|What Is Lent?
As we enter this season in the spirit of the Church and of her liturgy we seek to wash away the stains of sin and to rid ourselves of all that prevents us from living a truly Christian life. We offer these instuctions, prayers and activities to help in our attempt to be united to our suffering Savior. The more perfectly we are united with Him in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Eucharist the more we shall share His new life and glorification at Easter.
The Mystery of Lent
An explanation of the history and significance of Lent to our spiritual lives.
What Is Lent? Lent is the penitential season of approximately 40 days set aside by the Church in order for the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. During this holy season, inextricably connected to the Paschal Mystery, the Catechumens prepare for Christian initiation, and current Church members prepare for Easter by a recalling of Baptism and by works of penance, that is, prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Even in the early Church, Lent was the season for prayerful and penitential preparation for the feast of Easter. Though the obligation of penance was originally only imposed on those who had committed public sins and crimes, by medieval times all the faithful voluntarily performed acts of penance to repair for their sins.
Ash Wednesday is the clarion call to “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mk 1:15). For the next forty days, the faithful willingly submit to fasting and self-denial in imitation of Our Lord’s forty-day fast in the desert. It is in these dark and still nights, these desert-times, that the soul experiences its greatest growth. There, in the inner arena, the soul battles the world, the flesh and the devil just as Our Lord battled Satan’s triple temptation in the desert. His battle was external, for Jesus could not sin; our battle is interior, but with a hope sustained by the knowledge of Christ’s Easter victory over sin and death.
His victory is our renewal, our “spring” — which is the meaning of the Anglo-Saxon word,“lengten” or Lent. In this penitential season we have the opportunity to make an annual spiritual “tune-up”, a 40-day retreat with Our Lord. Have we allowed worldly cares and the “daily drama” to obscure our call to holiness? Have self-love and materialism eroded our relationship with God? Then let us renew our efforts, and through our Lenten observance, discipline the body and master it as we “follow in the footsteps of the poor and crucified Christ” (St. Francis of Assisi).
A Two-Fold Theme: Baptism and Penance
An explanation of the Lenten themes of Baptism and Penance and how it relates to us.
In the ancient church, the sacrament of Baptism was usually performed once a year at Easter. Only adults who were educated in the Catholic Faith were baptized. No one could be baptized until they had learned the catechism. When a person had a sufficient grasp of the Faith, he/she was put forth as a candidate, or “catechumen.” Final examinations or “scrutinies” were given to these catechumens 40 days before Easter to decide who was ready to be baptized at Easter. Lent was originally a time of final preparation for the reception of the sacrament of Baptism at the Easter Vigil. Infant Baptism was rare until the beginning of the fifth century. But it was always regarded as valid and as an apostolic institution, as we know from Irenaeus, Origen and St. Cyprian. Sponsors at the Baptism of children are mentioned as early as A.D. 200 by Tertullian.
The focus on our baptismal vows and the participation in voluntary acts of penance during Lent, as practiced by the early Church, needs to be recaptured. Vatican II, as stated through Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), urges this return to this original spirit of Lent:
The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and Ceremonial of Bishops from 1969 echoes this exhortation:
With Special Thanks to all at http://www.catholicculture.org