The Tradition of the Rosa d'Oro (Golden Rose) of Laetare Sunday

The tradition of the golden rose, or rosa d'oro, is one that many may not be familiar with. It is, precisely as the name suggests, a rose fashioned in gold which, for centuries, popes would confer as a gift upon royals and nobles, even cities, that had demonstrated a particular character of dedication to the Faith. It would eventually also come to be bestowed upon important important churches and shrines -- and since the 1960's, that is almost exclusively who these are offered to (if they are offered at all). 

These golden roses were traditionally and symbolically blessed on Laetare Siunday -- the 'rose Sunday' of the Lenten season -- in the stational church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. The pope would preach on its symbolism and it was then carried in procession by the pope. Originally the form of this golden rose was manifest as a single rose tinted in rose coloured gold, however the modern form, established by Pope Sixtus IV (+1484), is effectively that of a cluster of roses made of yellow gold and ornamented by precious stones. 

The modern form also includes a place in which the Roman pontiff pours a fragrant musk and balsam to thus given not only the appearance of a rose, but also a sweet fragrance.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the solemn ceremony of its blessing:

Originally the rose was blessed in the Hall of Vestments (sacristy) in the palace where the pope was; but the solemn Mass and the donation of the rose took place in the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.. The blessing of the rose now takes place in the Hall of Vestments (camera dei parimenti) and the solemn Mass in the papal [Sistine] chapel. The rose is placed on a table with lighted candles, and the pope, vested in alb and rose-coloured stole and cope with precious mitre on his head, begins the ceremony with the usual versicles and the following beautiful and expressive prayer: "O God! by Whose word and power all things have been created, by Whose will all things are directed, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty, Who art the joy and gladness of all the faithful, that Thou wouldst deign in Thy fatherly love to bless and sanctify this rose, most delightful in odour and appearance, which we this day carry in sign of spiritual joy, in order that the people consecrated by Thee and delivered from the yoke of Babylonian slavery through the favour of Thine only-begotten Son, Who is the glory and exultation of the people of Israel and of that Jerusalem which is our Heavenly mother, may with sincere hearts show forth their joy. Wherefore, O Lord, on this day, when the Church exults in Thy name and manifests her joy by this sign [the rose], confer upon us through her true and perfect joy and accepting her devotion of today; do Thou remit sin, strengthen faith, increase piety, protect her in Thy mercy, drive away all things adverse to her and make her ways safe and prosperous, so that Thy Church, as the fruit of good works, may unite in giving forth the perfume of the ointment of that flower sprung from the root of Jesse and which is the mystical flower of the field and lily of the valleys, and remain happy without end in eternal glory together with all the saints." The prayer finished, the pope puts incense (handed by the cardinal-deacon) into the censer and incenses the balsam and then the musk, and afterwards puts the balsam and powdered musk into the tiny cup in the heart of the principal rose. He then incenses the rose and sprinkles it with holy water. It is then given to the youngest cleric of the Camera, who carries it in front of the pope to the chapel, where it is placed on the altar at the foot of the cross upon a richly embroidered silk veil, where it remains during the Mass sung by the first cardinal-priest. After the Mass, the rose is carried in procession before the pope to the sacristy, where it is carefully put away in a place set apart for it, until bestowed upon some worthy personage.

The precise origins of this custom is not known, but already in the mid-eleventh century a pope spoke of it being an ancient tradition. 

Here are a couple of modern examples of the beautiful rosa d'oro

Golden Rose of Pope Benedict XIII, 1729

Golden Rose of Pius VIII, 1830

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