It’s amazing to think that we have wandered with Jesus in the desert for nearly forty days now. I have taken this Lenten season to feel more connected with Jesus and strengthen my relationship with him in prayer. This past Sunday, the Church celebrated Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem and marks the first day of Holy Week, one of the most important times in our faith. The rest of this week consists of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter, all of which are wonderful times to reflect on the strength and love shown by Jesus during his final days, his Death, and his Resurrection.
The Gospel for this past week is one that I always find interesting to hear, as it gives a lot of insight into some of the traditions that we see during our usual Sunday services. For example, in this Gospel we hear about the Body and Blood of Christ at the Last Supper, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father (Mt 26:14—27:66).” While not the direct translation said during Mass, this is something that we hear every time we are at church, something that is just ingrained in the flow of Mass, yet here, in one of the most important readings in our faith, we see how it first began. I like to imagine myself as a fly on the wall during the Last Supper. How did the apostles react? What was their body language? Were they scared, confused, or excited to be with Jesus? Jesus knew what he was about to face on the Cross; he knew about his eventual Death and Resurrection. Yet, he knew his work before those events was not done; he had to continue to preach to the apostles. In hindsight, probably no one would’ve expected him to do that; he was facing death! Nowadays, people will say, “If you knew you only had one week left before you died, what would you do?” The usual answers are things like going on a fancy vacation, winning the lottery, and completing items on one’s bucket list, but the reality is that most of us don’t know when our time will come. On the contrary, Jesus did know what his fate would be when he entered Jerusalem. He knew the importance of his death on the Cross, and he knew it was important for him not to stray from his intentions. The strength shown by Jesus in this Last Supper is one that few could’ve shown, and it is important for us to recognize as we continue through Holy Week.
As we finish up our 2023 Lenten season, I hope that you all have taken some time to deepen your relationship with Christ and reflect on the importance of the season in your own heart. May these last few days of Lent guide you through some of the darkest days of our Church into the glory of the Resurrection. I hope you all have a wonderful Easter celebration!
As I have gotten older, my favorite part about Lent has become the fact that we have the privilege of willingly walking into the desert - into these 40 days - with our Lord. I think there are a lot of times in our lives when we suddenly find ourselves in the desert - desperate for water, nourishment, or companionship. It is in the desert where we not only grow in intimacy with the Lord, but are also able to be strengthened through real repentance.
What is true for us in the deserts of our lives is the same thing that was true for the Prodigal Son in this Sunday’s Gospel: we receive the promise of a Father who receives our repentance with mercy.
The story of the Prodigal Son is an important one for us to reflect upon as we continue on our Lenten journeys - it is through repentance that the very son who squandered his inheritance is welcomed back with open arms into the mercy of his father. And the story doesn’t end there: not only does the father embrace and welcome his son back, he rejoices and celebrates his return for those around him to see.
It is through our repentance that we experience the mercy of God; it is through our repentance that we receive the promise of the desert of these 40 days. This is so beautifully echoed in all the readings that the Church gives us during this season: God the Father rejoices when we are brought back to life again (Luke 15:32).
We as Catholics have the unique privilege of receiving this mercy every time we hear the words of the priest absolving us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our moments of feeling desperate in the desert can be alleviated by honest repentance. After one particularly frustrating time in my life, I remember feeling like the Prodigal Son: convicted that I needed to repent and return to God, but also feeling shame over all the ways that I had squandered what the Lord had given me. And in that moment a priest reminded me that confession is always a place of victory. Like the prodigal son who acknowledged his failures and was welcomed back with mercy and celebration, we too find an outpouring of mercy and grace when we reconcile ourselves to God.
As we journey towards Calvary, we do so knowing that our repentance leads to an encounter of mercy and ultimately to victory.
Questions for Reflection: What are some moments in your life when you’ve encountered the mercy of God and others? How did these moments affect you?
For more resources to accompany you in your Lenten journey, please click here.
**This post was originally published on 3/28/2019**
On the First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel described how Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, and yet when Satan approached him in this state of hunger, he was still able to resist the temptation to turn stones into bread and provide food for himself. Jesus responded to this test by recalling the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “[The LORD] therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.
This passage pairs beautifully with the brief but profound and beautiful reflection contained in that Sunday’s Prayer after Communion:
“Renewed now with heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope increased,
and charity strengthened,
we pray, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Christ,
the true and heavenly Bread,
and strive to live by every word
which proceeds from your mouth.
Through Christ our Lord.”
With these words, the liturgy reminds us of why fasting is so central to our Lenten observances. Firstly, when we are “afflicted with hunger,” we more readily recognize our frailty and our dependence on God’s providence, just as the Israelites did when the Lord provided manna to sustain them in their desert wanderings. In our weakness and tendency toward self-reliance, we are invited to acknowledge that the food that we have is a gift which we receive from the Lord’s bounty.
Second, we are reminded that the physical hunger we experience is not mortification for its own sake, nor do we choose to feel this hunger simply to “appear to others to be fasting” (Mt 6:16) and score points with them or with God. Rather, foregoing physical nourishment is a means towards the end of “learn[ing] to hunger for Christ, the true and heavenly Bread.” This penance reorients our appetites, redirecting them from worldly comforts to that which provides true sustenance—Christ, who offers his very self to us as “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation.”
Indeed, as Jesus says, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:55-56). Therefore, “The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1391). While we often seek to satisfy our earthly cravings through superficial means, Christ satisfies our hunger for goodness and love in a way nothing on earth could. The relationship into which we enter through the eucharistic banquet sustains us in our day-to-day living and puts us in touch, in intimacy with Christ who knows well our sufferings, offers us compassion and solidarity, and models for us a way forward.
Having received this heavenly nourishment, Jesus abides in us so that God’s grace can act in us more freely. It turns us outward in service of others, for “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life…By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1394). Looking beyond our own needs and desires, we recognize the needs and desires of our neighbor and are moved to action. We are drawn “into Jesus’ act of self-oblation…More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving” (Deus Caritas Est, 13). We are moved to acts of service and almsgiving, to be bread for others.
Indeed, “The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren: ‘You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1397).
As we fast this Lent, then, let us be mindful of how our hunger directs us to Christ present in the Bread of Life and in our neighbor. The grace before meals I have prayed since I was a child sums this up beautifully: “Señor, da pan a los que tienen hambre y hambre de ti a los que temenos pan” (“O Lord, give bread to those who hunger, and a hunger for you to those of us who have bread”).
The tenth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis was on March 13th and anniversary of the inauguration of his Petrine Ministry was on March 19th. As we commemorate these special anniversaries, it is worth reflecting on his continual call to all the baptized to share responsibility for the mission of Christ and the Church as missionary disciples. He is simply restating the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Living this mission is part of our call to holiness.
Pope Francis describes holiness in Gaudate et Exultate “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain” (14).
Prayer, both communal and individual, along with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, which Pope Francis has emphasized often, will aid us in living holiness in the way that he describes. Lent is the perfect time to deepen our efforts, always done with the grace of God.
Ad multos annos, Pope Francis!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13).
There’s a moment in every Lent when I begin to stumble. When the promises I made seem too difficult, when I convince myself that the Lord doesn’t need my sacrifice, when I begin to follow the call of comfort and leave Christ’s side—and very suddenly I find myself lost in the desert. Maybe this experience sounds familiar to you, finding yourself two, four, six weeks into Lent, and all of a sudden you lose your motivation and forget why you decided to make your Lenten promises in the first place. It can be tempting when you find yourself in the place I fondly call “the mid-Lent slump” to give up entirely and say, “Maybe next year will be better,” “Maybe next year will be my year,” but in this post I want to present a different solution. This year, when we find ourselves lost in the desert, let’s press into the discomfort and ask Christ to teach us how to be with Him there.
There’s a meditation that I have found to be incredibly helpful when I find myself in this place during Lent. Begin by placing yourself at the scene of the Baptism in the Jordan. What does it look like, smell like, sound like? How do you feel when it is revealed that the man in front of you is the Son of God? Then Jesus begins to walk into the desert and you follow Him. Why do you follow? Have you prepared for this trip, or have you brought nothing, trusting that He will provide? How do you feel now that you are in the desert?
When we find ourselves in “the mid-Lent slump,” we need to remind ourselves of why we committed to Lent in the first place. When we are able to remember this “why,” we are given new strength to continue into the desert, to press in with Jesus into the discomfort, leaning on Him for strength, because we realize we aren’t alone in the desert. All of this, however, can be very difficult without practical steps to return to Jesus in the desert. Here are some that I have found to be most helpful when Lent becomes difficult.
Most importantly, as you press into Lent in the midst of the “slump,” remember the Lord’s unending mercy and love for you. As it says in Joel 2, God desires for us to return to Him with contrite hearts so that He can pour out His mercy and grace onto us. When you find yourself struggling in Lent, turn back to Him in all His kindness, and ask Him to walk with you and give you the strength you need to continue following Him into the desert.
Deus Caritas est: God is Love. How many times have we heard this simple yet profound theological truth in a homily, story, or teaching? How many times have we taken this for granted? In a world where truth often seems subjective, God’s love remains a refreshing and comforting constant in the Christian life. If this were not so, for what purpose, let alone by what means, would you or I exist? It is this perfect love of God which sustains us each and every moment of eternity. In fact, it’s God’s very nature, so bursting with love, that wills us into being. So too must our love for our neighbors guide and give purpose to our lives.
The liturgical season of Lent is an especially wonderful opportunity for us to reorient ourselves towards God’s love and mercy. As we prepare to celebrate the ultimate expression of love the world has ever known this liturgical season, we may give up something we fleetingly desire in order to be made more aware of our need to depend on the One Love, the True Love, the Infinite Love. Of course, we can do more throughout Lent, but take to heart the suggestion of my bishop:
[T]his Lent, fast and abstain when the Church requires it; give something up to make room for God and his mercy to fill you. Pray more and pray deeply and whenever you can because God listens to you: prayer puts you in touch with God and his mercy. Do something good for someone else every day; resolve to care about someone else every day, because God does, Jesus does and wants you to be like him, loving and full of mercy. Don’t make this Lent a complicated regimen of resolutions and promises that will unravel a week from now. Make it simple. Make it real. [emphasis added]
Lent is not a time of self-pity or bemoaning our spiritual shortcomings. To fail to acknowledge God’s willingness to have mercy and forgive the sinner of his or her faults places sin as the end without further hope of relief, restricts one’s view of God as having limits on his love, and risks committing a sin against the Holy Spirit (i.e. believing that the magnitude of a sin is greater than God’s power— and continuous willingness— to forgive [cf CCC 1864]). While Lent brings to mind the classic images of sackcloth and ashes, the Lord desires something much more personal than just the recognition of our sins—“sincere, heartfelt repentance, change of heart, conversion” is what each of us is called to offer the Lord with the same Love He offered to those He encountered in His earthly ministry and ultimately from the Cross.
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” our Lord, echoing the words of the prophet Hosea, declares to the Pharisees during the calling of Matthew (cf. Hosea 6:6) For us today, these words still ring true. Lent is not an easy time, but it invites us to shake us out of our spiritual complacency if we are to answer the Lord’s call to conversion. This may be uncomfortable. Receiving the ashes on our foreheads tomorrow, however, signifies our commitment to God that we will endeavor each day—and not just until Easter Sunday—to change our lives to be (once again) oriented towards God in avoidance of the sin and distractions which lead us away from His love. While we seek forgiveness from God, we are also to freely forgive others, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Even if we fall along the way, the important thing is to pick ourselves up and start again— the Lord is patient!
In closing, let us reflect on a final word from the Venerable Fulton Sheen:
God loves you despite your unworthiness. It is His love which will make you better, rather than your betterment which will make Him love you. … Say to yourself over and over again, regardless of what happens: “God loves me!” And then add: “And I will try to love Him!” (Fulton Sheen, Remade for Happiness: Achieving Life’s Purpose through Spiritual Transformation (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), 187, 25.)
**This post was originally published on 2/28/2017**
As a young girl in elementary school, I attended a moderately small school—about sixty students in a grade level split into two classrooms. Each year, with the coming of a new grade, the class of students would get mixed up, and I’d usually have to make new friends. For some reason, I always gravitated toward meeting the students completely new to the school. At some point all of us have felt left out in one way or another, and I always wanted to make sure these new students didn’t feel ignored or out of place.
This prompting to want others to feel included and like they belong has always stuck with me. I felt this most especially when I began to open my first house to a small women’s group gathering about once a week. At first, I was nervous to open my home to people I didn’t know or didn’t know well. But after my first few hosting opportunities, I found it to be something I enjoyed tremendously. I began to seek out additional chances for hosting themed activities, such as a Lenten soup and salad potluck or what has now turned into an annual cookie party tradition during Advent. And the best part: making new and lifelong friends.
During the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, I moved to a new city. That meant a new home, new neighborhood, new church, new friends, etc. Years of isolation during the pandemic has made it difficult to meet people when you start over after a move. Last year, I decided to try something new—hosting a “Blessed Brunch” for local Catholic women at my new home. I hardly knew most of the women who attended the brunch, but I’ve walked away from that event with wonderful new friends and connections at local parishes.
A month later, one of the women from the Blessed Brunch invited me to a small women’s group. This group has been a wonderful source of comfort and friendship to me over the last year. We each take turns hosting the monthly gathering, inviting others we know who may be interested in joining us. A woman from this group always asks if she can invite a friend in need of community whenever we host additional gatherings outside of the small group. I find this to be a very touching gesture and one that encourages me to think of additional people in need of community around me.
I love this about hospitality: in the action of making our homes—and hearts—open to others through hospitality, we become more selfless by making room for and serving others. By being welcoming, we share what we have, whether that be food, time, or a willingness to listen and comfort. These small actions reflect God’s love for us.
Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is a classic example of how one man made himself vulnerable and available to the needs of another—an act of both generosity and hospitality. In contrast, when we serve out of a feeling of obligation, the joyfulness and warmth of giving in that hospitality is lacking. During Jesus’ public ministry, he and his disciples relied on the hospitality of others as they ministered to others. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give,” Jesus said (Mt 10:9-11).
The early Christians relied heavily on the hospitality of other Christians who might have been strangers. As Acts 2:44-47 describes, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
As we listen to the invitations and promptings of the Holy Spirit this Lent, let us discern how we can invite Christ and others in our community into our hearts. Perhaps he is calling us to host a Lenten Bible Study small group or a Friday night soup, salad, and Stations of the Cross potluck. Maybe there is an opportunity for you to invite a catechumen or someone new to you or your church to attend an event together during the Lenten season. In the serving of others, we serve Christ himself. How might you be called to extend hospitality to others this Lent?
How does one “prepare for Lent” in our current world? How might you quiet your life for forty days and be as if in the desert with Christ? What could Lenten preparations look like? These are the questions I considered as I began this reflection. As a mom, wife, teacher, and Catholic woman in today’s world, my life is hectic and my focus is often driven by the next prioritized event or deadline. If we’re being honest, I don’t have forty days to be consumed by a literal or figurative desert for prayer and quiet. But is that just the kind of reasoning that society is telling me? Where do I find God in the noise?
To more easily consider Lent this year, I broke it down into four categories of my life.
This Lent as a mom, I want to cherish the little joyful moments. My son is now three, and other parents may understand when I say that sometimes three is exciting and adorable, but other times it’s exhausting and I count down the minutes until bedtime. Children are the most wonderful blessing, but they are so much work too. I want to be playful with Vincent this Lent, I want to do less complaining or rushing him through things, and I want to cherish the little joyful moments.
This Lent as a wife, I want to be in solidarity with my husband as we try our best to support each other with Lenten sacrifices. For me, indulgence is an area where I want to work on sacrificing until Easter. It will be challenging, but it’s easier when you have someone beside you, helping you stick to a goal or a plan, and I know we can do this for each other. Forty days is a good time to get into better habits together and put our best feet forward for the Easter season.
This Lent as an educator, I want to intentionally pray for each of my students and their families. Having moved to teaching at a new school this year, I have new students and a new environment where I can share with children how precious they are. Although I’m not at a Catholic school, I can still treat each of my nineteen students with intention and consider them and their families throughout Lent.
This Lent as a Catholic woman, I want to add on quiet. This, for me, will look like turning off the radio for one whole commute to or from work a few times a week. During that time, I’ll sit with God and reflect: consider my actions, my gratitude, and my intentions for my day or my evening. I’ll try to avoid just picking up the phone to call someone and complain about a bad day or listening to music to drown out the day. I want to add on quiet.
Thinking back to my first questions, I still am going to find it difficult to be in quiet with God and not just find time but MAKE time for Christ. I really think that’s the difference: when we only have moments here and there to give, we’re not at peace. When we make time for Christ—schedule it into a calendar or create a time of the day for just us and God—we will feel and find his blessings that much more easily.
My challenge for you is to schedule time for God each week in Lent. Priorities will still be important and life will still be hectic and busy, but we can only sit with Christ in the desert for forty days. I wouldn’t want to miss that for anything in the world. My scheduled times with God for the next forty days will be: Tuesdays on my ride home from work, Saturday mornings for a few minutes before everyone is awake, Friday mornings on my way into work, and Sundays during the Gospel and homily when I can think and reflect on the Word in Scripture. I know I can achieve these four times each week, and I know it’s not too much for my to-do list. I’ve even added them to my calendar so I can’t forget.
We’re exhausted; Christ was too. We’re weary and burnt out; Jesus’ apostles were too. We’re calling out to our Heavenly Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” as Christ did (Mt 27:46). All you have to do is make time and be open.
Lent is not a diet program nor is it a spiritual competition. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are means to an end, not ends in themselves. They are the recommended ways for us to deepen our encounter with Christ and grow in holiness. We seem to know this but when a food that we have given up for Lent is placed before us, do you say, “NOOOO, I have given it up for Lent!”? Of course, this is an exaggeration to make a point. Pope Francis in his 2023 Lenten Message focuses us on the purpose of penance during Lent.
“Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross. To deepen our knowledge of the Master, to fully understand and embrace the mystery of his salvation, accomplished in total self-giving inspired by love, we must allow ourselves to be taken aside by him and to detach ourselves from mediocrity and vanity. We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice, and concentration.”
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving do take “effort, sacrifice, and concentration.” They are also “sustained by grace.” We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing this on our own. What we are doing is cooperating with the grace of Christ who wants us to deepen our encounter with him. The Church offers us these traditional Lenten practices and penances so that we may come into greater life in him in and through our daily lives. As Pope Francis reminds us,
“While our ordinary commitments compel us to remain in our usual places and our often repetitive and sometimes boring routines, during Lent we are invited to ascend ‘a high mountain’ in the company of Jesus and to live a particular experience of spiritual discipline – ascesis – as God’s holy people.”
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
Lent is one of the holiest times for our Church: the forty days of waiting for the Death and eventual Resurrection of Jesus. Beginning with Ash Wednesday, these forty days can sometimes seem to some like a blur, but to others, they can be filled with anxiety and anticipation. Throughout this season, there are many different ways in which you can prepare for this holy celebration. Some people choose to give something up, a way to imitate and participate in Jesus’ sacrifice when he went into the desert to pray and fast for forty days before later dying on the cross. Typically, you would give up something that you enjoy as a self-sacrifice or challenge. I try to give up one of my favorite treats, Diet Coke, every year and call upon the Lord for strength when I am tempted to break my challenge. But I always remind myself that it is okay if I do not succeed the whole forty days. Jesus showed extreme strength and self-discipline during his forty days in the desert—something most of us could not bear. While giving up my soda is not the same caliber of difficulty, it is just supposed to be a goal that I hope to achieve.
One thing I try to implement in Lent is a way to better myself over these forty days. For example, while giving up my Diet Coke, I try to focus on substituting it with drinking more water or being active outside for half an hour at least three times a week. This way, I am working towards hitting other goals and striving for a new and improved me at the end of the season. The hope is that when we get to the end of the Lenten season, these goals become habits that we can follow after our Easter celebration. Some examples of other goals you could try to implement include: reading a chapter of a book each day, praying the rosary before bedtime, going on a mile walk every day, trying to learn more about different saints each week, attending daily Mass, or eating takeout only once a week. While these can sometimes seem similar to giving something up (i.e. only getting takeout once a week), I challenge you to reframe your thought process regarding these goals. Instead of thinking of them as a negative—giving something up—think of them as adding some sort of value to your life - after all, by offering these acts to God, they are enabling you to participate in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, grow in self-control, and form beneficial new habits. This has been something that I have really struggled with and had to pray over. It has been hard to get out of the negative mindset and focus on transforming myself—mentally, physically, and spiritually—over the course of the Lenten season.
However you prepare, I hope that you will go into this holy season with a prayerful attitude and allow yourself to experience change over the course of Lent. I encourage you to find ways to experience the season in an unfamiliar way, to explore new traditions and embrace the holiness of Lent. As we, as a Church, prepare for this Lenten season that will begin on Ash Wednesday, I invite you to take a look at our Lenten and Easter Resource Page. This resource page has many wonderful resources, such as podcasts, webinars, our newly-published “Lenten Activities For Youth and Young Adults” guide, and our “Introduction to Lent: A Time to Draw Closer to the Risen Lord” guide, which has more ideas for practices that can help you enter into the prayerful and transformative spirit of this Lenten season.
From the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper until Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates a very special period called the Paschal Triduum. As the USCCB explains, the Easter Triduum is the summit of the Liturgical Year which “marks the end of the Lenten season.” Because of this important spiritual shift, there are some symbols used during this liturgical season that are unique to the Paschal Triduum, and I hope that you might find and reflect on these symbols this year as we commemorate the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ.
The Holy Oils that are used by the Church throughout the year (Oil of the Sick, Oil of the Catechumens, and Holy chrism) may be presented during the entrance procession of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. These oils are blessed by the Bishop during the Chrism Mass—which can happen on Holy Thursday or another time during Holy Week—with the priests of the diocese gathered at the local cathedral. During this celebration, all of the priests present renew their priestly vows.
Ringing of the Bells
During the “Gloria” which is sung on Holy Thursday, we hear the altar bells ringing! We are celebrating the Mass for the last time until the Easter Vigil, and the Church is in mourning so the bells will remain silent until we sing the “Gloria” again.
Washing of the Feet
As Jesus did at the Last Supper (John 14:1-17), the Church is called to wash the feet of the members of the Body of Christ during the celebration of the Institution of the Eucharist. This symbol of humility is a wonderful connection with the service of Christ.
It is rare that the Church prescribes a specific hymn to be sung other than those prescribed for the Proper of the Mass, yet on Holy Thursday the Roman Missal says that we should sing the ancient song “Ubi Caritas” during the Offertory. A very simple song, the lyrics are very meaningful, especially for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Translated, they mean "Where charity is, God is there."
Eucharistic Procession and Reposition
The Church’s tabernacle, while normally filled with the Blessed Sacrament and reserved hosts, is emptied and brought to the Altar of Repose where the faithful are invited to join in Adoration. This procession is meant to be of great importance for the community and reminds us of the walk that Christ is about to take the following day on the Via Dolorosa, but instead of being nailed to a cross, we place our King in a place of honor.
After the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, churches are supposed to empty their Holy Water fonts “in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).” (EWTN)
On Good Friday, the Church is mourning the death of Christ and is full of sorrow. In response to this sorrow, the priest (and deacon, if present) prostates himself in front of a stark, barren altar. There is no music and none of the regular pomp and circumstance that comes with the beginning of a liturgical celebration. No sacraments are to be celebrated but that of penance and the anointing of the sick. The earth has gone quiet.
Normally, when a priest begins Mass, he invites us all to pray along with him, saying, “Let us pray.” During the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion (Good Friday), no such invitation is made. The priest just begins his invocation.
You may find that the prayers of the faithful may take longer than normal. Your church may sing them or have them chanted, with some kneeling and standing interspersed.
Adoration of the Holy Cross
There are many ways in which the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion is different from other liturgical celebrations, and the adoration of the Cross is certainly one of them. We are invited to come forward and spend time in veneration and adoration of the Cross on this most solemn of days – the day on which Christ perished while hanging from the very cross which we venerate. You may notice people genuflecting to the cross – this is something reserved specifically for Good Friday, out of veneration and sorrow for the blood which was shed and soaked up by the wood of the cross.
The Celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not a Mass. It is the one day out of the year in which no Mass is celebrated anywhere on Earth. Therefore, when we come to the celebration, there is no Eucharistic Prayer or any prayer related until, after the Adoration of the Holy Cross, the priest or deacon brings out the Blessed Sacrament and begins praying the Agnus Dei as it is normally done at Mass, which follows with himself and others receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil
When one walks into the church for the Easter Vigil, they will notice a big change from the celebrations of Lent and Holy Week – the church should be decorated with lilies, white and gold, and a joyful décor! While the lights should be turned down as well, we are anticipating the Resurrection and the excitement is palpable!
The Light of Christ
From the fire used to light the Easter Candle, the inscriptions on the Easter Candle, and the procession into the Church, light is integral to the Easter Vigil due to its representation of the "light of Christ, rising in glory," scattering the "darkness of our hearts and minds." We process into the Church with the Easter Candle, “just as the children of Israel were guided at night by the pillar of fire, so Christians follow the risen Christ” as we proclaim The Light of Christ while singing praises of thanksgiving! (USCCB)
Instead of the standard 3 readings at a Sunday Mass, at the Easter Vigil we generally hear anywhere between 5 and 9 readings.
As we prepare to celebrate some of the holiest days in our Church, I invite you to observe the different rituals, customs, and symbols present during the Triduum. May you have a blessed and joyous Easter season!
Question for Reflection: What changes do you notice from the Lent to Easter season?
For more resources to guide you throughout the Triduum into the Easter season, please click here.
*This post was originally published on 4/9/2019.
This April, we have a busy season of liturgical events. From the conclusion of Lent to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Easter, and the Octave of Easter, the entire Easter season is filled with solemn liturgies, commemorations, and celebrations. Through it all, we are called to grow in our relationship with the Lord. When every Sunday seems to be celebrating or commemorating something different, I often find myself turning to the saints for some consistency and routine.
Saints to Prepare us for Holy Week
This week, we celebrate three saints who can help us prepare for Holy Week. Today, we celebrate the 14th century Dominican St. Vincent Ferrer. He was a gifted intellectual who discerned God’s call for him to be a missionary and ultimately became known for his missionary work all throughout Europe. St. Vincent Ferrer incorporated his intellectual gifts into missionary work for the good of the universal Church. Yesterday, we celebrated another gifted intellectual in the history of the Church: St. Isidore of Seville. St. Isidore is known for his writings which helped spread the faith even long after he had died. On Thursday, we will celebrate St. John Baptist de la Salle. He is known for his educational reforms which included the founding of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Through prayer and discernment, he recognized the need for education reform which included having trained lay teachers. He devoted his life to increasing the access to education for those who normally would not get such opportunities. We can look to all three of these saints to help us prepare for Holy Week by allowing the Lord to work in our lives using the gifts He gave us.
On April 28th, we will celebrate three saints who have left a great impact on the Church: St. Louis de Montfort, St. Peter Chanel, and St. Gianna Molla. St. Louis de Montfort was alive from the late 1600s to the early 1700s. Even though he died when he was only 43 years old, many of his writings form the basis of much of Mariology (the study of Mary) today. St. Peter Chanel was a 19th century Marist who was a missionary on the Polynesian island of Futuna. After four years of tireless work helping the islanders with daily life, Peter Chanel was martyred when the chief’s son converted to Catholicism. After his martyrdom, many of the islanders eventually converted to Catholicism, including the chief himself. Now the island (as well most of Oceania) has a strong devotion to St. Peter Chanel. Lastly, we will celebrate the 20th century saint, St. Gianna Molla on April 28th. St. Gianna Molla was an Italian pediatrician who refused an abortion and hysterectomy despite her life-threatening pregnancy and eventually died after giving birth. She is known for following the teachings of the faith while serving as a doctor and is a model for Catholics practicing medicine today.
As we enter this liturgically busy April, let us look to the saints we celebrate this month for inspiration in following God’s will throughout our lives using the gifts He has given us.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in April, and each month, click here.
For more Lenten and Easter resources, please click here.
How much time do we spend fretting about the items on our to-do list? Whether it’s a long-term goal or a set of tasks for the day, the pressure to do all things (and to do them well) seems overwhelming at times.
In tomorrow’s feast of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we see how the Blessed Virgin Mary offers us an alternative to our preoccupation with personal accomplishments. Her response to the angel Gabriel’s message focuses instead on God’s initiative.
The angel greets her saying, “Hail, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28), or in other biblical translations he refers to her as “highly favored.” Gabriel goes on to describe the greatness of the child she will bear: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). If I imagine myself in Mary’s place, I would find it very hard to resist merely contemplating my merits and basking in the divine recognition I had just received. Our Blessed Mother, however, thinks only of her lowliness before the Lord, identifying herself simply as “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).
She knows that her “yes” to the Lord is far from simple. Because she was only betrothed to Joseph, her pregnancy could mean not only shame, but death by stoning. Despite such difficult circumstances and uncertainty as to how this could possibly come about (she asks, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)), she trusts in the power of the Most High. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work freely within her, she grants her full assent: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). She gives no thought to how she can do this, but instead marvels at all that God does. Just a few verses later (Luke 1:46-55), Mary offers her great canticle known as the Magnificat, in which she proclaims the greatness of the Lord and all God’s mighty deeds. In her singular role within the history of salvation, Mary directs all attention to the grace of God that works within her.
What a timely message during this liturgical season! It can be tempting to focus on what we have been doing (or not doing) for Lent. Yet this joyful mystery of the Annunciation prompts us to recognize what God is doing within us. After all, the purpose of a Lenten resolution is not simply to achieve a goal we have set for ourselves but to allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s grace.
Perhaps in prayer over the next few days we might consider:
How has God’s grace been at work in me lately?
How can I entrust myself to the power of the Most High instead of getting bogged down in what I need to do and how challenging it may be?
How can I allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through me?
May our celebration of Mary’s life of charity, hidden sanctity, and faithful fulfillment of God’s will lead us to imitate her example, so that we too may be mindful of the great things the Lord has done in us and for us.
In two days, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He has invited the bishops and priests of the world to join him that day in offering prayer for peace and consecration. The Lenten season is a time for us to intensify our prayer. May we be in prayerful solidarity with Pope Francis on March 25th!
Fasting is another aspect of Lent. It provides us a means to purify our body and mind to focus greater attention on love of God and love of neighbor. May our fasting lead us to a deeper encounter with Christ as well as with those who are suffering, abandoned, and marginalized!
Lent is also a time to give alms, especially to those who are most in need. There is truly a refugee crisis in many parts of the world, most especially those who are fleeing the war in Ukraine. May we join with those whose lives are uprooted by force and give to charities that are aiding them!
The Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not ends in themselves. They are meant to move us outward in deeper devotion to God and greater care, love, and compassion for all, particularly those on the peripheries.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
Fairly recently, we taught my son to say grace before meals. He contributes by saying, “Amen” and folding his hands. My husband patiently encourages him to keep them folded and he knows we pray before he eats. He even got his Grandma to say “Amen” when they’re together. It’s the sweetest thing and fills my heart with hope. Saying, “Amen” got me thinking though: What a perfect word to carry my family through Lent this year!
Think about it: what do we say to begin and end prayer? Amen. The Creed, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, our spontaneous prayers–every prayer ends with Amen. The faithful participate in the Great Amen in the Eucharistic liturgy at Mass, As the USCCB explains, “The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with the Final Doxology…The people respond with the Great Amen a joyous affirmation of their faith and participation in this great sacrifice of praise.”
What exactly does “Amen” mean though? The Catechism elaborates when discussing the Creed, “In Hebrew, amen comes from the same root as the word ‘believe’...Amen expresses both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him.” (CCC 1062). This seems pretty powerful for a Lenten reflection on God’s love and mercy. God’s faithfulness endures. By responding with Amen, we acknowledge this faithfulness and express our trust in him. The section goes on to say, “To believe is to say ‘Amen’ to God’s words, promises, and commandments; to entrust oneself completely to him who is the ‘Amen’ of infinite love and perfect faithfulness” (CCC 1064). When we say Amen, we are saying “I believe” –a beautiful reiteration of our Baptismal vows. I believe. Amen. I believe.
I’m certain my two-year-old son already sees God in so many things. Already, he has many opportunities to acknowledge God’s faithfulness: After grace when he says Amen, at Mass when he closely watches the priest lift the host in consecration, and at bedtime when he says goodnight to Jesus. And through my son and his budding faith, I also see God. My son’s namesake, St. Vincent Pallotti, spoke about finding God when he said, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.” This is such a practical application of big concepts in our understanding of God, perfect for a child to consider as he grows in faith and as we accompany his journey in life. “Seek God always and you will always find God” is also a great phrase to take to prayer this Lent. I think it will continue to help shape my prayer during this season of reflection.
As we continue throughout Lent, consider these different aspects of our faith. Every time you say Amen, I invite you to reflect on who you are saying it to and what you believe. May you more earnestly seek God, find God, and trust in his faithfulness throughout your life and during this time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent can be a powerful season for us, fortifying our hearts with Christ at the center. As Vinny learns more about prayer, I hope that I can continue to teach him about our Faith, the faithfulness of God, and how to “Seek God” in order to find him. Amen, I believe.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2011. http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-webelieve/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm