Mothering Sunday - all the things you didn't know

Posted by Les Ellison  ·  Be the first to comment

Giving flowers to mothers hasn’t always been the principle activity of the fourth Sunday in Lent. The day that marks the halfway point between lean times that follow Ash Wednesday and the celebratory feasting of Easter Sunday has had many other points of focus over the centuries.

Traditionally the fourth Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday was used in earliest times as day of light relief in the austere Lenten fast. For this reason known as Refreshment Sunday, fasting rules were slightly eased and even weddings were permitted to cheer the congregation and encourage them in their fast.

Laetare Sunday and Rose Sunday

In the liturgical calendar, the fourth Sunday of Lent was named Laetare Sunday. From the traditional Latin introit ‘Laetare Jerusalem’ (O be joyful, Jerusalem) it was a parallel day to Advent’s ‘Gaudete Sunday’ when the priest could wear more celebratory robes than the Lenten violet and flowers could be placed on the high alter.

In the Middle Ages, Mid Lent Sunday would also be know as Rose Sunday; celebrated as the day the pope sent golden roses as blessings for Catholic sovereigns. In pre-Vatican II times, the Mass for Mothering Sunday would include the passage about the miracle of the multiplication and the day celebrated as the ‘Sunday of the Five Loaves’.

Mid Lent Sunday’s best loved designation of Mothering Sunday acquired the sixteenth century tradition of ‘a-mothering’. On this Sunday people would return to the ‘mother church’, often the nearest large church or cathedral.

Demise of Mothering Sunday: the rise of Mother's Day

In the following centuries, Mothering Sunday became established as a day for families to reunite, celebrate and honour their mothers as the focus of the family. The demise of Mothering Sunday in the social upheaval of the early twentieth century was halted and reversed by two unrelated women’s campaigns, one on ach side of the Atlantic.

In the UK, Mothering Sunday might have passed completely out of modern life except for the daughter of Nottingham vicar, Constance Penswick-Smith. Her 1921 book inspired the ‘Mothering Sunday Movement’ which pressed for the revival of the Mothering Sunday tradition.

In the US, women’s activist Julia Ward Howe, and another Ann Jarvis, separately established ‘Mother’s Friendship Days’ to reunite families divided by the horrors and losses of the American Civil War. On 8 May 1914, Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day in honour of mothers whose sons had died in war.

The mixing of American and British cultures in the years that followed World War Two led directly to the modern, American style of Mother’s Day celebrations on the ancient traditional Mothering Sunday of the English church.

Mothering Sunday: the trivia files

The other names attributed to the day celebrated as Mothering Sunday include Pudding Pie Sunday, as celebrated in the county of Surrey, England.

Over to You

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Mothering Sunday as celebrated in the UK is a combination of many changing traditions as each culture adapts it to its own times and needs. Some of the oldest Christian festivals and their dates are adaptations and reinterpretations of ancient customs and feasts.

  • Do you think its important that Christian feast and festivals change with the times, or should we more less inclined to bow to the pressures of the age?
  • How can the church keep its festivals and feasts relevant to what goes on in society and use ‘secular’ high days and holidays to tell its story to the modern world?

 Tell us. Post your ideas, views and tips - beautiful, bizarre and brilliant at

12th March

March 12th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison

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