Tag Archives: lent

Lent in the Western Syriac Tradition: Blessed are your guests, beautiful city of Cana

Archimandrite Manuel Nin, rector of the Pontifical Greek College, Rome, Italy, published the following article in L’Osservatore Romano English Edition on February 24, 2010. The Church is more than a western experience and Nin’s article brings a richness here for reflection and appreciation.


Lent in the Western Syriac tradition is preceded by a tradition that begins with the Fast of the Ninevites, which has as its reference and model the people of Niniveh who converted after hearing the Prophet Jonah’s preaching.


In these days of fasting the deceased -priests, foreigners and faithful– are commemorated and this means that the Church and Western Syriac liturgical tradition are closely bound to pilgrimages to the holy places and the tombs of martyrs.


The Lenten Liturgy begins with what is called the “Monday of oil” and one of the hymns of St Ephrem gives us the key to its interpretation: “stained bodies are anointed with sanctifying oil with a view to expiation. They are purified but not destroyed. They descend marked by sin and arise as a child.”


This was originally a rite of anointing for catechumens that was later extended to all the faithful: the Liturgy also links it to the anointing at Bethany: “How gentle is the voice of the sinful woman when she says to the perfumer: “Give me the oil and tell me the price; give me the best quality oil and with it I shall mingle the sorrow of my tears, the better to anoint the first-born of the Most High; I trust in the Lord that through this oil he will forgive me my sins. The Lord see her faith and forgives her.”


The six Sundays of Lent take the name of the Gospel passage that is read: the miracle of Cana, the healing of the leper, the healing of the paralytic; the healing of the Centurian’s servant, the raising of the son of the widow Nain; the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. The Syriac Liturgy is intended to shed light light on the thaumaturgical and judicial aspects of Christ.


Rabbula Cana Feast.jpgThe miracle of Cana of Galilee begins the series of miracles contemplated in Lent to indicate mercy, forgiveness, salvation and life, which are given to us by Christ, the physician of humankind.


At Vespers of the First Sunday of Lent this aspect is developed at length: “Good Physician who heals all through repentance, Lord, sovereignly good and the First Physician, source of life and fount of healing, who heals our souls through our physical illness. You who have been called our true Samaritan and who, to deliver us from the wounds of our sins, have poured upon them mysterious oil and wine. You, Doctor of hearts and Healer of suffering, have marked us with the sign of the Cross, sealed with the seal of the holy oil, nourished with your Body and your Blood; embellish our souls with the splendor of your holiness; protect us from every fall and every blemish and bring us to the blessed inheritance reserved for those who have done acts of penance.”


Furthermore, the Syriac tradition sees in the miracle of Cana the spousal union of Christ with his Church, and with the whole of humanity; at Cana the true Spouse  is Christ himself who invites suffering and sinful humanity to be united with him in order to bring it to the true nuptial chamber which is the Garden of Eden.


St Ephrem.jpgSt Ephrem sings: “Blessed are your guests, beautiful city of Cana! They enjoy your blessing and the jars filled with your word proclaim that in you are found the heavenly gifts that gladden the heavenly banquet.”


The new wine that unites the fellow guests at the banquet is a symbol of the precious Blood that unites us with Christ himself: “You who, as the promised Spouse redeem the Church with your Blood, you who gladden the wedding guests of Cana, may you make your Church rejoice with your Body.” The Syriac Liturgy still sees the jars as a model of the soul that becomes the place of a wonderful transformation in which Christ himself renews all that is old.


On all the Sundays in Lent prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, death and Resurrection, the Western Syriac tradition wishes to celebrate the miracles with which the Savior desired to manifest his divine mission among human beings. The Morning Office of all the Sundays in Lent contains this prayer:


“Merciful Lord, who came down to earth, in your compassion for human nature, you who purified the leper, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead, obtain that our souls may be purified and bodies sanctified; that the eyes of our hearts may be opened to understand your teachings so that, with repentant sinners, we may raise our praise.”


The miracles recounted and celebrated on these Sundays lead us to contemplate the wonders of divine grace in human souls; thus many of the liturgical texts of Lent always end with the same conclusive refrain:


“We, too, Lord pray to you: touch our spirit and purify it from every stain, from every impurity of sin, and have mercy on us.”

What is penance?

essentially, always requires a change of life: from sin to virtue, luke
warmness to fervor, fervor to sanctity. This interior change cannot be effected
without divine help
, but the Lord is not stingy in this regard, and even as he
is calling a man to penitence, he is offering the grace necessary for this

For the Christian, to heed the call to do penance and to open his
heart to the grace of conversion, means living his baptism, the sacrament
through which men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ
; they die with
him, are buried with him, and rise with him. It is for this reason that during
Lent the Liturgy often dwells on baptismal themes.

Death and resurrection in
Christ, which are operative from baptism, are not a static fact which happened
once for all, but a vital dynamic fact which should involve the Christian in
the Lord’s death and resurrection every day.

Divine Intimacy

Father Gabriel of
St. Mary Magdalen, OCD

Transfiguration Sunday: Listen to Jesus!

My heart has prompted me to seek your face; I seek it, Lord; do not hide from me.


The Church observes the Second Sunday of Lent. The following hymn incorporates the texts from sacred Scripture.

Thumbnail image for Transfiguration APrevitale.jpg

Gone forth from home with God to guide him,

Abram looked up and saw the sky:

“Even as stars you cannot number,

So shall your offspring multiply.”

God there with Abram cov’nant made,

Promise that shall not change or fade.


Jesus went up upon the mountain,

And there, transfigured ‘fore their eyes,

Saw  the disciples “law” and “prophets,”

Standing there next to Jesus’ side.

“This is My Son, ” they heard the voice;

“Listen to Him, He is My choice!”


Each of us, baptized in Christ Jesus,

Is launched on journey hard and long

Where we are daily called to cov’nant,

Following Christ with joyful song.

Do not give way!  Now faithful bide,

Clinging to Cross as boast and guide!

Is Lent a time of healing for you?

In the Syriac Christian tradition the healing power of
Christ is presented to the faithful, by the Church, by knowing that the believing community of faith, is the Lord’s bride and our
mother. We know this experientially through the sacramental ministries of the priesthood. Saint Ephrem prays to Christ crucified and risen:

With three medicines

You have cured our sickness;

Humanity was weak, suffering and failing;

You have strengthened it by you blessed bread,

You have consoled it with your sober wine,

And You have given it joy with your anointing.


Lent is the springtime of our healing in mind, body and soul. Lent is a time to have the
great reversal happen: from weakness to strength, from sickness to health, from sinfulness to a
life of grace. This is all possible in the confession of sins, the worthy
reception of the Holy Eucharist, and the luscious anointing of the Holy Spirit
pour out over us.

Purifying our love

Let’s face it: many Christians find Lent meaningless. There are some among us who get their ashes, make some crazy resolution –give up the daily consumption of 5 beers, are nice to a sibling, do homework– to make “penance” and the season of Lent more “holy.”  Silly things at Lent beget shallow experiences of conversion, perhaps even lend to a falsification of the Christian witness at during the time of Lent. Read the Pope’s lenten addresses an see what he has to say about the nature of this season we call purposeful, holy, penitential, even great. He would agree with me (wow that could be dangerous!) that unless you take Christ seriously who is standing in front of you in the person of your neighbor, Lent is going to be boring and miserable. How pure is your love for Jesus? How does your love for Jesus made real, concrete, fruitful? The following 3 paragraphs may begin to help answer these questions. Emphasis mine.

Christ attracts me primarily through things and people. My wounded, tired soul could stop at that. Idolatry is nothing other than to confuse the creature with the Creator, which is why there is a continual need for the purification of love.

My comments here come directly from a saying of Fr. Giussani that I have referred to many, many times and that, in the book I wrote about him, I cited as one of the loftiest, most impressive and truly innovative points in the Church’s recent
history: the definition of virginity as distance in possession, or possession that includes distance in it. We must take this expression in its entirety. In it is the exaltation of the human in Christ, which so characterized Fr. Giussani’s entire life, and the inevitability of sacrifice, which he always cited as the condition of the road. No one wants to do away with or repress friendship and sentiments, or to put them “in parentheses”, but we must be very clear and ask ourselves: what does God want of me? And what does that mean for the other, in light of the road that God has assigned to him?

Christ is not paradoxicalChrist gives us an abundance of human affections to help us to understand what it means to love him. It doesn’t scandalize me when someone says: “It seems that I love that person more than I love Jesus”, because our path towards the Infinite is without end, and, before you love the God that you don’t see, you love the neighbor that you see. But love the neighbor that you see so as to walk toward God, to walk toward the fullness of yourself.

An excerpt from an address tilted, “Our Fulfillment” by Father Massimo Camisasca, founder of the Fraternity of Saint Charles

The Fraternity is an international missionary congregation of priests begun in 1985 as a response to the work of Monsignor Luigi Giussani. The Fraternity has about 100 priests in 20 countries and 30 in formation to be ordained priests. To read the rest of the address, click here.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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