Author: Kathy Horan
Our Lenten Journey which begins this year on Ash Wednesday, March 6, heralds a special time of preparation, renewal and conversion of mind and heart so that we may worthily celebrate the great feast of Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the triduum which begins with Holy Thursday Mass and concludes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday, with the highlight being the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.
Journeying with Jesus is the overall theme of this special season of the Church’s liturgical year. It signifies that as a people we are on the move, and consciously walking in the footsteps of Jesus and with Jesus. Throughout the 40 days of this journey, we are invited as God’s people to deepen our relationship with the Lord and with one another and to proclaim a message of hope to the world. We have a chance to become more deeply caught up in God’s dream for the world by engaging with the dynamic word of God in our daily lives. The invitation to all of us is to enter into a time of spiritual renewal and conversion to God’s ways. The Prophet Joel reminds us of the Lord’s desire for us: ‘Return to me with all your heart, … return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love …’ (Joel 2:12).
The reason we need to be reminded to convert our hearts and minds to God is that all is not right with us, with our world and with our Church, and we need to change and get back on the right path; in some ways, we need to do an about turn to find the path that leads to life and happiness and often this requires courage to acknowledge the times when we have not lived up to our calling and to seek and grant forgiveness so that peace and harmony can be restored to our lives and the life and wellbeing of the whole community.
Throughout the season of Lent, the Church offers us opportunities to re-engage with our faith, lived in community. As for the early Christian communities, we also are called to come together, in unity of purpose, to give thanks and praise to God with glad and generous hearts, to ponder and share our reflections on the Word of God and to care for the poor, needy and afflicted in our community, both within our Church and beyond. Lent is a time to go beyond ourselves and heighten our awareness of our neighbour and of our need to share our resources with the poor. During Lent we have a significant focus on doing just this by supporting the work of Project Compassion. The focus for this Lenten journey is therefore about being conscious of our identity as God’s holy people, loved and cherished by a God whose love for us is everlasting and steadfast. Indeed, we are called to be more deeply aware of being beloved of God and God’s own dear children.
In this process, we are not alone, and our Church continually seeks ways to remind us of the importance of journeying together as a community. From the early days of the Church, it was the custom of the Bishop of Rome to visit the local Christian communities in his care in the lead up to Lent, to develop in them a sense of being at one and journeying together and supporting one another in living the Christian life. For this reason, he would go on pilgrimage to several of the churches outside the walls of the city of Rome, gathering the people to pray and journey together to these various ‘stations’. During Lent itself, Masses were celebrated in different churches in Rome, and once again the people were encouraged to go from church to church to visit these various stations, or ‘stopping places’, and to see these journeys as part of the process of conversion and repentance.
In our Archdiocese, it has long been the custom to echo this practice of celebrating what we now call ‘Stational Masses’. As for the early Church, we are invited to journey physically from one church to another across the deaneries or clusters of parishes throughout the Archdiocese. In this way, we are also demonstrating our unity and solidarity with fellow Catholics, sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist, acknowledging our need for forgiveness and reconciliation, and in preparing our hearts and minds to celebrate the wonderful feast of Easter. This Lenten journey is particularly important for all parish communities supporting and encouraging catechumens and candidates as they prepare to be fully initiated into the Church at Easter. We encourage all parishes to become involved in attending some of these Stational Masses as part of their Lenten journeying with Jesus. Each parish hosting a Stational Mass for this year would love to welcome people from other parishes both within a particular deanery and beyond.
Towards the end of Lent, the Chrism Mass is another great opportunity for the faithful of the Archdiocese to gather at the Cathedral with all of the priests and the Bishop. At this Mass, priests of the Archdiocese renew their commitment to their priestly ministry and the oils to be used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination and the anointing of the sick will be blessed and distributed to all parishes.