Mothering Sunday is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. It is an old, somewhat odd, and uniquely Anglican tradition we’ve inherited from the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion-the Church of England. As with many old customs it has acquired many layers of meanings over time.
The Church – Our Spiritual Mother
Mothering Sunday originated in the Middle Ages where it was the custom for people to visit their home parish church or their cathedral – the “mother church” of the dioceses on this day. Mothering Sunday received its name from the scripture read in church that day. The epistle reading in both the mediaeval Latin Mass and Archbishop Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer (1549) reads “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the Mother of us all.” The ancient city of Jerusalem is literally the mother church of all Christians. For the early Christians Jerusalem (the “New Jerusalem”) is a metaphor for the Church as a mother whose children are born free in Christ (see Galatians 4:1-31 for full context). Just as a mother gives birth, feeds, and nurtures her children, so too the Church as a spiritual mother brings forth new life in Baptism, feeds her family with the Eucharist, and nurtures them with the wisdom her Scriptures and Tradition. St. Cyprian (AD. c.300-358) wrote that “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother”. The Anglican Divines of the 16th and 17th centuries faithful to the teaching of the Church Fathers frequently addressed the Church as Mother in poetry, hymns and theology. John Donne (Anglican priest, poet and theologian 1572-1631) wrote, “And God gave me the light of faith when I was quickened [given life] in my second mother’s womb, the Church, by receiving my Baptism.”
The poem ‘The British Church’ also takes up this imagery:
George Herbert (Anglican priest and poet, 1593-1633)
When the sun sets on Holy Saturday and the Church gathers for the Great Vigil of Easter, the resurrection of Christ is proclaimed as we sing “Rejoice O Mother Church! Exult in glory! The risen Saviour shines upon you!” (‘The Exsultet,’ Book of Alternative Services, p. 323).
Worship for Mothering Sunday
March 10th, at 7:00 p.m.; Reception to follow in John West Hall
Sunday evening, St. John’s Cathedral will welcome the Rupert’s Land Diocesan community for the annual Mothering Sunday Service. Bishop Don will preside; Dean Paul will be the preacher. This Eucharist will also include the affirmation of baptismal promises and ordination vows, as well as the blessing of oils by the Bishop for distribution to Diocesan parishes. All are welcome.
Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman [Sarah] corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:24-26)
Thanks be to God!