Wednesday, 14 February 2018 06:10

The observance of lent and the simple explanation of what it is

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The penitential season of Lent is the time of forty days beginning from Ash Wednesday until Holy Thursday before the Lord’s Supper.  It is a season in the Liturgical year which commemorates the forty days Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness before he began his public ministry.  Six Sundays are within the season with Passion Sunday marking the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday set the Triduum/three days before Easter Sunday.

Pre-Lenten Season: Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the pre-Lenten penitential season began on a Sunday three weeks before the beginning of Lent, called Septuagesima. The word Septuagesima/seventieth was supposed to be a reminder of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people, and thus of our captivity in sin. The succeeding pre-Lenten Sundays were called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. Just as in Lent, violet vestments were worn and the Alleluia was omitted from Mass. The liturgical changes initiated by the Council removed this anticipated pre-Lenten penitential season, however the Church returned to the earlier practice of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday a few Ordinary Time Sundays after Baptism of the Lord.

Carnival in Liturgy: Carnival is from the Latin Carnevale/farewell to meat. The practice of celebrating carnival began in ancient times when the Sunday before the beginning of Lent was called Dominica Carnevala Sunday when a lot of meat was eaten.      

Suggested family activities from Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent: Families can make this Tuesday a spiritual time of preparation for Lent by going to confession as a sort of spiritual cleaning up. Decision on Lenten sacrifices should be appropriate to the age and health of each person, reminding them that our souls need this spiritual exercise to gain strength for living as Christians, just as our bodies need exercise to remain healthy. Our sacrifices are like a gift offered to God which cost the giver something. Lenten spiritual preparations should not be confined to giving up but take on things such as extra prayers and acts of mercy. If a family has not yet established some form of spiritual activity, Lent is a good time to begin. Lent is a good moment established the habit of praying, assisting and fasting together as a family. Fathers and mothers can plan together what form this will take; even as simple as saying the Angelus every night after supper or reciting Psalms daily together in the evening. What ever is put aside in form of sacrifice has to be passed on in charity to those most in need.

Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast: The main current of Lent must flow through the interior of the human person, in hearts and consciences. Essentials of repentance consist in this. It is in this effort that human determination to be converted to God is invested with the predisposing grace of conversion. At the same time, forgiveness and spiritual liberation occurs. St. John Paul II recorded in a collection of his meditations, The Light of Christ, of 1979 that the attitude with which we approach observance of Lent should be clear marked as a penitential action.  Putting ashes on our foreheads is not optional but as a form of penitence inherited from Jewish tradition. The ashes imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a reminder of our unworthiness and sinfulness which corrupts stains and leads us to death.  Ashes remind us of our original sin and our need of redemption.

Fasting and Penance during Lent and beyond: The Code of Canon Law number.1250-1251 states that Fridays throughout the year and in the time of Lent are penitential days for the entire Church. Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction between health and spiritual fasting. Limiting food and drink for medical reasons is one thing but fasting as a penance has graces. Abstinence from meat and delicious meals on Fridays as the universal form of penance on all Fridays should be encouraged since there are several excuses for not fulfilling it. We may choose another way of observing the Church's requirement for acts of penance on Fridays, but we are not to neglect the original traditions for the sake of personal preferences.  Fast and abstinence are obligatory on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil.

Holiday to Alleluia and Gloria: During the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent, Gloria and Alleluia are not said or sung apart from Mass on Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil.

Suggestions for Christian families during Lent: Lent is a time for growing in faith and blessing others. Lent is a time for renewal, penance, prayer and reflection.

Fasting: The value of self-denial must be learned early in a person’s life. Lent provides excellent opportunity to teach necessities of self-denial in this permissive society. Fasting can include restriction of luxuries such as television watching, shopping and going out with friends. We can share our possessions including clothes and finances and we can volunteer our skills.

Special prayers and devotions: Going for daily Mass and praying with family members makes Lent active. Children can make memory Lent cards to be displayed prominently during the Easter season. Children can lead prayers at family meals and can read passages from the Holy Bible which help to explain the meaning of fasting and penance every day before they sleep.

For study and reflection: Families can develop a Lenten reading program to replace television shows given up for Lent. Also, reading aloud from the Bible or from a the Catechism of the Catholic Church every evening for half an hour can be a way of fostering family conversation about our Catholic faith. During Lent we should divide our reading into three parts: something for the mind, something for the heart, something for the soul.

Laetare Sunday: The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare/Rejoice Sunday. Here rose-colored violet vestments may be vested to symbolize the Church’s joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.

Passiontide and its Devotions: Passiontide falls in the last week of Lent with readings and prayers of the liturgy focusing on the suffering of Our Lord. The word passion does not mean intense emotion but the historical events of Jesus’ suffering and death. Passion Sunday/Palm Sunday falls on the sixth Sunday of Lent. During this time the five prayers in honour of Christ’s five wounds are encouraged. Another ancient devotion is the Seven Sorrows of Mary where we appeal to her to intercede for us in our afflictions. The Seven Sorrows of Mary are: 1. The prophecy of Simeon, 2. The flight to Egypt, 3. The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple, 4.His way of the Cross, 5. His Crucifixion, 6. The piercing of His heart on Calvary, and 7. His burial in the tomb.

Passion Sunday: Holy Week is the most solemn and intense moment of worship in Christian faith. It begins with Passion Sunday six days before Easter. In spite of its spiritual gravity; Holy Week begins with joy. On this Sunday the Church celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem foretelling his victory after crucifixion at Calvary, resurrection and returning in glory.

Blessed Palms: On Passion Sunday palms are solemnly blessed by the priest and distributed to each worshipper who holds them during the celebration. On this day the Holy Alter is decorated with palm instead of flowers.

Palm Procession: According to the account of a fifth-century Spanish pilgrim to the Holy Land, Passion Sunday was celebrated in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After this the people were invited to meet again in the afternoon at the Mount of Olives, in the Church of Eleona. They then proceeded to the Church of the Ascension for a service consisting of hymns and antiphons, readings and prayers, where at five o'clock in the afternoon the Gospel and the palms were read and the procession set out for the city. The people responded to the antiphons with the acclamation, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’, as we say even today.

Holy Week: Holy Week has been held in great reverence since early years of the Church. No other Christian observance has interested the world so much as Holy Week. The rituals of the Church during these few days of each year are complex and laden with meaning to emphatically proclaim to the entire world the liberating truth that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. During this time the Church recommends fasting and abstaining from meat throughout.

Compulsory recommendations before Easter: During Lent, fasting, doing penance and asking for forgiveness is highly encouraged. St. John Paul II insists that awareness of sin in which one acknowledges before whom is guilty is an indispensable pre-condition for obtaining forgiveness. The one offended is God who also has power to forgive.

The Triduum: In the Triduum/Three Days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday; the Church provides a dramatic, intense and rich symbolic expression of Christian belief. Even in our unspiritual time and culture, the Triduum re-affirms the essence of the Church’s central beliefs in the strongest possible way which penetrates the human heart calling for a universal response from every one. By participating in the liturgy of the Church and by increasing our own observance of these holy days, we deepen our understanding of history of Salvation.

Holy Thursday: Holy Thursday is the most complex of all religious services.  It celebrates both the institution of the Eucharist and of the institution of the sacerdotal priesthood distinct from the priesthood of all believers. The Last Supper was also Christ’s farewell to His assembled disciples, some of whom would betray, desert or deny Him. There is such an abundance of symbolism in the solemn celebration of the events of Holy Thursday layer upon layer.

Family Activities for Holy Thursday: A special meal stressing the significance of the traditional Jewish Passover meal as it may have been celebrated in our Lord’s time can be prepared. Holy Thursday’s emphasis on ritual washing of the feet supporting the ancient tradition of Jewish cleaning among family members and the ritual cleaning of the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover can also be done. Family members can return to Church after Mass for a moment of Adoration.

The Stations of the Cross: Developed during the Crusades when the knights and pilgrims began to follow the route of Christ's way to Calvary, Stations of the Cross have remained popular among Christians as an important catechetical tool and great examples of medieval Christian art.  The Way of the Cross has provided inspiration for many of the world’s greatest works of visual art. During Lent and Holy Week most parishes have a service of Stations at least once a week.  It is worth taking children to this so that they can participate with other Catholics in this timeless and very moving devotion.

Good Friday: On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes its gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ had to pay for our redemption. Good Friday starts with public way of the Cross that amplifies into Christ's suffering, crucifixion. No Mass is celebrated on this day, but Holy Communion which had already been consecrated on Holy Thursday is communicated to the faithful. The parts of the Good Friday service include:

  1. The liturgy of the Word - reading of the Passion.
  2. The intercessory prayers for the Church and the entire world, Christian and non-Christian.
  3. Veneration of the Cross and financial offertory collection for Holy Land
  4. Communion/Mass of the Pre-Sanctified.

It is appropriate to observe a period of silence at home, especially between the hours of noon and three o’clock in the afternoon.

The Cross: In the Cross we see the magnitude of the human tragedy, ravages of original sin but also the infinite love of God. Lent is the appropriate time to break through the true meaning of the Cross. Looking at the Cross in prayer helps us to see it. Each time we see a cross we view in Jesus the disgrace of God’s love and hatred in man.  What Jesus endured for us was the depth of ugliness and humiliation. The Cross is tremendous personal cost of love which each one of us has to pay to make the world better. By making this sign both in public and in private we affirm our faith in Christ crucified and ask for His blessing and protection. Lent is the school from which we graduate in the study of the mystery of the Cross for the maturity of faith.

Holy Saturday: Holy Saturday is the day of the entombed Christ when Christ’s body lays in the tomb. The Apostle's Creed says ‘He descended unto the dead’. This is a day of suspense between two worlds of darkness and light; for this reason no divine service is held until Easter. Ideally, Holy Saturday should be the quietest day of the year. Its nightfall is time of expectation and beautiful liturgy often referred to as the Mother of all Holy Vigils/the Great Service of Light. During this holy night we review our history of salvation, adult catechumen are baptised and after tremendous sacrifice and suffering, Easter becomes our greatest cause of rejoicing.

The Easter Vigil: The vigil of Easter signifies Christ’s passage from the death/darkness to life enlightened by the fire and the Easter candle representing Lumen Christi/the Light of Christ. During this vigil we are born again as we renew our baptismal promises sprinkled with the same water into which the Easter Candle has been immersed. In the liturgy we recall God sparing the Hebrews whose doors were marked with the blood of the lamb. When renewing our baptismal vows, we renounce Satan and all his works rejoicing in Christ’s resurrection who is our peace.

Easter Day and Easter Season: Easter is a proof that love is able to conquer death. In this love we affirm the unity of believers throughout all times until He comes again in glory. Every Christian family has to establish the custom of exchanging this historic greeting that Christ is risen alleluia. St. Paul says, “If Christ has not risen, then your faith is vain” 1 Corinthians. 15:14, 17. Families who attend Mass on Easter Sunday join millions of Christians all over the world in joyous affirmation that Christ is alive. This spontaneous acclamation of faith makes Easter a day of obligation where no baptised in a health state of life should miss attending Holy Mass.

Alleluia: Sounding as festive celebration during Mass and on Easter Day; the great Alleluia is a triumphant word of praise for God from men and angels which  is a Hebrew shortened form of the name of God JHVH meaning I AM. It is pronounced as Hallelujah due Latinized spelling.

The Lord’s Day: Every Sunday commemorates the Lord’s Resurrection and Mysteries of the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist. Every Sunday, then, is a ‘little Easter’. This is why the Sundays during Lent are excluded from the forty days of penance and also the reason why no saints feast days on the Church’s calendar is celebrated on Sunday. Likewise, funeral Masses should not be conducted on Sunday. All Catholics are obliged to participate in the Mass on Sundays.

Octave of Easter and Paschal Tide: The celebration of Easter continues for eight days known as octave. During the week various post-resurrection appearances of Christ are celebrated in the liturgy. The Octave ends on the first Sunday after Easter known as Low Sunday or ‘Dominica in albis depositis’ in reference to when those baptized on Easter Eve laid aside their white baptismal robes for the first time on this day. From the end of the Octave to the eighth day after Pentecost is called Paschal Tide. Two great feasts celebrated here are Ascension and Pentecost.

Feast of the Ascension: Ascension is celebrated on the fortieth day after Easter Sunday, commemorating the Ascending of Christ into Heaven. The liturgy on this day celebrates the entry of Christ into heaven with a human body glorified which is a pledge of our glorification with Him.  In the past processions outside the church were held on this day to imitate Christ's leading the Apostles out of the city to the Mount of Olives, and to commemorate the entry of Christ into heaven.  After the Gospel on this day the Paschal Candle is extinguished.

Pentecost: This is Greek word for ‘fiftieth’, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles fifty days after the Resurrection. This feast is very ancient, dating back to the first century. The Vespers hymn for this feast is Veni Creator Spiritus/Come Creator Spirit.  Red vestments are worn to commemorate the love of the Holy Spirit representing the tongues of fire. Throughout the Easter Season Regina Coeli/Queen of Heaven is said instead of Angelus prayer.

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