In Common Worship (2000), the alternative to The Book of Common Prayer (1662) in the C of E., there is provision on Lent 4 to forget about Lent and to celebrate instead what is called “Mothering Sunday”.
I suspect that the reason for this provision is the great gain that what is called “Mother’s Day” or “Mothers Day” has made in British Society and business. Everywhere there are adverts to send flowers, to send cards, to buy presents and to go out for a special meal. And this has been going on for three decades or more.
In the Western Church, Lent 4 has been given a variety of names over the centuries --- the mid-Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (after the Latin Introit to the Mass), Refreshment Sunday (after the Gospel for the Day in the BCP which is the feeding of the 5,000) and Mothering Sunday (after the Epistle for the Day in the BCP which includes the words, “Jerusalem above which is our mother”).
Somehow, somewhere, someone saw the word “Mothering” and took the opportunity to change it to “Mother’s” and then business took over. In the USA the Second Sunday in May was chosen for Mother’s Day because of the separation of Church and State there. In Great Britain a variable day has been chosen because this allows the extra dimension for commerce and industry of using an ancient Christian tradition for financial ends. It would have been far better for the Church if the American pattern had been followed in Britain. If there is to be a Mother’s Day ( and a Father’s Day and a Grandparent’s Day etc) let them not be in Lent or on any special holy day.
Having been invaded by the commercial Mother’s Day, the Church of England has done its best to re-capture something of a Christian idea in it. So officially it still uses the archaic word, “Mothering” in order to seem ancient and traditional, and clergy tell people who ask that really the C of E has been keeping “Mother’s Day” for a long time, for did not Victorian servant girls get this Sunday off to go home to see mother? (They do not usually mention the older tradition of visiting the mother church of the diocese by men and women on this Sunday, Lent 4.)
The Liturgical Commission via the General Synod has sought to christianize Mother’s Day by providing a Collect and a Post Communion Prayer for this Day, as alternatives to the Collect and Post-Communion for Lent 4. Both of these Prayers have a certain artificiality to them and reflect the effort to find something relevant to pray about on Mother’s Day in church, when as we all know the celebration is of human motherhood (to the embarrassment of spinsters and the childless).
The Collect describes Jesus as “the child of Mary who shared the life of a home in Nazareth and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself”. Here there is a big effort to get in the themes of child, home and family, although it is to be fervently desired that Jesus did more on his Cross than merely draw the human family to himself. (For us and for our salvation he suffered and died and offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world!)
The Post-Communion Prayer addresses the God of love, who in this sacrament feeds us with the food and drink of eternal life, and then adds “even as a mother feeds her children at the breast”. Here it is God who is presented as like a or even as a mother; but, it is the Church as our Mother who feeds us and nourishes us with the body and blood of the Son of God. God is our Father and the Church is our Mother and (as a simile) Scripture allows us to compare God to a compassionate mother who takes us into her care. For Mothering Sunday it seems that the idea is being sown that God is our Mother (and as we also say the Lord’s Prayer) as our Father also! If so this is heresy! There is a world of difference between a proper name and a simile.
So I conclude that these two Prayers merely help to add to the confusion that has occurred by the Church refusing to stay wholly and truly with Lent 4 and seeking to outdo the world by taking on board Mother’s Day via the old word, “Mothering” whose religious connection was clearly with the Church as our mother and thus with the B.V.M. and her unique motherhood The filling of Lent 4 with the secular theme of Mother’s Day is a perfect example of the Church being in the world and being OF the world! Here a good thing – motherhood – is wrongly used to the loss of the great theme and discipline of Lent. It is surely best for churches to leave Mother’s Day aside and stay with Lent 4. but where most Anglicans are nominal Christians it is likely that Mother’s Day will over-ride Lent!
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.),
Christ Church, Biddulph Moor & St Anne's, Brown Edge