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Mothering Sunday

yellow daffodils in a glass mug on a wooden table

Sunday 10th March
Year B: The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Liturgical Colour: Purple or Lent array or Rose


  • Psalm 34: 11-20 or Psalm 127: 1-4
  • Exodus 2.1-10 or 1 Samuel 1: 20-28
  • 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7 or Colossians 3: 12-17
  • Luke 2: 33-35 or John 19: 25b-27


The date of Mother’s Day varies each year and around the world. Most countries celebrate it in May, although some mark the occasion on March 8th, International Women’s Day.

Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day are celebrated on the same day in the UK and sound very similar. However, whereas Mothering Sunday dates back to medieval times and is a day for honouring a person’s ‘mother church’ i.e. the place where they were baptised and became a child of the church, the more modern celebration of Mothers’ Day honours a person’s earthy mother. It is easy to see how they have become conflated though.

Traditionally on this Sunday, those in domestic service were given the day off to visit their own mother church, and as that was usually in their home town, it also became an occasion to visit their families. No doubt wild flowers were picked on the journey home to give to their mothers.

Today is given lots of other names too. For example, Laetare Sunday. Laetare is Latin for rejoice, which is the first word of scripture traditionally used at the beginning of services this day. It is from Isaiah 66.10-11 (Rejoice with Jerusalem…) This draws upon metaphors of motherhood, as do the readings for the day, which also include accounts of biblical mothers. 

In Catholic tradition, today is also known as Rose Sunday, either after the golden roses given by popes as special gifts to the selected few, or the pink robes (a lighter shade of Lenten purple) worn today.

A lighter shade of Lent is very apt. We are now a good way into Lent and this day has become a bit of a celebration where rules are relaxed for those who observe the disciplines of the season rigidly. Consequently, other names for today are Refreshment Sunday or Simnel Sunday after the cakes traditionally baked on this day. (They are now more associated with Easter – either way, here is a recipe!) Also, in a similar colour range, violets were distributed in church for children to give to their mothers, although of course, cheery daffodils are more popular these days.


Today is remembered differently then: as a celebration of our mother church or Cathedral; in thankfulness of our earthly mothers; for some with reverence to Mary the mother of Jesus, and more recently; in appreciation of Mother Earth.

It can be a bittersweet day, celebrated by some with love, gratitude and thankfulness and ‘got through’ by others with more mixed feelings, regret and loneliness.

No one can be or have had a perfect mother, whatever that might mean! Indeed as D. Winnicott reminds us ‘good enough’ is more than good enough, especially if it means responding sufficiently to a child to make them feel safe and secure, but not so much as to smother them and deny them independence. This is modelled well in our readings today.

Of course, a perfect mother would be God, which is just what Julian of Norwich suggests is the case:

‘God is our Mother as truly as he is our Father; and he showed this in everything, and especially, in the sweet words where he says, ‘It is I,’ that is to say, ‘It is I: the power and goodness of fatherhood. It is I: the wisdom of motherhood. It is I: the light and grace which is all blessed love. It is I: the unity. I am the sovereign goodness of all manner of things. It is I that make you love. It is I that make you long. It is I: the eternal fulfilment of all true desires.’
(From “Revelations of Divine Love” by Juliana of Norwich (1342-1416), (LIX, LXXXVI)

So what?

I wonder how we can make sure that everyone coming to a service today feels included and loved? I wonder too what we can learn from the experience of earthly mothers and the idea of God as mother to help us in our ministry?  What do you think?