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WHAT IS LENT?Fr. Eugene Mattioli


The Joy of Lent

LENT IS ACTUALLY:

  • a time of joyful preparation to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, namely EASTER, Christ's victory over sin and death; our own salvation in Christ.
  • a time of renewal of our minds and hearts whereby the image of Jesus, the SON of GOD, is salvation in Christ.
  • a time of growing of love and reverence towards GOD OUR FATHER.
  • a time of growing of love and service to our brothers and sisters.
When Lent is seen in this light, there is nothing negative, gloomy or mournful about it. On the contrary, it is a season of JOY, HOPE, LOVE, GROWTH, and TRANSFORMATION. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the true joyous meaning of Lent was lost, a great loss indeed!

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF OUR LENTEN OBSERVANCES

It will be a help to consider — in a summary way — the historical development of our LENTEN and HOLY WEEK observances. HOLY WEEK and LENTEN practices originated in the church of Jerusalem and of Rome, but in different ways and independently of each other.

In the church of Jerusalem, the Paschal Mystery celebrations, i.e. HOLY WEEK and EASTER, started at a very early stage. Later on, the church of Jerusalem took over from neighbouring churches the 40 days of LENTEN preparation and penitential practices which had been started in the memory of the 40 days Jesus fasted, prayed and did penance in the desert.

In the church of Rome, the development of LENT took a different form:

  • Catechumens of the Roman Church — namely those preparing for Baptism — were expected to go through a three-week course of instruction on Christian Doctrine, study of the scriptures, special prayer, fasts, penance and exorcisms before they could receive baptism at the Easter Vigil.
  • Some time later, generous and fervent Christians — WILLING, NOT OUT OF OBLIGATION — began joining the Catechumens yearly in their three weeks of instruction, scripture study, fasts and penance, in preparation for the renewal of their baptismal promises.
  • Soon after the great persecutions ended, the Roman Church made that private devotion of three weeks preparation for the Paschal Mystery an OFFICIAL PRACTICE for all the faithful.
  • In the course of time, the Church extended that period of three weeks to six weeks.
  • Thus LENT as a six-week period of preparation for Easter progressively spread far and wide among Christians all over the world.
  • Later on, ASH WEDNESDAY was added as a preface or official beginning of LENT.
  • Unfortunately, with the passage of time, LENT acquired more and more of an almost exclusively penitential character. The negative penitential overtones of LENT made people forget its positive nature as a joyful preparation of the Paschal Mystery. Putting it bluntly, for many people LENT commenced on ASH WEDNESDAY and ended on GOOD FRIDAY.
  • We should now strive to re-discover the true meaning of LENT and its joyous character.

WHAT CAN WE DO DURING LENT?

  1. Renew our minds and hearts
  2. Go deeper into the knowledge of the Christian Doctrine.
  3. Read and study the Scriptures.
  4. Strengthen our prayer life.
  5. Reaffirm our baptismal commitment
  6. Reaccept Christ as our Saviour and Master.
  7. Renew our Baptismal promises.
  8. Be reconciled
  9. With God:Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  10. With our brothers and sisters:Forgiving and asking forgiveness of injuries.
  11. Serve our neighbours
  12. Pray for them.
  13. Serve them.
  14. Give alms to them.
Finally, through sacrifices, fasts, penance and almsgiving taken as means, not as ends, let us respond to the Spirit's longing to transform us into the Christ Our Saviour.