THE SEASON OF LENT
The sacrament of reconciliation will continue to be offered each Saturday between 3:30 and 4:45 p.m., but note that, because of health concerns from the coronavirus, other Lenten events have been cancelled.
The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him. At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him “until an opportune time”. The evangelists indicate the salvific meaning of this mysterious event: Jesus is the new Adam who remained faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. Jesus fulfills Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will. In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror: he “binds the strong man” to take back his plunder. Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of his filial love for the Father. Jesus’ temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.” By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The season of Lent is an annual 40-day period preceding the celebration of Easter (it actually lasts 46 days, but the Sundays in Lent do not count as part of the penitential season). Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with the Saturday of Holy Week, is characterized by the three practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and the readings for the season are often organized around them, particularly in the Office of Readings, part of the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours, said by all clergy and religious and by many laypeople as well.
Throughout the scriptures there are echoes of the number 40, which is central to Christian revelation: On two separate occasions Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, receiving God’s laws. The Hebrews spent 40 days in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. The prophet Jonah powerfully warned ancient Nineveh for 40 days that its destruction would come because of its many sins. Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry. He also appeared to his disciples and others for 40 days after his resurrection from the dead.
During Lent, Christians are invited to become closer to God through the Church’s sacraments and other devotional practices, such as attending weekday Mass, following the Way of the Cross, observing abstinence from meat required on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and going to confession in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Lent is also a season of preparation for catechumens and, by extension, for all Christians. Catechumens are those unbaptized persons seeking to become Christians and enter the Church through the sacrament of baptism. The period of preparation (called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA) begins well before Lent but intensifies during the penitential season as the day of the candidates’ baptism draws closer. Often included in the preparation for Easter are those who were baptized in Christian denominations but seek to enter the Catholic Church; these persons are not baptized again but affirm their belief in all that the Catholic Church teaches as revealed by God and, on the basis of that profession, receive the sacrament of confirmation. Baptism and confirmation are conferred at the Easter Vigil (which takes place on the Saturday evening before Easter Day) on the adults who have gone through the period of preparation.
Lent is unofficially divided into two parts. The first section, which stretches from Ash Wednesday up to the Fifth Sunday of Lent, emphasizes the traditional practices of Lent, self-denial, attention to the needs of those less fortunate, confession of sins, and growth in the faith. The last two weeks of Lent stress the passion and death of Christ, and appropriately the “mood” of the liturgy becomes more somber. Preceding the liturgical changes made after Vatican II, this period was referred to as Passiontide, and the crosses and statues were veiled in purple (a practice that has been revived in many parishes). With Palm Sunday (officially “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord”), the Church turns its attention to contemplating the events leading up to the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.
Interwoven with the Lenten themes just mentioned is the preparation of candidates for baptism (officially called “the elect” after the Rite of Election at the beginning of Lent), which becomes more obvious to the faithful beginning with the Third Sunday of Lent and continuing for two more Sundays, when the elect undergo the scrutinies, special prayers said for them at Mass, emphasizing their preparation for the most important religious moment of their lives. The readings at Mass, especially in Year A of the three-year cycle, are filled with baptismal themes (Jesus encounters the woman at the well, he heals the man born blind, and he raises Lazarus from the dead).