Lent has always been evocative of a spiritual journey with a great emphasis on penance. The point, however, has not been to further emphasize our sins, but to emphasize our redemption. Saint Paul makes this hopeful message clear in his letter to the Romans, “…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom. 5:20b).
The journey through Lent therefore is led by Jesus who helps us to be aware of our sin so that we might become even more aware of the grace of baptism, which, when used by us, causes us to stray away from sin and follow Jesus more effectively. The penitential nature of Lent then is not to browbeat, but to lift our minds and souls toward the beauty and power of our regenerated self in the waters of baptism. The recollection of sin is a necessary catalyst for Lent, which leads us through the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus of which we have a full share by our baptisms. This is a way that Catholics speak of ‘being born again.’ It is not solely a matter of awareness or acceptance of Jesus as a personal savior, but of a personal work of grace through which Jesus lives in us and we therefore live by, through and in him not just here on earth, but in our true home, what Jesus calls ‘his Father’s house’ (John 14:2a).
Our parish Lenten journey obliges us to the Church’s universal observance:
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.
A traditional Catholic devotion during Lent is the Way of the Cross. Many Catholics these days know what this is but find it difficult to fit into a typical Lenten schedule of the parish. This year, we are making this devotion available after each of the three week-end Masses. As is our custom, we will conclude Mass in silence to safeguard a silent time for personal prayer. The priest, deacon and servers will leave the sanctuary to enter the sacristy. After a pause, perhaps 5 minutes or so, a leader will pray the stations of the cross from the ambo or by walking the stations of the church. Congregants may stand, sit or kneel as they would prefer during the stations. A copy of the stations of the cross is available at www.smgaz.org.
With hope, this convenience will make it possible for more parishioners to observe this Lenten devotion and thereby walk more devoutly with Jesus to his cross, death and resurrection. Furthermore, may “almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and bestowed on us forgiveness of our sins, keep us by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Concluding Prayer of the Renewal of Baptism Promises at the Easter Vigil, Roman Missal, 3rd Typical Edition).
Fr. Thomas Hallsten