Lent started last Wednesday. Lent is a time of sacrifice and a time of reflection as we prepare for the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It's a solemn time in the church, and yet I really like this time. There is something very cleansing about it.
We start the season with Ash Wednesday. We go to Mass and we receive ashes on our foreheads. These ashes remind us that we started as dust and we will be dust again. It is a reminder of our mortality. Many Christian faiths do this, not just Catholics. In my opinion, this sign of our mortality is a powerful reminder of how much we need our faith. I was impressed with the numbers of people at Mass that day. I hope all those people who came to Mass just because it was Ash Wednesday and don't plan on coming back again until Easter were touched by something and will consider coming back for Sunday Mass.
Have you ever wondered where the ashes come from? The fireplace in the rectory? A bonfire from a Mardi Gras party the day before? Actually, they come from the palms that were used on Palm Sunday the year before. A few weeks before Ash Wednesday our church (and I'm assuming many, many others) start collecting the palms from everyone and they burn them to be used for ashes. It's very cool, and environmentally friendly!!
During Lent there are some slight changes in the Mass. Some may not even notice them and there may be some I don't know about. But there are two obvious ones. The first is that we don't sing the Gloria during this season. We wait until Easter Sunday, the day Christ rose from the dead. That is a glorious day, so we don't sing the Gloria during the solemn season of Lent and then we pull out all the stops on Easter. Our choir always does a great job on the Gloria on Easter, with brass and percussion to make it even more glorious! The second thing missing during this season is a recessional song. Now, I don't know if this is true in other churches, but it is in ours. Our priests leave the church at the end of mass in silence. I think it's a very powerful reminder of the solemnity of Lent. Unfortunately too many people are picking up their coats, talking to their neighbor, or trying to get out, and it ends up being too noisy! It annoys me, but I try to set an example to those around me by waiting until the recessional is out the door before I move.
Do you know someone who is giving something up for Lent? Ever wondered why they do this? This goes back to this season being a time of sacrifice. Our thoughts are that Jesus gave up his life for our sins, the ultimate sacrifice, so during this time of preparation we also make a sacrifice, and usually that comes in the form of "giving something up." People give up TV or video games; some people give up desserts or chocolate or some other special food; some people try to give up something like worrying or being judgemental. The idea is that you are making a sacrifice for these six weeks and that by missing this "thing" in your life you will be reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made for us, His Life!
Another way to go through Lent is by adding something to your day. I know people who try to go to daily Mass during Lent. Some people add in a daily devotion of some kind: a rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, or some other form or daily prayer. This is a great way to help your spiritual life during this time.
Then there is the days of fast and abstinence! The blessings of Lent are never ending. We fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and then we abstain from meat all the Fridays of Lent. So our churches host Fish Fries every Friday!! (On a side note: I've noticed for years that all the fast food restaurants start advertising their fish sandwiches at this time of year!) This helps our cleansing throughout this season as well.
A lot happens in the Church during Lent as well. At my Church we will have a Lenten Mission, coming up in a couple weeks. These are done over three nights and some years we have an out-of-town guest speaker, other times it is someone local. This year we have a priest from St. Meinrad Archabby coming to talk about St. Paul. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also very important during Lent. Actually, it's important all the time, and I for one should probably go more often, but I do make a point of going during this time. We'll be having a Reconciliation Service at some point prior to Easter as well. I've never been to one of those, so I may go this year in addition to going to confession.
The Saturday before Palm Sunday my church will have a Chrism Mass. My church is the Cathedral for the diocese, which is why we host this mass. During this mass representatives from all the diocesan churches will be there as the Bishop blesses all the oils that will be used for the year. These are the oils used during Baptisms, Confirmations, the Sacrament of the Sick, and probably some other things as well. I have been to this mass in the years when I was involved in the music ministry, but haven't been in a while. The next day will be Palm Sunday which starts Holy Week!
I think I'll stop there for now. I'll go into Holy Week more later. Holy Week is another wonderful time with lots going on. So come back to learn more!!