The tradition is directly tied to the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
During Pope Francis’ pontificate, he has handed out a total of four “Golden Roses.” These roses have been given to various Marian shrines, such as those associated with Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The rose is highly symbolic in nature and has direct ties to the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
According to Fr. William J. Barry in his book, The Sacramentals of the Holy Catholic Church, the gift was originally blessed on Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, when the Church briefly anticipates the joy of Easter by wearing rose colored vestments and encourages the congregation to “Rejoice!”
The blessing reflects this joy and calls down God’s blessing on those who will receive them.
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.
Originally these roses were sent to kings, queens, princesses and princes. It was a gesture that was rich in symbolism, as Fr. Barry explains in his book.
The papal gift reminds its royal recipient that the lustre of his virtue ought to be like the glitter of gold among metals and the brilliancy of the rose among flowers. Balsam, mixed with musk, is poured over the Golden Rose to teach the sovereign that his lofty station requires him to spread abroad the sweet odor of royal virtue, and that, like balm, he ought to heal up the wounds of the State, and, as it does for material bodies, preserve the political body from corruption.
The last royal leader to receive it was Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, and since the pontificate of Pope Paul VI, each pope has given the gift as a special honor to various Marian shrines across the world, honoring the Queen of Heaven.
It is a tradition that has a long history that has changed over the centuries, but continues to be a gesture connected to the joy of the Christian life.