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Liturgy Formation

Lent 2008

by Kay Murdy and Ada Simpson

Liturgical Spirituality


Lent is an intense spiritual journey, not only for those preparing for baptism but for all God’s faithful sons and daughters. Lent is an opportunity for each of us to become more aware of our baptismal call. Baptism is no mere symbolic ceremony; it represents our new life in Christ and our daily dying and rising with him. Lent is an opportunity to change our behavior, an occasion to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to God and one another. This won’t happen overnight, but 40 days is a good beginning.

Ash Wednesday, February 6
Jl 2:12–18; Ps 51:3–4,5–6,12–13,14,17; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1–6,16–18

“Blow the trumpet! Proclaim a fast! Gather the people!” The prophet Joel was insistent that the day of the Lord was near. Jesus seems to contradict Joel. He said, “Don’t blow a horn!” But what he means is, “Don’t blow your own horn.” Jesus asks us to examine our motives. Is our almsgiving an act of compassion toward the poor? Or is it a way to flaunt our generosity? Does our prayer declare our love of God? Or is it a means to show how pious we are? Are we fasting to express our sorrow for sin? It has no value if it is only done out of obligation. No matter how good the works, if our primary motive is to enhance our own image, we already have a reward in the way others admire us. God knows the true intentions of our hearts and will reward us accordingly.

The signing with ashes on our foreheads is a solemn call to penance: “Remember! You are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is also a reminder of the joy of eternal life: “Repent, and believe the good news!” If we are reconciled to God and one another, we become “ambassadors for Christ.” When others see the good news at work in us, they won’t have to ask, “Where is your God?” because God will be evident in all we say and do.

For Reflection: Am I sincere in my practice of the three penitential disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving?

1st Sunday of Lent, February 10
Gn 2:7–9, 3:1–7; Ps 51:3–4,5–6,12–13,14,17; Rom 5:12–19; Mt 4:1–11

The story of Adam and Eve is the eternal question of good and evil. Adam and Eve personify each person who strives to have all the power and possessions. When we collaborate with evil, evil ends up destroying us.

Though sin abounds, Jesus offers life, forgiveness, and redemption. Where Adam fails, Jesus, the “new Adam,” is the obedient son of God. At his baptism, Jesus was totally submissive to God’s will. He overcame evil by having faith and trust in God’s care despite the obstacles in his path. During Lent, each of us has the opportunity to be like Jesus. When the Elect come forward to declare their desire to be baptized in Christ, we make our own commitment to renounce the works of evil and strive to do God’s will. God confirms our intention: “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter.”

For Reflection: Am I aware of the Spirit’s guidance through the desert places in my life? How has the Spirit helped me to overcome temptations on my Lenten journey?

2nd Sunday of Lent, February 17
Gn 12:1–4; Ps 33:4–5,18–19,20,22; 2 Tm 1:8–10; Mt 17:1–9

Obedient and faithful to the Lord’s call, Abram put his trust in God. Leaving his homeland and family, Abram “went as the Lord directed him.” Abram thus showed himself to be a true son of God, and his name was changed to “Abraham” to signify this new relationship.

Paul told his beloved “son” Timothy to bear his “share of the hardship which the gospel entails.” Paul reminds us that baptism calls us to a new life of fidelity, which demands sacrifice and conformity to the gospel message.

In the transfiguration, Jesus revealed what “sonship” was all about. On a mountaintop Jesus was seen as the “new Moses” who faithfully fulfilled God’s commands. Out of the cloud, God again confirmed Jesus as the “beloved Son” to whom all must listen. When we listen to Jesus we learn that we can’t stay on the mountaintop. If we want to reach the Promised Land, we must return to the world to be faithful to the gospel of Christ. When Jesus came down from the mountain, he began his final journey to the cross.

For Reflection: Do I truly believe that I am a son or daughter of God? In what ways do I need to listen to Jesus this Lent?

3rd Sunday of Lent, February 24
Ex 17:3–7; Ps 95:1–2,6–7,8–9; Rom 5:1–2,5–8; Jn 4:5–42

When God saved the Israelites from oppression, they passed through the waters of the sea into freedom. On their journey through the desert, the people were often thirsty. They complained that Moses had led them into the wilderness to die. In turn, Moses protested to God. “What am I going to do with this people?” Despite their grumbling, God was faithful. At the Lord’s command, Moses struck a rock and water issued forth.

God’s life-giving presence is not a dry cistern but a “fountain springing up from within.” When Jesus met a despised Samaritan woman at a well, he revealed her inner need, not for ordinary water but for the living water of the Spirit. When her thirst was quenched by Jesus’s words, she told others what she found. They came to know for themselves that Jesus was the savior, the source of eternal life.

Today, we join the Elect as they scrutinize their lives. Together we examine and repent of our own thirst for power, prestige, or possessions. With God’s grace we will uncover and heal anything that blocks the love of God from being poured out into our hearts. Then we can drink deeply from the life-giving springs of grace.

For Reflection: Am I spiritually dry? What do I need from God to satisfy this thirst on my journey of faith this Lent?

4th Sunday of Lent, March 2
1 Sm 16:1,6–7,10–13; Ps 23:1–3,3–4,5,6; Eph 5:8–14; Jn 9:1–41

God doesn’t judge us at face value but looks into the depth of our being. The prophet Samuel was sent to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint the chosen king of Israel. Samuel scrutinized Jesse’s seven sons one by one, but none of them was to be the “anointed one.” When David, the youngest son, was presented to Samuel, everyone thought that he too would prove unworthy. But God saw something the others did not see; God looked into David’s heart. David the shepherd boy was the Lord’s anointed.

Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth, whose affliction people assumed was the consequence of sin. Sometimes we claim to have insight into the ways of God, but our own blindness is often worse than the blind man’s. We need to stand again with the Elect, examine our own spiritual blindness, and turn away from darkness to live as “children of light.” With our blindness healed, we will come to a greater awareness that Jesus is the “light of the world.” Washed in the pool of baptism, anointed with the chrism of salvation, fed at the table of the Lord, we will say with the blind man, “Once I was blind. Now I can see.”

For Reflection: Am I blind to sin in my life? Am I a source of light or darkness to others? Who or what will open my eyes this Lent?

5th Sunday of Lent, March 9
Ez 37:12–14; Ps 130:1–2,3–4,5–6,7–8; Rom 8:8–11; Jn 11:1–45

The people in exile were as good as dead, like corpses scattered on a battlefield. Yet, the impossible happened; God breathed life into them! Paul said that it isn’t “flesh” that animates us but God’s Spirit. We may seem dead because of sin, but we are brought to life through the indwelling Spirit.

Jesus announced that he was “the resurrection and the life.” In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus declared that God’s glory would be revealed so that all might believe. The raising of Lazarus is a symbol of our own dying and rising in baptism. With the Elect we pray that God will uncover and heal anything in our hearts that keeps us bound and enslaved. We examine our faults to discover what prevents us from receiving fullness of life and to strengthen all that is life-giving. We have a choice whether to stay in the tomb or come forth like Lazarus, whether to bind one another through bitterness and unforgiveness or to set others free through compassion and mercy.

For Reflection: What keeps me from experiencing the fullness of life? What will loosen my bonds and set me free this Lent?

Passion (Palm) Sunday, March 16
Is 50:4–7; Ps 22:8–9,17–18,19–20,23–24; Phil 2:6–11; Mt 26:14—27:66

The prophet Isaiah knew that God had not abandoned the people in exile; they were there due to their sins. This suffering servant endured mistreatment because of his message, yet he refused to turn back from God’s call. He set his face “like flint” toward his destiny, knowing God was his help, and he would not be put to shame.

As Jesus prepared to meet his fate in Jerusalem, he celebrated the feast of Passover, his last supper with his disciples, one of whom planned to betray him. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’s heart was nearly broken with sorrow. Still, he willingly submitted to God’s will. Jesus was arrested, abused, and mocked. The verdict of death was pronounced, and he was scourged and crucified. Judas regretted his treacherous deed and committed suicide. By contrast, Peter wept in repentance for having denied Jesus. In agony on the cross at Calvary, Jesus felt as though even God had abandoned him. It was a pagan soldier who declared the truth that Jesus was indeed the “Son of God.”

Jesus did not grasp at equality with God. Rather he emptied himself of glory and power and willingly suffered death for the sake of humanity. He is God’s suffering servant who died so that we may live.

For Reflection: Do I see myself in the people who condemned and betrayed Jesus? Have I repented of my sins and accepted God’s mercy?

Ritually Speaking


“Whadduh ya givin’ up for Lent?” Remember when you were a kid? This was a very important topic of conversation. It started a couple of weeks before Ash Wednesday and brought out all kinds of inspirations. Chocolate, candy, soda: those were the treats that children would forgo. When those children grew up, their forfeitures got a little more adult: coffee, cigarettes, and scotch. Interesting, isn’t it? If you check your Funk and Wagnalls, you will find that “sacrifice” means “to give up, forfeit, let go, surrender.” Sacrifice has been present in religious practices since the beginning of recorded history. In the Old Testament, we know that the Israelites made blood sacrifices of animals as well as sacrifices of grain and wheat. However, the prophets point out that these sacrifices to God had to be accompanied by inner morality and goodness. As Christians, we profess and believe that Christ is the one, true, and perfect sacrifice for our sins, the sacrificial lamb that took away the sins of the world.

So what is sacrifice exactly? And what does it have to do with Lent? If you look at the roots of the word “sacrifice,” it comes from the Latin, literally meaning “to make sacred or holy.” So why do we have to give up anything for Lent? By looking at the meaning of the word, we realize that by making sacrifices, we move closer to God, and we in essence become more holy. That is the purpose of our Lenten journey — to turn away from sin and to move closer to God.

We begin our Lenten journey by receiving ashes on our forehead. They are a sign of repentance for our sins and also serve as a reminder of our mortality: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We prepare for the time when we will stand before the throne of God and be judged. As we are signed with ashes, we begin our Lenten journey acknowledging our sinfulness and our desire to return to God. We commit ourselves to sacrifice, prayer, penance, and continued conversion.

As we set out on our journey, we are walking with those who are making the journey for the first time: the catechumens who become the Elect after the rite of election on the First Sunday of Lent. We are on parallel journeys with the Elect. At the beginning of Lent, we are called to evaluate ourselves for the purpose of self-renewal. The Elect go through the same examination, evaluation, and conversion. They give up their former lives to embrace a life of faith. On the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, the Elect continue their conversion process through the celebration of the scrutinies. But the Elect are not the only ones being called to conversion. As they go through this period of introspection, we are called to do the same. While they deal with sin through the scrutinies and the waters of baptism, we are called to repentance through the sacrament of penance. While the Elect approach the font purified of their sin, we are able to stand with them at the Easter Vigil and renew our baptismal promises because we have been cleansed as well through our reconciliation. As the Elect move toward the waters of baptism, all in the community need to be made aware that their Lenten journey and the journey of the Elect are intertwined. Through this awareness, not just those involved in the catechumenate process or the sponsors of the Elect but the entire parish experiences conversion as it prays for, witnesses to, walks with, supports, and guides the Elect.

Lent is much more profound than most understand. Lent is about baptism. Lent is about renewal. Lent is about repentance. Lent is about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is about purification. Lent is about dying to sin and rising to new life. Most importantly, Lent is about sacrifice. It is about giving up sinfulness and turning toward goodness and holiness and God. It is about the Elect moving to the waters and about us returning to the waters of new life so that as a community we can carry on and carry out our baptismal promises. The Elect spend Lent preparing to approach the waters of baptism for the first time and professing their commitment to Christ. We spend Lent evaluating ourselves so that we can renew our commitment to Christ and together carry out the work Christ has given us.

Ledger Lines


I’ve decided that Lent is a lot like driving a car. When you are driving a car, you have a destination and a route to get there, if you will. Yet you must constantly check the rearview mirror to make sure that objects and people behind you don’t overtake you in an unsafe way and cause you harm. That’s what Lent is all about: looking forward to our eternal life but making sure that our past sins and transgressions don’t get in the way of our getting to our destination, the kingdom. When you stop and think about it, that’s how we should prepare music for Lent: looking backward and forward at the same time.

Like Advent, Lent is difficult to prepare for because it is such a short season. Five weeks is not much time to introduce music and allow the assembly to make it their own sung prayer. Let’s face it, when you are struggling with text, pitches, and rhythms, it’s tough to pray! But Lent doesn’t have to be difficult if you start preparation early, and “early” means now. If you haven’t checked the liturgical calendar yet, you are in for a big surprise. Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 6 in 2008. You won’t even have finished filing your Christmas music when you’ll be facing sackcloth and ashes, so get ready!

Why look backward and forward simultaneously? Just as in planning a road trip, you have to know where you are going. Start with your Holy Week preparation. As we know, Holy Week is the culmination of our Lenten journey. Look at the music that you have prepared and see which pieces, if any, are suitable for use during Lent. More than likely, some of them will be. Pieces like “Unless a Grain of Wheat” (Bob Hurd or Bernadette Farrell) and “Now We Remain” (David Haas) work very well during Lent, Palm Sunday, and the Triduum. Then look backward. What music have you used in previous years during Lent? Examine your repertoire and build on it.

Remember that simplicity is key during Lent. Everything is pared down. Before you decide on any music for Lent, peruse some of the many gathering rites that have been written in the past few years. If you can’t settle on one, create your own by choosing a hymn or refrain, pair it with a penitential rite, and use it for the five Sundays of Lent. Similarly, you might consider using the same communion piece for the entire season as well. There are many communion songs that will “wear well” and not become tiresome after five weeks.

Don’t forget traditional music. There is a treasure trove of music that has been handed down over the centuries. Examples include the ancient chants “Attende Domine,” “Parce Domine,” and the “Stabat Mater,” which is used for Stations of the Cross. These hymns can be sung in English or in Latin or in a combination of the two. The Christian tradition also has many metric hymns with strong texts, some old and some new, which can engage the assembly as they celebrate the season of Lent. There are many fine pieces written for the Lenten season, and the ones listed here are just a few that have been composed in recent years.

Gathering rites and songs

  • Gather Us in Mercy, Lord: Lenten Gathering Rite (Gabe Huck and Tony Alonso) GIA 6640
  • In These Days of Lenten Journey (Ricky Manalo, CSP, from Beyond the Days) OCP 11097
  • Led by the Spirit; Kyrie (Bob Hurd from Ubi Caritas) OCP 10621
  • Make Us Turn to You: A Song of Repentance (Paul Inwood) GIA 6728
  • Out into the Wilderness (Bob Hurd from A Lenten Journey) OCP 20031
  • Remember Your Mercy, Lord (Paul Inwood) OCP 7101
  • The Time of Fulfillment: A Lenten Gathering Rite (James Chepponis) GIA 3906
  • To You My Eyes Are Turned: Introit Hymn for Lent (Lynn Trapp, text Delores Dufner) GIA 6584
Communion songs
  • Come and Eat This Living Bread [based on the Adoro Te Devote] (Rob Glover) GIA 4586
  • Give Us a New Heart (Bernadette Farrell) OCP 7104
  • I Received the Living God (Richard Proulx) GIA 3071
  • Loving and Forgiving (Scott Soper) OCP 9893
  • Restless Is the Heart (Bernadette Farrell) OCP 9382
  • Return to the Lord (Paul Tate) GIA 6295

  • Take, O Take Me As I Am: Lenten Communion Rite (John Bell, Gabe Huck) GIA 6641 ML

What do YOU Think?
Send an e-mail to ML Editor or post an entry on the ML Current Issue Discussion Board. (All submissions become the property of RPI and may be edited for length.) 

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