Tuesday, 16 February 2021 19:21

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.

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 a reminder of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people equal to our captivity by sin. This season is passed over silently. Just as in Advent; during Lent, violet vestments are worn as Gloria and Alleluia are omitted from Mass apart from Feasts and Solemnities. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday which is selected liturgically following the range of five to six ordinary Sundays after celebrating the Baptism of the Lord.

Suggested family activities throughout Lent: Families can make this Tuesday a spiritual time of preparation for Lent by going to confession for a 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 moment of grace to gain strength for living as Christians. Our sacrifices remind us the preciousness of our lives which sometimes we take for granted. Lenten spiritual preparations should not be confined to giving up but take on new ventures 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 do so. Lent is a good moment to resume the good tradition of praying, assisting and fasting together as a family. Parents and their children, house helpers, workers and dependants can plan together what form lent will take. Even when it looks as simple as reciting the Angelus daily, meditating the Way of the Cross daily before supper or reciting Psalms together in the evening, it is good for spiritual benefit. Whatever is saved as funds or in kind should be handed over 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 entire human person. Essentials of repentance consist in this. It is in this effort that human being determines his/her conversion. During lent, forgiveness and spiritual liberation occurs. St. John Paul II recorded in a collection of his meditations, The Light of Christ in 1979 that the attitude with which we approach observance of Lent should be clear marked by penitential actions.  The ashes on our foreheads is not optional but as a form of penitential visible sign inherited from Jewish tradition. These ashes remind us our unworthiness and sin which corrupts, stains and leads us to death.  The Cross traced by Ashes remind us that we need redemption.

Family Activities for Holy Thursday: A special meal stressing the significance of the traditional Jewish Passover meal as it was celebrated in our Lord’s time can be prepared. Holy Thursday’s emphasises the ritual washing of the feet supporting the ancient Jewish tradition of cleaning family members and their home in preparation for the Passover Feast. Family members are encouraged to have moments of Adoration after Holy Thursday Mass.

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 worship guided by 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 pray following the fourteen Stations of the Cross least once a week.  It is worth taking children to this prayer and devotion so that they can participate with other Catholics in this timeless and very moving memory of our Christian tradition and root of our faith in the Risen Lord.

Fasting and Penance during Lent and beyond: The Code of Canon Law number.1250-1251 gazette all Fridays of the year and more so during Lent as penitential days for all adult health faithful in the entire Church. Although fasting usually refers to practices 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 is grace. Abstinence from meat and delicious meals on Fridays as the universal form of penance on all Fridays is encouraged since there are several excuses for not fulfilling it. We may choose another way of observing Lent, but we should not neglect the Original Catholic Church Spiritual Traditions simply because we don’t like them.  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.

Lent is characterised by Prayer, Fasting and Arms giving: The value prayer, charity and self-denial must be learned early in a person’s life. Lent provides excellent opportunity to teach and consolidate these life essentials most especially in this permissive society. Prayer is time with God, charity is living for others while fasting plants self-control and determination that include restriction of luxuries. Things such as television watching, addictive shopping and outings can be suspended for the sake of self-evaluation. Sharing our possessions including finances with the less fortunate is a grace from God. Lent is a time for growing in faith and for being a blessing to others. This is a time of renewal, penance, prayer and reflection.

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.

Bible reading 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 and deepening 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. Rose-coloured violet vestments are vested to symbolize Church’s joyful anticipation of the Resurrection.

Passiontide time: Passiontide falls in the last week of Lent with liturgical readings and prayers 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.

Palm 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. These Palms are taken and kept in every Christian home until they are returned to the Parish Church and used to prepare ashes for Ash Wednesday Celebrations.

Palm Procession: An account by a fifth-century Spanish pilgrim to the Holy Land says 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 do even today.

Holy Week: Holy Week has been held in great reverence since 1st Century. No other Christian observance has interested the world so much as Holy Week. The rituals of the Church during these holy days are complex and laden with meaning emphatically proclaiming to the whole 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, praying, charity, fasting, doing penance and asking for forgiveness are highly encouraged. St. John Paul II insists that awareness of one’s sin, acknowledging it and repenting sincerely is an indispensable pre-condition for obtaining forgiveness. The one offended is God who alone has power to forgive.

The Triduum: is Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Here the Church provides a dramatic, symbolic, intense and rich historical and traditional mysteries 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 wholeheartedly in this liturgy of the Church while observing the norms, we deepen our understanding of history of Salvation.

Holy Thursday: Holy Thursday is the most moving of all these religious services.  It celebrates both the institution of the Eucharist and of the institution of the sacerdotal priesthood distinct from general priesthood. The Last Supper commemorates 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.

Good Friday: On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes its gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church dares to understand 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. 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

4.  Donations in form of financial offertory collection for the Holy Land

5.  Receiving Holy Communion of the Pre-Sanctified that concludes with symbolic silence

It is appropriate to observe silence even at home, especially from noon to three o’clock in the afternoon. For the deepening of our faith, this silence and fasting can continue to bed time.

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 ourselves. Each time we see a Cross we view in Jesus the love of God but disgrace 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 for a better world. 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 our study of the mystery of the Cross which in turn matures our faith.

Holy Saturday: Holy Saturday is the day of the entombed Saviour 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. At nightfall a beautiful liturgy often referred to as the Mother of all Holy Vigils/the Great Service of Light is celebrated. 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 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 sprinkled with the blood of the lamb. When renewing our baptismal promises, we renounce Satan and all his works so that we can rejoice in Christ 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 for 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 faithful in a health state of life should miss Holy Mass.

Alleluia: Sounding as festive celebration during Mass and on Easter Day; the great Alleluia is a triumphant word of praise to 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. This makes every Sunday, indeed every Mass a ‘little Easter’. This is why Sundays during Lent are excluded from the forty days of penance and also the reason why saints feast days on the Church’s calendar can’t displace the dignity of Sunday. Likewise, funeral Masses should not be conducted on Sunday. All Catholics are obliged to participate in the Mass on Sundays unless distance and health obstructs it.

Octave of Easter and Paschal Tide: The celebration of Easter continues for eight days known as Easter Octave. During this week various post-resurrection appearances of Christ are celebrated. The Octave ends on the second Sunday after Easter known as ‘Dominica in albis depositis’ which now has become Divine Mercy Sunday in reference to when those baptized on Easter Eve display their white baptismal robes publically witnessing the joy of their salvation. 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 glorified body which is a pledge of our glorification.  In the past processions outside the Church were held to imitate Christ leading the Apostles out of the city to the Mount of Galilee located a short distance from the Mount of Olives to commemorate His entry 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.


With this explanation, one is able to get interested in the Lenten season; not because of the sacrifices therein but because of the graces this holy season offers to all people of good will.

Fr. Paulino Mondo

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