Lent & Holy Week: March 2010 Archives

"Spy" Wednesday

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Spy Wednesday.jpgThe Church as often called today "spy Wednesday"  because of the betrayal of Christ one hears made by Judas. The name Judas is forever linked with the concept of betrayal. In Dante's Inferno (Canto XXXIV) we see Judas in the lowest circle of Hell being eternally consumed by a three-faced winged devil. Imagine the affective hurt of being betrayed by a friend!

The Church prays

O God, who willed Your Son to undergo on our behalf the gibbet of the Cross so that You might drive away from us the power of the enemy, grant to us Your servants, that we may obtain the grace of the resurrection.

We know by experience that we have not sufficient strength in ourselves to bring to a successful completion our chief Lenten duty, which is to die fully to sin in order to live fully in the risen Christ. But Christ himself, before leaving his own, prayed to his Father to preserve them from evil and from the evil one, from the seductions of the world and the attacks of Satan. He taught them to ask, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Obviously he did not intend that his disciples be spared every kind of temptation and danger, for this would be impossible in this life; besides, God himself permits it to test our virtue, but he wanted to assure them sufficient strength to resist. The evil from which he desired to free them was sin, the only real disaster, because it separates us from God.

Divine Intimacy

Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD

My friend George asked me the other day about the tradition of covering the statues, images and crucifixes (sacred images) -but not the Stations of the Cross--before Holy Week. He told me that the nuns told him that the Church covered sacred items because Christ went into hiding before his arrest. Well, that's true but incomplete. The tradition of veiling finds its source in John 8:46-59 where the Jews attempt to stone Jesus because of his claims of being the Son of God, but he hides from view. As point of comparison, you will notice in Mark's gospel our focus is on the Lord's crucifixion because it is there that we learn the true identity of Jesus as being man and divine. The covering of sacred images, therefore, is to illustrate the increasing tension we find ourselves in the Liturgy as we move toward of the Lord's own Paschal Mystery. The veiling actually reinforces the verifiable fact of the Incarnation.

B16 Notker Wolf & Elias Lorenzo.jpgMy friend Dom Elias Lorenzo, monk of St. Mary's Abbey (Morristown, NJ), is currently serving as the Superior and Prior of the Abbey of Sant'Anselmo in Rome, Italy, the headquarters of international Benedictine Confederation and home to the Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

In his capacity as Father Prior of Sant'Anselmo, Dom Elias recently (February 17, 2010) welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Sant'Anselmo on the Aventine Hill. The Pope's visit to Sant'Anselmo is an annual event to begin the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday with a procession from the Abbey Church to the Church of Santa Sabina, the headquarters of the Order of Friars Preachers (the Dominicans) where the Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated.

The Holy Father was greeted by Abbot Primate Notker Wolf (also German) and Dom Elias, who escorted him into the basilica where he prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. There the Pope stopped for a brief prayer, before beginning Mass at the chair. Dom Elias said, "This is a unique liturgy in that the Pope intones a penitential litany and the monks, visiting bishops and cardinals process from Sant'Anselmo to Santa Sabina for the rest of the Mass." The pope vests for Mass at Santa Sabina.

In the famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of the three important spiritual exercises: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Here I want to write about fasting. And over the many centuries that the Catholic Church has existed, there has been development in the teaching based on experience.

Jesus' teaching on fasting is this:

*Fasting is an extremely important means --not an ends-- of resisting sin and the threat of hell.

*Fasting is practiced as a memorial of Christ's death on Good Friday; it ought to be practiced each Friday but the Church only requires fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

*Fasting is intimately linked to prayer and almsgiving as spiritual exercises.

In paragraph of 2043 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Code of Canon Law, states, "The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart."

Our Church still believes that fasting is not only helpful, but is required because it forms and reforms a sense of faith, hope and charity. Serious Christians will not abandon the practice of fasting, especially before significant events in life like baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, etc. So what does the Church believe about fasting? Fasting means...

*There are two fast-days on which we are allowed but one full meal but person can have one full meal, take two other meatless meals, to maintain strength, according to one's needs. Taken together these two meatless meals should not equal another full meal.

*All people over 18 and under 59 years of age, and whose health and occupation will permit them to fast. (Abstinence begins for those who are 14.) The Church, showing mercy, does excuse certain persons from the obligation of fasting on account of age, health, work, or the circumstances in which they live. Children, from the age of seven years, and persons who are unable to fast are bound to abstain on days of abstinence, unless they are excused for sufficient reason. If questions persist, please find a parish priest for consultation.

*Fast-days occur during Advent and Lent, on the Ember days and on the vigils or eves of some great feasts. A vigil falling on a Sunday is not observed.

Fasting is often seen by some people as antiquated, harmful, or a waste of time. To think that fasting is only about the legal requirements of the faith, is a serious reduction of the practice of religion to ideology. Moralism is shallow and gets us no where. I will say, fasting is an essential part of being formed in the Catholic faith, adhering closely to Christ. No one who takes seriously their faith can dispense themselves without good reason from fasting as Christ fasted. Yes, it is hard and yes it is annoying but the pay-off is profound because it opens the body, the heart and the mind to grace. Fasting allows us to see more deeply and clearly the conversion we are called to work on, and to be less satisfied with the status quo. Fasting assists our restlessness in tending towards God by stripping away sin (and a little weight comes off, all the better). 

I have to say there is a beauty in fasting because it is a method in emptying myself of that which weighs me down either with food --which makes me sluggish and at time incapable of listening to the movements of the Holy Spirit in my life-- or fasting from sinful tendencies which can also make me sluggish but there is a significant risk in not fasting from sin because sin leads away from God and from the heart of the Church, the sacrament of Christ on earth.

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?

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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 conversion.

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

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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This page is a archive of entries in the Lent & Holy Week category from March 2010.

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