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
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;
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
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
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?
“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.
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
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)
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
To You My Eyes Are Turned: Introit Hymn for Lent (Lynn Trapp, text Delores
Dufner) GIA 6584
Come and Eat This Living Bread [based on the Adoro Te Devote] (Rob Glover)
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
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