The whole church goes on retreat for six weeks about a month and a half after the Christmas season. This annual spiritual renewal prepares us for the celebration of Christianity’s most fundamental belief: Jesus was raised from the dead and is Christ, the Lord. We need to see this event from both sides – before and after – because each side of the story is incomplete with out the other.
The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word that means “springtime.” And while the season acquired its name because the greatest part of Lent usually falls in the month of March, which is also the month of the spring solstice, it is the spiritual meaning that we must concern ourselves with. Lent can be seen as a springtime of the soul – a time of growth in the faith and a time to nurture the faith that is already present. It is a time of spiritual preparation, reflection, growth and change.
It is customary for the faithful to include fasting or restriction of some of their favourite foods or drinks during the forty days of Lent. It is also customary to spend more time in prayer and meditation, and to make personal sacrifices in the spirit of the season. Everyone is encouraged to seek God’s love in meaningful ways.
The forty days of Lent is a time in which we do penance, fast and pray to prepare ourselves for the resurrection of Our Lord; and also to remind us of His own fast of forty days before His Passion. The Lenten season begins officially on Ash Wednesday, and ends with the evening mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
On Ash Wednesday the spirit of Lent is embodied with the signing of our foreheads with ashes. All are reminded to be sorry for sin and to do penance, but not in a spirit of showy sadness or inward despair, but in humility, sincerity and inner joy. Knowing that God desires to forgive, to heal, and to share with all people His own divine life. Also, He asks us to discipline our passions gladly and with confidence of victory. Therefore, the Church encourages us to do some acts of penance – fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving.
Purple is the colour associated with the season of Lent and is prominent in the vestments and church decorations. It is a colour reminiscent of royalty and repentance. It reflects the serious and somber nature of this time in the life of the Church.
During Lent the joyful acclamations of “Alleluia” and “Glory to God” disappear from the liturgy. Similarly, the holy water fonts are emptied. Stones may be placed in the fonts, so as to cause those who approach to dip their fingers and make the sign of the cross to reflect on the sadness of Christ’s passion and death, and the reason that necessitated it – our sins. The ritual actions to which we are very accustomed, but perhaps have given little thought to or taken for granted, are now taken away so that we may better appreciate them and await their return when Jesus rises triumphantly on Easter Sunday breaking the bonds of sin and death.
The season of Lent describes mankind’s striving, failings, and finally salvation. The story that we recall as we commence Lent, is unfinished. Although Jesus has achieved our redemption, each human being must appropriate it to himself. To accomplish this, Jesus asks us to follow His example. To be another Christ means to serve our brothers and sisters around us, and by way of sacrifice – the spirit of the Lenten Season – to apply the fruits of the Redemption to our lives.
The message of Easter — of the resurrection of Jesus – takes us beyond the cross to the joy and hope that comes from knowing the Risen Lord. It was Christ risen that allowed his disciples to fully know that God exists, that there is a future for every human being, and that our cry for unending life is indeed answered in Him. This is the real message of Easter!
Images of Jesus’ passion, the carrying of the cross, and the acceptance of the Father’s will in sacrificial love have moved many in our diocese to see the suffering face of Christ in the refugee families that we have welcomed and supported. God moves us in faith to act with the same love that our Lord offers for the entire world. It is a love that restores dignity for those who have been exiled from their homes, transforming strangers into neighbours, and calling us to respond with compassion and care to those who are suffering and vulnerable. This is a true sign of the Easter faith which caused the disciples not to proclaim the tragedy of Jesus’ death but rather the sharing of his resurrection, the promise of eternal life with joy and confidence through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus revealed himself to the disciples in so many tangible ways especially in the enduring gift of himself “in the breaking of the bread“ – the Eucharist. He also commissioned Mary as the “apostle (the one sent) to the apostles,” to bring this good news of the resurrection to the world. He invites us like Mary to enter the tomb, to enter into the mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love. To enter into mystery means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us [cf. 1Kings 19:12] Like Mary we need humility to enter into this mystery. To know with confidence that our search for truth, beauty and love is fully revealed in the risen Christ. May our witness of this sacred mystery revealed in the dignity of each human person, silence the deafening call for euthanasia and assisted suicide in our country of Canada.
Easter calls us to promote with renewed vigor the sanctity of human life with grateful and joyful hearts. Easter calls us to move beyond the tomb with conviction to share the good news of the Resurrection with one another. Easter calls us to courageously follow Jesus Christ, the risen one, and to boldly proclaim that out of darkness and suffering come new life. This Easter let us rise up to meet the world and our culture of death with the witness of our faith. It is my hope that we discover new ways to share this Easter faith, the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary