On Wednesday, we begin the great season of Lent! Fr. Walter Burghardt, S.J. – a noted theologian from Georgetown University – once wrote that “most people go into Lent kicking and screaming.” Unfortunately, many people, I think, may agree with him. Lent can sometimes be seen as a dour, somber, or even depressing season of our liturgical year. It’s the season when we give up things or activities that we normally enjoy – denying ourselves pleasure. It’s the season when we make sacrifices and fast. It’s the season when we do penance. Last year, in a presentation on the season of Lent, a participant made this observation: for him, Lent was a time when he “spent the whole season just wishing it were over!”
Yet, this is not the vision that the Church has for Lent; and this is certainly not the vision that our Liturgy has of the season. Far from understanding Lent as a season of sadness or a season to be avoided, the Liturgy of the Church sees Lent as just the opposite! Hear these words from the first preface to the Eucharistic Prayer of Lent: “Father…each year you give us this joyful season” of Lent (emphasis added). This preface goes on to express why we understand Lent as joyful – for it is “when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.”
So Lent is a time of preparation for renewal; but renewal of what? The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults gives us a sense: “In the liturgy and liturgical catechesis of Lent the reminder of baptism already received or the preparation for its reception, as well as the theme of repentance, renew the entire community along with those being prepared to celebrate the paschal mystery” through baptism (RCIA, no. 138).
Simply put – Lent is a time in which we prepare to renew the Baptism that first incorporated us into the Paschal Mystery of Christ. We prepare for this renewal through a variety of means – the traditional means of fasting, prayer and almsgiving; through penance and reconciliation; through doing something extra that strengthens Christian virtue, and through many other ways. What is important to remember is that the disciplines of Lent – the self-denial, the extra prayer, the fasting, the penance – are not ends in and of themselves. They are, rather, the means by which we prepare for baptism and its renewal in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. (Go to www.odw.org to find the Lenten regulations for fasting and abstinence.)
As the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for Lent reminds us, “As we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ [e.g., our baptism!], you bring the image of your Son to perfection in us.” This is, indeed, cause for joy! May Lent be a time of fruitful preparation for all of us, so that on Holy Saturday night or on Easter Sunday we may renew our baptism with deepened faith and commitment!