This week we begin the holy season of Lent. Catholics and non-Catholics alike will notice that Lent has begun when they see us walking around on Wednesday with ashes on our foreheads and when they notice that our churches are more somber, with purple vestments and liturgies that are sparse and simple. Alleluias are now muted and church music is stark and even sad.
This all seems somewhat strange because the word "lent" means spring – that is, new life. The confusion is cleared up, though, when we realize that Lent is not a stand-alone season but rather a part of a much larger celebration, namely, the celebration of Easter. In fact, we might say that we reserve 90 days every year to celebrate the Easter mysteries. The first 40 days constitute what we call the Lenten season, which leads up to Easter itself, and then the final 50 days constitute the Easter season.
You also could say that the Easter celebration – that is, Christ’s victory over sin and death brought about by his suffering, death and resurrection – is a diamond, and each of the various celebrations during these 90 days are facets of that diamond. So Ash Wednesday, the Sundays of Lent, Passion or Palm Sunday, the Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are all various facets of the one great feast of Easter. Granted, the Lenten facets are notably sad and penitential, but they are nonetheless caught up in the Easter mysteries and they are inextricably bound up in life. You might say that during Lent we are in our cocoons, getting ready to burst forth with our Alleluias on Easter Sunday this April 20.
So, people are correct when they say that Lent is a somber time, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Lent is a prayerful, holy and even joyful time, when we prepare to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. All that we do during these 40 days prepares us to rise with Christ as we embrace the new life he gives us through the Easter mysteries.
May God bless us throughout this Lent and give us the graces we seek to celebrate the Easter mysteries more fully.
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