The Holy Season of Lent begins this week, on Ash Wednesday. Lent, as we know, is a preparatory period for the celebration of the greatest Christian festival, Easter. To celebrate this great feast, the Christian community needs adequate spiritual preparation through acts of fasting, penitence, reconciliation, and renewal. It is a time when we recall our initial conversion through the waters of baptism. Since conversion is a continuous life-long religious experience, Lent is the particular time of the year when we are reminded to recommit ourselves to the gospel of Christ. In the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, one of the formularies that we shall hear as ashes are imposed on us is, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” It will echo over and over again throughout the season.
Much as Lent is a season of renewal for the baptized, it is also the time for giving final preparations to adult candidates for Christian initiation through the regenerating waters of Baptism, chrismal anointing in Confirmation, and the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion).
The observances of the Lenten season are heightened during Holy Week, especially in the Sacred Triduum, when the Church celebrates the most important liturgies of the entire liturgical year. Prior to the beginning of the Sacred Triduum, Dioceses celebrate the Chrism Mass, during which the sacramental oils that will be used throughout the year are blessed and the chrism is consecrated. In the Diocese of Rockville Centre, this takes place in the morning of Holy Thursday. The Sacred Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, followed by The Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening, and concludes with the Masses of Easter Sunday. The importance of Easter – the celebration of the resurrection of Christ – is manifested in the extension of “Easter Joy” for a fifty-day period that is also called the “Great Sunday.” The Easter Season ends on Pentecost Sunday with Evening prayer (or the celebration of the Eucharist, as is the case in many parishes).
More than any other season of the year, we pay particular attention to the Word of God and the Sacraments, during Lent; we teach and reflect deeply on the Word of God and celebrate Penance and Reconciliation.
The Sunday readings from Cycle B, which we are using this year (except Masses with RCIA candidates, which will use Cycle A readings), underscore fundamental aspects of the Christian life in connection with the rejection of evil and the devil’s temptation, self-denial, faith, and baptism. The prayers, which the presiding priest recites at the altar, also remind us that we identify with Jesus in bodily weakness through his suffering and death, but we also share in his paschal victory over death through his resurrection.
This year, due to covid-19 protocols, Ash Wednesday liturgies will be celebrated differently:
(1) Ashes will be sprinkled on the crown of the head of each worshipper, instead of smearing it on the forehead. (2) In addition to the scheduled Masses and Word Services, “Drive-By Services” will be added during the hours of 1:00 – 3:00 P.M. Ministers will be standing in front of the Church and Rectory to impose ashes on penitents in their cars. (3) More “enveloped” ashes will be made available for parishioners to take home for their more vulnerable relatives who cannot come to church in person.
May our Lenten journey of 40 days through fasting and abstinence, penance, and forgiveness, works of charity and love, be fruitful and bring us renewal of heart to celebrate a worthy and glorious Easter.