by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr
Lent is upon us. Even those who do not share our faith or celebrate this penitential season are typically aware of it. They see “Lenten specials” offered at restaurants and hear their friends refer to what they “gave up for Lent.”
Yes, Lent is a time for small sacrifices in repentance for our sins – fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays in accordance with Church law, and often other acts of voluntary self-denial in line with long-established tradition.
In recent decades, there has been a healthy emphasis on giving up bad habits and sinful behaviors, such as gossip and grudges, during Lent, in addition to or instead of doing without a favorite food or drink. Catholics may also observe Lent by spiritual reading, volunteering to help others in need, attending a day of reflection, or participating in Mass daily.
At all Lenten liturgies, the priest and deacon wear purple and the Alleluia is not sung. On the three middle Sundays of Lent, a series of ancient rites of self-searching and repentance called the scrutinies are celebrated for the elect – those who are seeking baptism, confirmation and First Communion at the Easter Vigil.
The cumulative effect of all these practices is that Lent feels different from the rest of the year, both on Sundays and throughout each week.
At the same time, however, what we do during Lent should affect how we live our lives after Lent. Think of it as a kind of reset button for our lives. The traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are powerful tools to help us soberly re-examine our lives and our relationship with Christ, determine what needs to change, and begin that process.
While communal prayers such as Mass and the Stations of the Cross are important, so is individual, meditative prayer. In the world of 24/7 cable, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and podcasts – all of which can have many positive effects – it is more important than ever that we take some quiet time for spiritual reflection, especially during Lent.
One important tool for reflection that comes into your home is The Catholic Telegraph. The archdiocesan newspaper is an essential source of faith formation and spiritual development, as well as news. This is true every month, but in this issue you will find a special focus on Lent from many different perspectives.
The CT also has a wonderful new service called The Daily Divina. This is a brief passage from Scripture and a single question for reflection that is e-mailed to subscribers each morning, weekends included, to give you nourishing food for thought all day. You can subscribe at thecatholictelegraph.com/digitalsubscriptions.
Another vital habit to cultivate is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is particularly appropriate during Lent. Through this great gift, God gives us the means to confess our sins and begin anew. To make Lenten access to the sacrament more easily available, all parishes/parish regions of the Archdiocese will be open for confession and private prayer from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24. We call this The Light is On for You because the light of the confessional is like a porch light welcoming us home. It reminds us that the light of Christ shines in the darkness for all of us, whatever our failings and whatever our challenges. Learn more at encounterpeace.org.
Lent is an opportunity to “repent and believe in the Good News,” to make a change in our relationship with the Lord and with others – not just for six weeks, but for the rest of our lives. I urge you to make the most of it.