Growing up in a predominantly Catholic environment, Ash Wednesday was a very special day, not only in our home but in our entire community. Breakfast on that day was the usual one, our lunch and supper quite simplified, and no meat of course. There were no snacks and particularly no sweets. We would go to the evening Mass. Using ashes, the priest would make the sign of a cross on our foreheads saying “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return”. This service concluded a day of fasting along with an occasional reminder to pray and ask God for forgiveness for our sins. The no-sweets rule applied throughout the entire Lenten season. As children, we rated this as the ultimate torture, and we could not find one reason to celebrate the beginning of Lent.
Times have changed, and we now have a slightly different understanding of Lent. While Ash Wednesday remains a day of prayer, fasting and the distribution of ashes on our foreheads as a reminder to repent, we now recognize an element of celebration that involves the Sundays in Lent. Sundays are feast days and need to be treated separately and differently. We embrace them as joyful feast days and allow for relaxation of some penances.
The following activities might be helpful to mark Lent as a special time of the year:
Reflect on the Holiest of Weeks
During Mass on Holy Thursday, we get a glimpse into the Last Supper. The priest washes the feet of twelve people in remembrance of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, demonstrating his love for them and how they should serve others. Then he instructs them to eat bread and drink wine in memory of him and tells them that this is his body and blood that will be given up for the forgiveness of sins.
The Gospel on Good Friday describes how Jesus carried the cross, suffering and dying for our sins. This is called the Passion. We pray for people in our community and our world. We show respect and love for Jesus’ sacrifice by either kissing, touching or kneeling in front of the cross. We think about the sacrifice that God made by sending his Son to die for us.
Jesus is in the tomb. It is a day of waiting. Unlike the apostles, who were hiding in fear, we wait with hope and prayer, knowing that Jesus will emerge from the tomb on Easter. We also know that he will come again someday. Many people will attend the Easter Vigil. It begins after dark and includes many readings and songs. The new Easter Candle, which symbolizes Jesus as the Light of the World, is blessed and lit. The people who are joining the Catholic Church are baptized during the Easter Vigil.
It is the most important celebration in the entire liturgical year. Easter Sunday is a day of great joy. In the Gospel, we read about how Jesus rose from the dead. Church bells ring, we sing the Alleluia, Easter lilies bloom and fill our churches with a refreshing fragrance. Families gather for meals, and we celebrate because Jesus made it possible for us to enter into heaven.
Written by Gabriele Kalincak, Marriage & Family Life Coordinator
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers