith community, their church family.

As a matter of fact it was customary to speak of the Church as 'Mother Church' and for many Catholic-minded Anglicans, the Blessed Virgin Mary was the Mother of us all. Why? Because like her we shared in the life of her son, Jesus Christ.

Thus, we honour our Mothers, the Virgin Mary, and the Church as our nurturers, as the ones who fed us and kept us on the right path in life. It is because of this we recognize the very feminine nature of the Church. It is truly self-evident.

It is in this particular relationship, of the Church as "Mother", that the faithful share in the Mission of the Church; that being the real presence of Jesus Christ working out His redemption in the world. We are the Body of Christ. We are the manifestation of that eternal reality, both in time and space; a truly glorious transformative experience.

Finally, I would like to remind you of what his Holiness Pope Francis said in his homily of September 15th, 2015 with regard to the Church as mother. He said, “the Church is our mother. She is our "Holy Mother Church" that is generated through our baptism, makes us grow up in her community and has that motherly attitude, of meekness and goodness: Our Mother Mary and our Mother Church know how to caress their children and show tenderness. To think of the Church without that motherly feeling is to think of a rigid association, an association without human warmth, an orphan.”

As Catholics, we share fully in this wonderful deposit of Faith. The Right Rev. Robert Crawley SSC, pointed this out in his Tract, Mother Church. He noted that even though many, in these tumultuous times, choose to ignore the wisdom and guidance that the Church possesses, like a loving mother, She will not abandon Her children.

The Christian, with the guidance of 'Mother Church', has already become a child of God and a true heir of the kingdom of Heaven. This has been obtained through membership in the Body of Christ; a Divine creation. And it is because of this very unique and authentic relationship that humanity has been able to form and grow as an Apostolic Church, as a Catholic Church, producing the New Testament, the sacraments, the mystery, and the creeds in the first 400 years of the Church.

It must never be forgotten that the Church is directed by God to embrace all of His children and welcome them with love. By doing so it will demonstrate the best qualities of motherhood, thereby pointing toward a ‘Mother Church’ that like God Himself genuinely loves their children.

Published on February 15th, 2018 in The Traditional Anglican News Volume 6 Issue 2 {Revised on February 21st, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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