THE LENTEN JOURNEY

Everything you always wanted to know about Lent

 

Lent is the 40-day season of preparation for the Paschal Triduum (pas-kul tree-du'-um), which is from sundown Holy Thursday until sundown on Easter Sunday.  According to The Companion to the Calendar of the Catholic Church, the 40 days are counted "from the First Sunday of Lent until Holy Thursday."  The three days between Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday are an introduction to the season and the readings at Mass on these days are chosen to teach about the three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three disciplines function best when they are done together.  They balance each other and bring us closer to Christ.

 

The word "Lent" comes from the same root as the Angelo-Saxon word "lengthen." In the old Angelo-Saxon tongue it was a word for springtime when the daytime lengthens rapidly. For us it reflects the "lengthening" of our "daylight" hours as we progress from the darkness of winter to the new light of the celebration of Christ's resurrection and the remembrance of the promise that Jesus, the "Light of the world," will come again. Lent is in essence the Church's springtime. We are encouraged to look at this period of Lent as a journey.  Lent reminds us that this is the season to turn away from our worldly distractions and to journey home to God.  This should be a time of inner reflection, and at the end of the Lenten journey we should expect to find ourselves at a different place spiritually than when we started.

 

In English we use the word "Lent" for this special season, but other languages, such as Spanish, have a name for this season that is derived from the word for forty. It is the season of the 40 days. This 40-day period of reflection and prayer has its roots in the Old Covenant practice of 40 days of repentance before the Feast of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Although we fast during this period, we do not fast on Sundays.  The Lord's Day is a day of celebration when the Bride (the Church) is united with the Bridegroom (Christ).  Therefore, some people count their 40 days of fasting from Ash Wednesday, subtracting the 3 Sundays of the Lenten period in which the fast is broken. We do penance for 40 days because Jesus fasted and was tempted 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2).

 

THE LENTEN JOURNEY: 

THE FIRST WEEK OF LENT

 

In the 40-day period of Lent, each of the 7 Sundays of Lent has a special significance.  It is during the first Sunday of the Lenten period that we celebrate the Rite of Election.  In the early history of the Church, Lent was first set aside as a time when the whole Church fasted, prayed, and gave alms for the 40 days preceding Easter to break the power of darkness in the world as new Catholics were welcomed into the Covenant family and lapsed Catholics were to be readmitted into Communion. The 40 days were the time for the instruction of converts to the faith when the catechumens (Greek word that means "someone who is taught by word of mouth") began their "exodus" out of darkness and prepared to "cross the Jordan" into the Church, which climaxed with their baptism. In the early history of the Church, Lent was not just a time for inward focus and assessment of personal growth, but it was also a time for Catholics to focus outwardly on the fulfillment of the "great commission"'the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the Church. We keep that tradition in the Rite of Election when those who are prepared for baptism go the cathedral where they are presented to the Bishop.  They will be baptized at the Easter Vigil.

 

The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday of Lent are called the Spring Ember Days. The word "ember" means "season." There were originally four sets of Ember Days, one set for each season of the year.  During these days, people fasted in thanksgiving for whatever was being harvested at that time of the year.  In the old Roman Catholic calendar, the springtime Ember Days fell during the first full week of Lent.  These days were a fast within a fast.  But in 1969 the Church's calendar was reformed.  Now the Ember Days are supposed to be scheduled by the bishops of each country to match the actual times of harvests and other occasions for prayer.

 

 

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

 

Lent is the season of repentance, confession, and penance.  In Matthew 3:8 St. John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to him for the baptism for the repentance of sins: Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance, and St. Paul said, I preached the need to repent and turn to God and to do works giving evidence of repentance. 

 

During the 40 days of Lent we are called to deep soul-searching and to an examination of conscience to seek out the sin in our lives.  We are called to confess our transgressions and to offer up our sincere desire to right the wrongs we have done.  Through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, we seek to obtain pardon through God's mercy for the sins committed against Him and against our brothers and sisters in the human family. 

 

This sacred sacrament is also called:

  1. The Sacrament of Conversion because it makes sacramentaly present Jesus' call to conversion, which is the first step in returning to fellowship with the Father from whom we have strayed in our sin.

 

  1. The Sacrament of Penance because it consecrates the confessed sinner's personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction made for the sins committed.

 

  1. The Sacrament of Confession because the confession of sins to Christ through His priest is an essential element of this sacrament.  It is also the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God over our lives and of His holiness and His mercy toward sinful man.

 

  1. The Sacrament of Forgiveness because by Christ's priest's sacramental absolution God grants the repentant sinner pardon and peace.

 

  1. The Sacrament of Reconciliation because the sinner receives through his confession and act of contrition the love and mercy of God who reconciles us to Himself.

 

In Matthew 5:24 teaching the New Covenant Law of love, Jesus told those who desired to follow Him, before they offered praise and worship to God they must leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  And Paul admonished the Christians of the Church at Corinth to renounce sin, to confess personal sins, and to turn back to God to live as a holy people because a Holy Father deserves holy children who serve the other children in the human family as elder brothers and sister and who are role models of holiness: So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:20).  

 

In this 40-day journey to holiness, we are called to recommit ourselves to live the Law of the New Covenant in loving God and our brothers, keeping in mind His warning: Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil (Matthew 5:9-10), and we must remember Jesus' command in the Sermon on the Mount to show our love for God by showing His love for those in need through our almsgiving, and through exercising discipline over the material world in favor of spiritual gifts through the spiritual practice of fasting united to prayer (Matthew chapter 6).

 

 

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

 

On the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent the Scrutiny Rites are celebrated in many Catholic parishes.  The word scrutiny means "search."  The "lenten scrutinies" are rites of searching.  They are meant to heal all that is sinful or weak in the hearts those who are chosen for baptism at Easter.  These chosen ones are called "the elect." On these Sundays the Gospel readings come from the Gospel of St. John and include the story of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well, Jesus' cure of the man who was born blind, and on the fifth Sunday, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Each story is about a "passover":

*      a passing over from dishonesty to truth,

*      a passing from blindness to sight, and

*      a passing from death to life. 

 

During a scrutiny rite, the "elect" step forward with their godparents, bow their heads or kneel, and everyone in church prays for them that they may experience this same "Passover."   We pray that they experience "passing over" into the truth of the Gospel of salvation, into a spiritual vision to sustain them on their faith journey, and in the Sacrament of Baptism, a "passing over" by dying to sin and into re-birth in the new life in the risen Savior, Christ Jesus.

 

 

THE FORTH SUNDAY OF LENT

 

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday.  Every Mass has an entrance antiphon which is a sentence or two (usually from the Scriptures) that can be sung at the beginning of Mass.  In the old days each Mass had a title.  The title came from the first word (in Latin) of the day's antiphon.  The antiphon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is from the 66th chapter of the Book of Isaiah and begins, Rejoice, Jerusalem! Come together, you who love her.   In Latin, one of the words used for "rejoice" is laetare, which gives the title Laetare Sunday to this Lenten Mass.  On this day, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are halfway to Easter.  We rejoice because we are halfway home.

 

The readings for the fourth Sunday focus on reconciliation in the story of the Prodigal Son, which can be seen as a story of Israel, the firstborn son and the Gentile nations as the younger sons who were called back into covenant with God.  And yet, it is the story of every believer who squanders the Father's birthright of baptism.  When becoming lost in sin, we cut ourselves off from our Father, but He is always ready to welcome us back, to forgive us as the father forgives the prodigal son, and to share His life with us, to tell us as the father told the prodigal son "Everything I have is yours."

 

THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

 

The liturgy of Lent this month focuses on the God of the Exodus.  The Psalm of the 5th Sunday tells us God is a mighty and gracious God, who in faithfulness to His covenant has done "great things" for His people.  Both the Psalm and the first reading look back on Israel's Exodus experience, however, we can see in the Exodus of Israel out of slavery in Egypt a pattern of the events in which Jesus the Messiah will lead a new Exodus.  Jesus is the new Moses, liberating His covenant people from slavery to sin and death and bringing them to the Promised Land of Heaven!  This new Exodus was made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior, the event we solemnly remember and then celebrate on the 7th Sunday of Lent.

 

 

THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF LENT

 

The Sixth Sunday of Lent is Palm Sunday or the Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  The vestments the priest wears today are red, just as they are on Good Friday.  This Mass celebrates the day Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem on the 10th of Nisan.  It was the day in the Old Covenant preparation for the Passover feast when the perfect male lambs or goats were chosen for the sacrifice of the Passover (Exodus 12:3).  This was the day, Jesus, the true Lamb of God, was proclaimed Messiah by the people who place palm branches before Him as he rode into the Holy City, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 and Jacob/Israel's prophecy for Judah's heir in Genesis 49:11-12. 

 

We celebrate by carrying palms at Mass as signs of life and resurrection.  This Sunday is the last Sunday before the Paschal Triduum, our Passover festival, as we enter our own Jerusalem and begin our final preparation for Holy Week.  It was on a Thursday that the Jews celebrated the last legitimate Old Covenant Feast of the Passover.  St. John, in the Gospel of John 12:1, established the Passover as six days from the dinner in Bethany which was a Sabbath meal.  The date of the dinner in Bethany is established in St. John's Gospel as the day before Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem, a day we observe as Palm Sunday when the crowds of people laid palm branches in front of the donkey upon which Jesus was riding and shouted "Hosannah", the Messianic greeting "Save us we ask!"  In ancient times there was no concept of 0 as a place holder; therefore, when the ancients counted in any series, of days for example, the first day was always counted as day #1.  If there were six days from the Saturday dinner in John 12:1 to Passover, then Passover occurred on a Thursday, in complete agreement with the other Gospel accounts, and Jesus was crucified on a Friday, just as we keep the remembrance of those events in the Holy Triduum.

 

 

THE PASCHAL TRIDUUM

 

The Paschal Triduum (the three days of Passover) begins sundown on Holy Thursday and lasts until sundown on the seventh Sunday, Easter Sunday, which is the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord.  Holy Thursday until sundown is the final day of Lent: the 40th day of the 40 days. At sundown Lent ends and the Paschal Triduum begins. As you can see, during this period we follow the Jewish Old Covenant custom of counting the day from sunset to sunset.

 

The next day is Good Friday: Friday is the 6th day of the week when God made the animals and the first human beings in His image a likeness (Genesis 1:27).  Friday is also the day of Jesus' death, when He died for the sins of the world.  On this day and Holy Saturday, the Eucharistic Chapel will be closed.

 

The day following Good Friday is Holy Saturday. In Latin this was called Sabbatum Sanctum, the Holy Sabbath.  The Pascal Sabbath lasts from Good Friday at sunset to Holy Saturday at sunset and is the middle day of the Triduum. Saturday was the 7th day of Creation and the Old Covenant Sabbath.  It is the day God rested after Creation, the day man was commanded to keep holy under the Old Covenant and to enter into God's "rest", and it was on the Old Covenant Sabbath that Jesus "rested" in the tomb.  The Church "rests" in Christ this day.  On the Friday and Saturday before Easter Sunday we fast, rest, and keep watch.  It is customary to keep Holy Saturday free from all kinds of work, even the preparation of meals. In the night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, our fasting ends and the feast begins. It is the night of the glorious Easter Vigil and at Mass on this night the catechumens will be baptized and begin their renewed lives as sons and daughters of the New Covenant in Christ.

 

 

THE SEVENTH SUNDAY-THE FEAST OF THE RESURRECTED LORD!

 

The seventh Sunday is here at last.  Sunday is the first day of the week; it was the first day of Creation when God said "Let there be light!"  It was on this day of the New Creation, Sunday, when God raised Jesus from the dead.  That is why we call Sunday "the Lord's Day."  This is Easter Sunday.  The word "Easter" comes from the same Angelo-Saxon root as the words "star" and "east." It means "dawn light."  This word has become a wonderful way to describe the Christian Passover.  The Church's heart and soul is found in Easter. It is the time of the most beloved Scripture stories: Creation, Noah and the Flood, the Exodus, Jonah and the great Fish, and the Gospel of the Resurrection. It is the day we complete our journey from the altar of the Cross to the empty tomb, and it is the day we look forward in time to the promised Second Advent of Christ.

 

Easter Sunday begins the Easter Season, it is a 50-day celebration that lasts from Easter Sunday to the celebration of the second great Pentecost.  For the Old Covenant people of God, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), was known by the Greek word "Pentecost," meaning 50th day during Jesus' time.  It was a feast which came 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits, a feast which remembered the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea and which signaled the beginning of the harvest season.  The Feast of Firstfruits was a feast that was always intended to fall on the day after the Sabbath of the Holy Week of the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, 8-day festival period.  This means the feast of Firstfruits, from the time it was commanded to be celebrated at Mt. Sinai, always fell on a Sunday (Leviticus 23:9-14).  The Jewish feast of Firstfruits was the day on which Jesus arose from the tomb-the "firstfruits" of the great "harvest" of redeemed souls into God's great "storehouse" of heaven (1Corinthians 15:20-23)!

 

For the Old Covenant people of God, the Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost, which came 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits, remembered the coming of Yahweh to Israel on Mt. Sinai to establish the Old Covenant Church.  For Christians, however, it became the celebration of the birth of the universal Church when God the Holy Spirit came to fill and indwell the New Covenant people of God who were waiting and praying in the Upper Room (Acts 1:4-12; 2:1-6).  It was on the very day of the Old Covenant feast which celebrated the theophany of God coming down to Israel upon Mt. Sinai in fire that the Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire to the 120 faithful disciples of Jesus the Messiah praying in the Upper Room, establishing the New Israel, the Universal/Catholic Church of Jesus Christ.

 

For more information on the connection between the Old Covenant annual holy days and God's plan for the coming of the Messiah see the chart "The Seven Sacred Annual Feasts of the Old Covenant" and the document "The Second Great Pentecost" on the Agape Bible Study website at www.agapebiblestudy.com

 

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2009 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.