Tag Archives: lent

The crucible of Lent: the Embertide

Transfiguration GBellini.jpgIn the reformed Catholic Liturgy we hear little of the traditional days throughout the year given by the Church to pray in a more intense way and to fast in the light of the sacred Liturgy. Namely, Ember Days. Not only is it Lent but this week, Wednesday (today), Friday and Saturday, we have something extra added (at least we did, let me explain below): we offer to God the work and fruit of the season of spring and we ask God for blessings. In the old way of doing things deacons were ordained priests on Saturday. An intense sensibility of prayer and fasting make these days notable.

Catholics should always situation themselves in the context of the Liturgy (that is, Lauds, Vespers & Mass) with the minor though NOT incidental liturgical observances like Ember days that happen about quarterly in the calendar year. Before the promulgation of the Missal of Paul VI (the style of Mass we now have) there was a tradition of specifically gathering on three days, three times a year which correspond to the seasons of the year. In addition to what said above about the character of the Ember Days, one can also emphasize the purpose of these days as to place before the Lord our own struggle to live a life of holiness asking for the grace to continue without back-sliding (which is easy to do for many of us). The work to overcome our disordered concupiscence (conversion of morals) is difficult and excruciatingly painful at times. And to be honest, it’s only possible to advance in the spiritual life with the abandonment of self to God unreservedly. What the Church proposes is that we consider the Scripture narrative of the Transfiguration of the Lord (seen on the right by Giovanni Bellini) as an apt motif for our own desire to change for the better.
Even though the reflections offered at the New Liturgical Movement blog are within the perspective of the Missal of John XXIII (the 1962 Missal), it is worth noting what the two writers say about the Lenten Ember Days because the liturgical practice is correct and helpful for all of us.
I, for one, would love to see a reclaiming of the Embertide traditions if not in the actual restoration to the liturgical observance then in teaching the faithful through the normal channels of CCD, bulletin teaching and preaching. What is striking about the Embertide liturgy is the use of sacred Scripture: the number of readings increase thus giving a fuller plate of the word of God for our meditation.
Here is the post on the Ember Days in the Fall.
Let us ask Mary, Mother of God, refuge of sinners, to aid us with her prayers.

Is our practice of charity leading us anywhere?

How often do you think about the spiritual acts that you do, let’s say for Lent, are pleasing God? Why are you do act of penance? Really, why are you “giving something up for Lent”? If you are doing something to observe the 40 days of Lent, what or who is your guide, and why? How sufficiently aware are you when it comes to your attitudes, desires, ways of interacting with others? When I read the following passage these and other questions surfaced because the author is dead-on. In fact, he cuts a little too close to the heart.

By means of Scripture, the Church instructs her
children in the true meaning of Lenten penance for, as St. Leo the Great
comments: it is useless to deny food to the body if the soul does not reject
sin (4th Sermon of Lent). If mortification does not lead to an interior effort
to eliminate sin and practice virtue, it cannot be pleasing to God, who wants
us to serve him with a heart that is humble, pure and sincere

Selfishness and
the tendency to assert our ego too often lead us to put ourselves at the center
of the universe; we trample on the rights of others and in doing so evade the
fundamental law of brotherly love. That is why those Jews who fasted, wore
sackcloth and slept on ashes, but did not cease oppressing their neighbors,
were severely rebuked by God and their acts of penance were rejected
. It is of
little or no use to impose physical privations on ourselves if we are unable to
renounce our own interests in order to respect and promote those of our
neighbor; if we will not give up our views in favor of some one else’s; if we
do not try to get along with everyone and bear wrongs patiently

Scripture makes it very definite that what makes penitential practices
acceptable to God lies in the area of charity

Divine Intimacy
Father Gabriel
of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD

Lent: the verification if Christ really came to save us

Being that today is the first Sunday of Lent, I am drawn to reflecting what it means to “live Lent” and to know better what is supposed to happen to me during Lent with all this prayer, fasting and charity. To begin understanding Lent I’ve turned to Father Alexander Schmemann’s book, Great Lent (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press). Here are some excerpts:

When a man leaves on a journey, he must know where he is going. Thus with Lent. Above all, Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, “the Feast of Feasts.” It is the preparation for the “fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation.” We must begin, therefore, by trying to understand this connection between Lent and Easter, for it reveals something very essential, very crucial about our Christian faith and life.

crucifix Bardi.jpg

Is it necessary to explain that Easter is much more than one of the feasts, more than a yearly commemoration of a past event? Anyone who has, be it only once, taken part in that night which is “brighter than the day,” who has tasted of that unique joy, knows it. […] On Easter we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection as something that happened and still happens to us. For each one of us received the gift of that new life and the power to accept it and live by it. It is a gift which radically alters our attitude toward everything in this world, including death. It makes it possible for us to joyfully affirm: “Death is no more!” Oh, death is still there, to be sure, and we still face it and someday it will come and take us. But it is our whole faith that by His own death Christ changed the very nature of death, made it a passage — a “passover,” a “Pascha” — into the Kingdom of God, transforming the tragedy of tragedies into the ultimate victory. […]

Such is that faith of the Church, affirmed and made evident by her countless Saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the “new life” which we received as a gift, and that in fact we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us? […] We simply forget all this — so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations — and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes “old” again — petty, dark, and ultimately meaningless — a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. […] We may from time to time acknowledge and confess our various “sins,” yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to usIndeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the sin of all sins, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.

If we realize this, then we may understand what Easter is and why it needs and presupposes Lent. For we may then understand that the liturgical traditions of the Church, all its cycles and services, exist, first of all, in order to help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it. […] And yet the “old” life, that of sin and pettiness, is not easily overcome and changed. The Gospel expects and requires from man an effort of which, in his present state, he is virtually incapable. […] This is where Great Lent comes in. This is the help extended to us by the Church, the school of repentance which alone will make it possible to receive Easter not as mere permission to eat, to drink, and to relax, but indeed as the end of the “old” in us, as our entrance into the “new.” […] For each year Lent and Easter are, once again, the rediscovery and the recovery by us of what we were made through our own baptismal death and resurrection.

A journey, a pilgrimage! Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the “bright sadness” of Lent, we see — far, far away — the destination. It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom. And it is this vision, the foretaste of Easter, that makes Lent’s sadness bright and our lenten effort a “spiritual spring.” The night may be dark and long, but all along the way a mysterious and radiant dawn seems to shine on the horizon. “Do not deprive us of our expectation, O Lover of man!”

Lent lengthens our horizon, it orients us to eternal life, Pope tells us

I present to you most of the Pope’s homily for Ash Wednesday. Emphasis added to draw attention to some excellent ideas or turns of phrase.

Ash Wednesday 2010.jpg

With this moving invocation, taken from the Book of
Wisdom (cf 11:23-26), the liturgy introduces the Eucharistic celebration of Ash
Wednesday. They are words that, in some way, open the whole Lenten journey,
placing as their foundation the omnipotence of the love of God, his absolute
lordship over every creature, which is translated in infinite indulgence,
animated by a constant and universal will to live. In fact, to forgive someone
is equivalent to saying: I do not want you to die, but that you live; I always
and only want your good

This absolute certainty sustained Jesus during the 40
days transpired in the desert of Judea, after the baptism received from John in
the Jordan. This long time of silence and fasting was for him a complete
to the Father and to his plan of love; it was a
“baptism,” that is, an “immersion” in his will, and in this
sense, an anticipation of the Passion and the Cross. To go into the desert and
to stay there a long time, alone, meant to be willingly exposed to the assaults
of the enemy, the tempter who made Adam fall and through whose envy death
entered the world (cf Wisdom 2:24); it meant engaging in open battle with him,
defying him with no other weapons than limitless confidence in the omnipotent
love of the Father. Your love suffices me, my food is to do your will (cf John
4:34): This conviction dwelt in the mind and heart of Jesus during that
“Lent” of his. It was not an act of pride, a titanic enterprise, but
a decision of humility, consistent with the Incarnation and the Baptism in the
Jordan, in the same line of obedience to the merciful love of the Father, who
“so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

The Lord
did all this for us. He did it to save us and, at the same time, to show us the
way to follow him. Salvation, in fact, is a gift, it is God’s grace, but to
have effect in my existence it requires my consent, an acceptance demonstrated
in deeds, that is, in the will to live like Jesus, to walk after him. To follow
Jesus in the Lenten desert is, hence, the condition necessary to participate in
his Easter, in his “exodus.
” Adam was expelled from the earthly
Paradise, symbol of communion with God; now, to return to that communion and,
therefore, to true life, it is necessary to traverse the desert, the test of
faith. Not alone, but with Jesus! He — as always — has preceded us and has
already conquered in the battle against the spirit of evil
. This is the meaning
of Lent
, liturgical time that every year invites us to renew the choice to follow
Christ on the path of humility to participate in his victory over sin and

Understood in this perspective also is the penitential sign of the
ashes, which are imposed on the head of those who begin with good will the
Lenten journey. It is essentially a gesture of humility, which means: I
recognize myself for what I am, a frail creature, made of earth and destined to
the earth, but also made in the image of God and destined to him
. Dust, yes,
but loved, molded by love
, animated by his vital breath, capable of recognizing
his voice and of responding to him; free and, because of this, also capable of
disobeying him, yielding to the temptation of pride and self-sufficiency. This
is sin, the mortal sickness that soon entered to contaminate the blessed earth
that is the human being
. Created in the image of the Holy and Righteous One,
man lost his own innocence and he can now return to be righteous only thanks to
the righteousness of God, the righteousness of love that — as St. Paul writes
—  was manifested “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans
3:22). From these words of the Apostle I took my inspiration for my Message,
addressed to all the faithful on the occasion of this Lent: a reflection on the
theme of righteousness in the light of the Sacred Scriptures and of its
fulfillment in Christ.

Also very present in the biblical readings of Ash
Wednesday is the theme of righteousness. First of all, the page of the prophet
Joel and the Responsorial Psalm — the Miserere — form a penitential diptych,
which manifests how at the origin of all material and social injustice is what
the Bible calls “iniquity,” that is, sin, which consists essentially
in a disobedience to God, namely, a lack of love. “For I know my
transgressions, / and my sin is ever before me. / Against thee, thee only, have
I sinned, / and done that which is evil in thy sight” (Psalm 51 (50):
3-4). The first act of righteousness, therefore, is to recognize one’s own
iniquity, it is to recognize that it is rooted in the “heart,” in the
very center of the human person
. “Fasting,” “weeping”,
“mourning” (cf. Joel 2:12) and every penitential expression has value
in the eyes of God only if it is the sign of truly repentant hearts. Also the
Gospel, taken from the “Sermon on the Mount,” insists on the need to
practice proper “righteousness” — almsgiving, prayer and fasting —
not before men but only in the eyes of God, who “sees in secret” (cf
Matthew 6:1-6.16-18). The true “recompense” is not others’
admiration, but friendship with God and the grace that derives from it, a grace
that gives strength to do good, to love also the one who does not deserve it,
to forgive those who have offended us.
Dear brothers
and sisters, Lent lengthens our horizon, it orients us to eternal life. On this
earth we are on pilgrimage, “[f]or here we have no lasting city, but we
seek the city which is to come,” says the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews
13:14). Lent makes us understand the relativity of the goods of this earth and
thus makes us capable of the necessary self-denials, free to do good
. Let us
open the earth to the light of heaven, to the presence of God in our midst.

Practice prayer … it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done (as least lately)

Practice prayer from the beginning. Paint your house
with the colors of modesty and humility. Make it radiant with the light of
justice. Decorate it with the finest gold leaf of good deeds. Adorn it with the
walls and stones of faith and generosity. Crown it with the pinnacle of prayer.
In this way, you will make it a perfect dwelling place for the Lord. You will
be able to receive him as in a splendid palace, and through His grace you will
already possess Him, His image enthroned in the temple of your spirit.

Saint John
Chrysostom, homily read at Office of Readings, Friday after Ash Wednesday

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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