AN INVITATION TO PILGRIMAGE
“Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards him who is the fount of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which he himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter.”
Pope Benedict XVI , Message for Lent (2006).
My Dear Brothers,
In every parish, and especially in the Seminary, the privileged season of Lent is marked by prayer, fasting, almsgiving and devotions, each of which are “ordered to preparing for the celebration of Easter,” as catechumens and faithful “recall their own Baptism and do penance.” (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, no. 27.)
The spiritual benefits derived from such pious acts are rooted in their capacity to open the human heart to a humble embrace of God’s invitation to a Lenten manifestation of his love and mercy.
In order to assure the effectiveness of such a holy work, however, care should be taken to achieve a certain balance in order that we might be spiritually purified while remaining physically, psychologically and mentally refreshed. Such a balance means that while acts of prayer, penance, almsgiving and devotion should achieve a real intensity in the Lenten Season, they should never be perceived as burdensome or just one more demand in an already busy schedule.
Lent in the Seminary
Seminary observance of pious acts, public and private, serve (as all things in the Seminary) as a model for what can happen in parish life.
Lent is a time of second chances, of a sure and certain hope in God’s mercy, the same mercy which our blessed Savior freely bestowed from the wood as he “hung from the cross abandoned and alone, enveloped in the darkness of rejection, despair and bitterness. Indeed, it all seemed so hopeless. Yet, we know through that ultimate sacrificial gift of Himself, the world was redeemed!” (Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, Lenten Letter to the Faithful (February 25, 2009).
Lent in the Liturgy
The forty days of penance we call Lent begins with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, “the ashes of decomposition, the ashes of the old, the ashes of all that falls to the ground and dies,” (Bishop Peter A. Libasci, Ash Wednesday Homily, February 2, 2012. ) and ends just before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening.
Our Lent opens with a Day of Recollection led by our former Rector, Father John Farren, O.P., on Ash Wednesday. The ashes Father Farren will place on our foreheads will “symbolize fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God. Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent.” (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Directory on Devotions [DD], no. 125.)
The prayer for the blessing of ashes from the Roman Missal sets the tone for the entire Lenten season:
“O God, who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend your merciful ear to our prayers and in your kindness pour out the grace of your blessing on your servants who are marked with these ashes, that, as they follow the Lenten observances, they may be worthy to come with minds made pure to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of your Son. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.” (Roman Missal, Ash Wednesday: Prayer for the Blessing of Ashes.)
The origins of the Lenten Liturgy are found in the third period of the journey made by Catechumens in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Lent is, therefore, “a time of purification and enlightenment, designed for a more intense spiritual preparation” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, no. 7). The Rite of Election is celebrated on the First Sunday of Lent and the Scrutinies and Presentations on the remaining Sundays.
Each of the Lenten weekday Masses of the third edition of the Roman Missal include a Prayer over the People, largely taken from the Gelasian Sacramentary. During Lent neither the Gloria nor the Alleluia are used. The altar is not decorated with flowers, and the use of musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing.
Lent is also marked by devotions, both public and private.
First among the devotions of Lent is the Stations of the Cross, whereby “in meditation, prayer and song, we have recalled Jesus’s journey along the way of the cross: a journey seemingly hopeless, yet one that changed human life and history, and opened the way to a “new heavens and a new earth” (Pope Benedict XVI, After the Stations of the Cross on the Palatine Hill (April 6, 2012).
The Stations of the Cross will be celebrated by the whole seminary community on Thursday, February 21st following the Rector’s Conference. Stations of the Cross will also be celebrated at the beginning of the Holy Hour on all the Fridays of Lent. In addition, all members of the community are encouraged to celebrate the various authorized forms of the Stations privately or in small groups on a regular basis, especially throughout the Season of Lent. **
Each member of the community is also encouraged to add prayers in veneration of Christ crucified to their private prayers. Likewise, the celebration of the Via Matris and the Divine Mercy prayers of Saint Faustina Kowalska are commendable Lenten devotions.
Each of the members of the seminary community are encouraged to add the Lord’s Passion and other Lenten spiritual reading to their private lectio divina. Meditation on the Passion of the Lord helps us to imitate “his example of meekness, patience, mercy, forgiveness of offenses, abandonment to the Father, which Jesus did willingly and efficaciously in his Passion.” (DD, no. 130.)
In this Year of Faith, the documents of the Second Vatican Council would seem to offer a great source for meditation, particularly the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis. I would also recommend for your consideration in Lenten reading: Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth : Holy Week: from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection; Pope Benedict XVI’s Messages for Lent: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.
This Lent we will continue the practice of “Table Reading” for the first ten minutes of lunch from Monday through Friday. For the sake of convenience, the Lector at Mass will serve as the Lector at lunch. The reading will be followed by a silent meditation on the Passion of the Lord on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. On all other days, everyone will be free to engage in conversation after the reading is completed.
The Sacrament of Penance
There is a special connection between Lent and the Sacrament of Penance because “the forty days of Lent constitute a privileged time in the Church's liturgical life during which Catholics seek, under God's grace, to change their lives and believe more sincerely in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Bishop Robert J. McManus, Pastoral Letter on the Sacrament of Penance (January 10, 2010).)
Sin is insidious....[it] is deceptive, sneaky and relentless. It takes hold of your life very gradually...Lent is the perfect time to confess its gradual and growing effect on our lives.” (Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, “Why We Need Lent,” in the Rhode Island Catholic (February 7, 2013).)
A celebration of the “Rite of Reconciliation with Individual Confession and Absolution” is customary in parishes during Lent. This second form of the Rite of Penance “shows more clearly the ecclesial nature of penance” and will be celebrated at Saint John’s on March 21st at 7:00pm.
Abstinence, Fasting and Almsgiving
During Lent we practice abstinence from meat and we fast.
Abstinence from meat is observed on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent by all Catholics 14 years of age and older. Fasting is observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59 years of age. Those bound by this rule may take only one full meal. Two smaller meals are permitted as necessary to maintain strength according to one's needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted.
We fast in imitation of the Lord himself who “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:1-2.)
Such fasting “is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it...Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Lenten Message (2008).)
The Lord himself warns us against fasting for others to notice. Rather, we should cling to the assurance that our Heavenly Father sees all that is done in secret and will reward us for our quiet fasting on the last day. (Matthew 6:18.)
Fasting also reminds us that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4.)
From her earliest days, the Church has encouraged such fasting ( cf. Acts 13:3; 14:22; 27,21; 2 Corinthians 6:5.), as Saint Peter Chrysologus reminds us: “Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.” (Sermo 43: PL 52, 320. 322.)
On Wednesdays and Fridays we will observe a “fasting lunch” as a common penance, offered with a particular prayer for those who are suffering from illness, or abuse, or the memory of an abortion. I would encourage all members of the SJS community to take part in these penitential meals. Breakfasts and dinners will be served as usual.
From Fasting to Almsgiving
Fasting, however, “not only involves food, but also freedom from violence and oppression...Fasting is no good unless we learn forgiveness to others and make an effort to forgive those who hurt us in some way and not harbor resentment toward them.” (Bishop George W. Coleman, Ash Wednesday Homily (Feb 26, 2009).)
Thus does fasting lead naturally to caring for the poor as our “Lenten sacrifices allow us to use that money that would have been spent on luxuries or entertainment to help the hungry and the poor of the world.” (Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap., Lenten Letter (2004).)
Almsgiving is something more than philanthropy, as the ancient axiom reminds us: “God does not want your gifts. He wants you.” Christian almsgiving is “a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Lenten Message (2008), no. 4.)
In the words of Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo: “Never keep an account of the coins you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand, too, should not know what it does itself.” (Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, Detti e pensieri, Edilibri, n. 201.)
Lent is a great gift to the entire Church, a time of preparing for the highpoint of our year in the Sacred Paschal Triduum “in which the love of God redeemed the world and shone its light upon history.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Lenten Message (2013).)
Lent is a time to when the deepest desires of our aching hearts seek their fulfillment, when we “recognize that God is the desire beneath all desires. This desire comes from the depth of our being. God is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the mystery beyond tremendous, the mystery beyond fascinating.” (Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, The Year of Faith and Love in The Catholic Transcript (February, 2013).)
As the Church has prayed for over a millenium, so I pray for each one of you, that “through the yearly observances of holy Lent, we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects.” (Roman Missal, Collect for the First Sunday in Lent.)
Monsignor James P. Moroney
Illustrations by Gloria Orpen from Meditations with a Pencil (1947).
** DD, no. 135:
** DD, no. 135:
“The following may prove useful suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Via Crucis: (1) the traditional form of the Via Crucis, with its fourteen stations, is to be retained as the typical form of this pious exercise; from time to time, however, as the occasion warrants, one or other of the traditional stations might possibly be substituted with a reflection on some other aspects of the Gospel account of the journey to Calvary which are traditionally included in the Stations of the Cross; (2) alternative forms of the Via Crucis have been approved by Apostolic See or publicly used by the Roman Pontiff: these can be regarded as genuine forms of the devotion and may be used as occasion might warrant; (3) the Via Crucis is a pious devotion connected with the Passion of Christ; it should conclude, however, in such fashion as to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope; following the example of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem which ends with a station at the Anastasis, the celebration could end with a commemoration of the Lord's resurrection.”