“By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.540)
Throughout the holy season of Lent, the Church calls on all of us as followers of Christ to imitate Him during those days He spent in the desert. We are mindful in a special way at this time of the liturgical year of the value of sacrifice – whether that translates as giving something up, doing something extra, praying a little more, or something similar.
The Church offer us numerous ways of moving a little closer to the Lord during Lent – the availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation increases, for example, and many parishes will arrange extra Masses, often earlier in the morning so that working people can attend.
Various parishes host special events which are generally particular to Lent – my own parish, for example, has Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings. This is a holy and salutary practice for the soul, as we walk with the Lord along the Way of Sorrows, reliving, in our minds and in our hearts, the events of that day. It is hard to take part in the Stations and not to be deeply moved with a greater appreciation of the sufferings gladly borne by the Lord for us, as He carried the Cross to Calvary.
Last night I attended part of a very beautiful all-night Vigil in a neighbouring parish, which had been arranged for Lent. Beginning with Mass celebrated by the Bishop, there was then all-night Adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Interspersed throughout the night were communal prayers – the Rosary every hour, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Stations of the Cross, Night Prayer of the Church, gentle music, and lots of time for personal prayer before the Lord exposed in the Monstrance.
If we see with the eyes of faith, we will perceive clearly that when the Merciful Lord is honoured and adored in this very explicit way, He is most generous with His graces for those souls present before Him, as well as those for whom the souls are praying.
In the homily, Bishop Toal spoke about our own Scottish martyr, Saint John Ogilvie, whose feast we were celebrating. He said that St John Ogilvie treasured the faith, that great and wondrous gift given by the Lord, even to the extent of giving his life rather than renounce his faith. This is the same faith which we profess when we kneel in adoration before the Lord and when we offer our prayers to Him.
Lent is a communal exercise within the Church – the Church is, after all, about community. So when our local Church arranges events for the season of Lent, the impetus is on to take part, so that we might become part of that global prayer rising to Heaven, and so that we might benefit from some of the graces that these events draws down from Heaven in response.
Taking part in events such as these says something about how we see this precious gift of our faith; it should never be something on the sidelines of life – rather, it should be something that permeates every fibre of our being and every moment of our lives. If our view of the faith is a minimalist one, where we ask what is the least we need to do, then perhaps we have missed the point.
The Crucifixion, toward which Lent leads us, was anything but minimalist; on the contrary, it was the most expansive and all-encompassing event of all human history. The arms of Christ were opened wide for all people in all times. He held nothing back, not even His Heart – for that, too, was opened wide. From It, streams of graces and mercy, represented by the Blood and Water, flowed.
As we continue this journey through Lent, may the grace of the Cross of Christ vivify and sustain us, and enable our hearts – like that of Christ – to be opened wide, for our good, for the good of the entire Church and of all the world.