THE LENTEN COMMITMENT
Life is short. There are only so many Lents. And while we all begin with good intentions, too often we reach the end of Lent regretting that we have squandered yet another opportunity to grow in our life in God. Perhaps this year can be different. Perhaps this year we will resolve not to settle for the status quo in our spiritual life, nor coast in our Christianity.
The most amazing and wonderful thing in the world is that God has made Himself totally accessible in Jesus Christ. We can go to Him, call upon Him, be with Him. May God help us, this Lent, to be deliberate and conscientious; to awake and arise each day with the purpose to keep this Lent in spirit as well as letter.
This Year’s Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 17 and concludes on Holy Saturday, May 1. This holy season prepares us for Easter in three segments: a time of instruction in the Christian Faith (March 17-April 17), a time of pondering Our Lord’s Passion (April 18-28), and a time of immersing ourselves in the mystery of our salvation during the triduum sacrum (“holy three days”) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter (April 29-May 2).
THE THREE DISCIPLINES OF LENT
Lent involves the practice of three disciplines as a preparation for the newness of life which we celebrate with much joy at Easter. For during this great Feast, we both commemorate the Resurrection of Our Lord, and also celebrate the spiritual resurrection of our lives from dead works to serve the living God.
To set ourselves in the right path toward Easter, the Church uses Our Lord’s own words which establish three life-long disciplines. These three disciplines revolve around
♦ Increased prayer (public and private) (Mt 6.1-3)
♦ Unostentatious self-denial (Mt 6.16-20)
♦ Sacrificial giving (charitable donations) (Mt 6.4-15)
All three Lenten disciplines form a unit in order to aid us in our observance of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Both private & public prayer should be augmented and increased as part of our Lenten commitment. At St Michael’s, ample opportunities are given to cultivate the virtue of public prayer which, in turn, leads to enhanced private devotion.
The Mass (Divine Liturgy) is celebrated daily at 9 a.m. during Lent. Each day has its own unique theme which unfolds in the prayers, Scripture readings, chants, and meditations. Each day leads us to see the several aspects of Our Lord’s passionate grace.
Vespers & Rosary are also prayed in community every Wednesday at 7 p.m., and the Stations of the Cross with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will be offered every Friday at 7 p.m. On Saturdays, Holy Hour will be available at 4 p.m. for adoring and meditating before the Blessed Sacrament displayed on the altar. This will be followed at 5 p.m. by Saturday Vespers & Benediction. During Holy Hour, Private Confession will also be available. You may also join us on Tuesdays @ 8:30 p.m. for Rosary via Zoom.
In the home, increased private prayers and devotions should also be cultivated during this Season. These prayers and devotions should begin and be formed by the Psalms and readings from the Bible. This year parishioners are especially encouraged to spend each day in Lent reading a portion from the Gospel according to St Luke.
FASTING & ABSTENTION
In Scriptures and the Church, fasting is a communal habit. The purpose of the fast is to bring to our mind, each day, Our Lord’s sacrifice, to aid our compassion for others, and to set our minds on spiritual things (Rom. 8.5). Fasting also allows the entire body to participate in the penitence characteristic of this Holy Season.
As a community, on Mondays through Saturdays we abstain from all meat and meat products (except fish); and we fast by limiting the amount of food we eat to one full meal each day and refraining from all snacks. (A smaller meal of soup or salad may also be consumed at another time during the day.)
The Orthodox Lenten Fast does not offer suggestions on what to “give up.” Rather, it prescribes the common rule the faithful are to follow as they fast together. Individuals may choose to “give up” additional items during Lent (e.g., alcohol or screen time), but such choices should not replace the Lenten fast. Likewise, those who (for medical or other legitimate reasons) find it difficult to observe the Lenten Fast should first speak with their spiritual father concerning modifications in order to keep the spirit of the Fast.
More important than the type and amount of food is abstaining from anger, strife, envy, and the other deadly sins so that we might cultivate the godly virtues of humility, charity, chastity, temperance, patience, kindness, and diligence.
Increased charitable donations should also be attempted during Lent, in addition to the regular tithe or pledge. These alms can come from the money saved by eating less during Lent or by decreasing personal spending. By giving to those in need, we remind ourselves that Our Lord’s love knows no economic boundaries.
You may also wish to designate a particular local charity for additional funds. Such charities may include the local FOCUS North America chapter, the IOCC, the OCMC, the Obria Medical Clinic, the Archdiocese Food for Hungry People campaign, or any number of homeless shelters. Donations of foodstuffs are accepted at the church, and opportunities in distributing assistance are frequently advertised.
LAUDABLE LENTEN CUSTOMS
Christians during Lent put the remembrance of Our Lord’s Passion above all other pursuits. For this reason, Lent is a closed season of the Church Year. This means that the solemnities of this season should not be disturbed by wedding celebrations, parties, or other activities that would encourage us away from the three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and charitable giving.
The Liturgy itself during Holy Lent expresses the seasons’ penitential character. The Gloria in excelsis, the Alleluia, bells, and extra organ music are omitted. Somber violet covers both Altar and Celebrant, lightened on only two occasions: Laetare Sunday, with rose as the proper color; and Holy Thursday, when white is used for the Mass of the Institution of Our Lord’s Supper.
Passion Sunday falls on April 18 this year. At this time, the Lenten observance is heightened in anticipation of the greater nearness of the celebration of Our Lord’s Death. Passion Sunday is when violet veils are placed over crucifixes, icons and statutes in church and home.
The dramatic services of Holy Week bring Lent to its fitting climax. Mass will be celebrated each day of Holy Week, climaxing with the triduum sacrum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Pascha.
On Maundy Thursday evening (April 29) in a most splendid and dignified Sung Mass, the Institution of the Most Blessed Sacrament will be celebrated. This Mass concludes with the solemn Procession and the Stripping of the Altar. Every communicant should make every effort to receive Holy Communion on this sacred evening.
The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ will be celebrated with the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy on Good Friday (April 30). This Solemn Liturgy includes the Veneration of a relic of the True Cross and prayers for people in every relationship with God. Every member should make an effort to attend the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy.
The Queen of Feasts will be celebrated with great joy at St Michael’s Church. The feast will commence with the Great Vigil of Easter, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Holy Saturday (May 1). Then, on Easter Sunday (May 2), we shall hear again the Gospel of Our Lord’s Resurrection at the Easter Sunday Mass. How greatly our joy would be increased if every communicant member of our Parish would come to the Altar to receive the Eucharist on this Day of Resurrection!
THE END OF LENT
Everything we purpose for Lent is designed to draw us closer to God. What has been offered here (and elsewhere) by the Church will aid us in keeping our resolve and maintaining godly diligence.
The life of self-denial is the path of salvation, and so these practices should not end after the 40 days, but should help us re-group and put forth extra effort to be intentional as we strive to make a new beginning. Without such purposeful commitment, we may complete another Lent, regretting that we have not made the most of the opportunity. May none of us say at the end of this Lenten season; ‘well, maybe next year…?’
If we fast and do not pray; if our prayer dies on our lips without affecting how we deal with others; if our love for God does not extend to those whom He loves—then we have gained little. Let us keep in mind, then, that we keep Lent not for its own sake or as a Spring ritual. Rather, we keep Lent in order to (re-)orient ourselves to God in repentance and prayer.