Lent Begins on Wednesday
By Brenda Steele
Lent is all about baptism. During Lent you are either preparing for baptism or you are preparing for the renewal of baptismal commitment. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, Catholics (and many Protestant denominations) will receive ashes on their foreheads to commemorate death, the sorrow of our sins, and the hope for a renewal of a life devoid of sin.
Ashes, a symbol of repentance, remind us of our mortality. Genesis 3:19 King James version of the Bible states:
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Thus, we begin Lent by receiving from our priest a cross of ashes, those from the previous year’s palm fronds, on our foreheads to remind us of the need to “die to sin and to be reborn to life in Christ.”
The 40 days of Lent connote to the faithful the need for a deeper conversion, one that will loosen the believer from the bonds of sin to embrace a new life in Christ. In order to have a meaningful conversion during Lent we need to adhere to the following:
Prayer – Longer daily time spent in prayer brings us closer to Christ.
Fasting – As well as an aid to prayer, fasting instills in us a hunger for God and a deeper sense of the plight of those who live in poverty.
Almsgiving – We give so that the poor might have; we give out of gratitude for the blessings we have received.
I remember as a Candidate 13 years ago experiencing the Stations of the Cross for the first time. I was reduced to tears as I made the journey through the passion and death of Christ. Never before, under any circumstances as a Protestant, had I felt the depth of suffering He endured on our behalf as I did on that night in a small suburban Catholic Church in Georgia. It remains with me still.
We observe the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent. They recall to us the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection and challenge us to offer our own lives for the good of others.
Then there are the palm fronds we wave on Palm Sunday as we celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The faithful removed their cloaks and laid them on the path as Jesus made his triumphal entry into the city. As a symbol of victory they festooned his way with palm branches.
The Triduum, beginning at dusk on Holy Thursday, begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It’s three days of celebrating the mystery of our faith. During this time there will be foot washing to signify that we are to be servants rather than to be served; veneration of the cross showing that we accept the cross as the way to resurrection; and then on the eve of Easter Sunday there is the Easter Vigil. The Elect will exude their joy at being united with the true Church while the faithful will rejoice in the renewal of their own baptismal promises.
As a convert, I remember every minute of the Easter Vigil when I, too, could at long last, partake in the sacrament of the eucharist for the very first time. If you are a convert, and you’re reading this, you know exactly what I felt, because you felt it too. After almost a year of RCIA, leaving for instruction during Sunday Mass, and having the eucharist withheld, there was an insatiable hunger to receive the body and blood of Christ.
Tomorrow begins our journey through the days of Lent as we lead up to the passion and resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday. Let us be mindful of His sacrifice and of our need to make this Lenten season a time of repentance, reflection, prayer, and renewal of our own baptismal vows.