LENT AS I SEE IT
While not observed in Ireland, Carnival is celebrated in a spectacular way in many countries and cities. Carnival never obscured Lent but as the modern attractions increase a gradual change can be observed. Retreats and missions were poplar during Lent and that also saw a change and not for the better. Stations of the Cross were most popular and, again, change crept in and that way of passing some time during devotions on weekdays joined the other Church services. Indeed there have been several commentators in the local media deploring the drop in the numbers attending religious services. This does not mean that everything is lost. Indeed there are some clear indications that young people are beginning to search for information and knowledge about the faith. For me the future is looking quite bright.
Let us have a look at some of the great things associated with Lent, two in particular, and perhaps get involved.
“Lent” is a very old English word that means “spring” the time of new life or perhaps the time of preparation for new life, which means especially for divine life. It is the time of getting ready for Holy Week and Easter, the time of our particular commemoration of our redemption. This means the time of entering into the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. While we will enter into a period of penance during Lent, we are then well prepared for Easter, the fifty-day period when we rejoice with the Risen Christ. I find that it is always good to remember that Lent and Easter are not two separate feasts but two ways of looking at the one feast, Jesus dying and rising. It certainly gives us a wonderful way of identifying Jesus. Lent is such a glorious season, getting us ready for the magnificent feast of what is known as the Paschal Mystery, a term which includes the two aspects: death and resurrection of Jesus, not as two but united.
This is the most important lesson about liturgy: it gives divine life to participants. That is the purpose of Lent: to share Jesus. Divine life with the baptised.
Lent can be described as that liturgical season which prepares those to be baptised for that great moment, the moment they share in Jesus’ Life for the first time. That moment takes place on Easter Sunday, our greatest feast in the entire year. Everything in Lent is meant to be ordained towards this first baptism. We may truly say that baptism is the goal of Lent. It is b y baptism that a new convert receives Jesus’ life for the first time.
In the Lenten season there are generally many extra spiritual exercises in our churches and our schools provide many extra spiritual activities, The purpose of all these is to increase peoples’ faith which comes by “hearing” and “hearing” comes by “the word of God (Rm. 10: 7). On Easter Sunday, part of the liturgical celebrations is for those who are baptised already, to renew their Baptismal Promises. The many spiritual activities in Lent, particularly strengthening faith, help to make that liturgical moment one of intense benefit.
A “good” Lent includes many things, Confession, retreat, devotions, renewal of spiritual exercises, Lenten penances and so forth but the most important has to be the immediate preparation of one’s baptismal commitment.
What is one’s baptismal commitment or promises? Simply put it is “dying to sin, living for God, being one in Christ Jesus”. That can be said to be the Paschal Mystery which is what Jesus did. On Calvary he died to sin on the cross and he lived for his Father. When we do these two aspects of Christ’s death and rising we are one with hm.
In renewing one’s baptismal vows there are six questions. The first three are: do you renounce the devil, all his works and all his empty promises?
Then come three about faith: do you believe in God the Father almighty, Creator, in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit?
In making the promises which go with the answers to the six questions, it is not just a matter of agreeing that God exists and that you wwill not associate with the devil. It is a commitment, a total giving of yourself to God and a total withdrawal from the devil and all associated with him.
It should be clear that baptism is an essential part of the Lenten liturgy. For those who have been baptised already it would be a wonderful way to celebrate Lent by getting involved in the preparation of the parish candidates for baptism.