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Lenten Wake-up Call

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Mar 07, 2014

Plunging into Ash Wednesday with fasting and abstinence is such a "rude" awakening of the senses to Lent. No matter how hard I try to "ease" into fasting, the day is always very difficult. The Ash Wednesday sermon of Pope Francis zings right at the heart of Lent:

We are invited to embark on a journey in which, in defiance of the routine, we strive to open our eyes and ears, but especially the heart, to go beyond our “little garden.”

To open oneself to God and to others: we live in an increasingly artificial world, in a culture of “doing”, [a culture] of the “useful”, in which we exclude God from our horizon without even realizing it. Lent calls us to “give ourselves a ‘shake-up’”, to remember that we are creatures, that we are not God....

With its calls to conversion, Lent comes providentially to rouse us, to shake us from our torpor, from the risk of moving forward [merely] by inertia.

It is such a great phrase to ponder, "shake us from our torpor". We have become numb, apathetic, "a state of not being active and having no energy or enthusiasm" in this modern technological world. How can we shake ourselves into action? How can we break from routine and open our eyes, ears and hearts?

It is often said that it takes six weeks to establish a new habit, and Lent provides us that timeframe. The beginning of Lent is a type of "wake-up" call. We are trying to establish new patterns of activity and prayer both personally and within our domestic church. But it takes some adjusting to the new changes, and we are constantly reminding each other, "Don't forget, it's Lent."

Holy Mother Church provides external indications that we are preparing us for Easter. These reminders can "shake us from our torpor" and open our eyes and ears. Although Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, our family usually begins with Mass and receiving ashes on this day. Our eyes are met with definite changes within the sanctuary. The altar decorations are greatly reduced and without flowers. The liturgical color for the vestments is violet, symbolic of penance. Seeing the foreheads bearing the black cross of ashes is jarring. It is an immediate reminder we have entered into a holy time.

Our ears are also met with differences. The liturgy of the Mass reflects the season, with the Gloria not being prayed except for solemnities, and no Alleluia until Easter. The music is subdued, with only musical instruments used as accompaniment for singing.

Another indicator of Lent is the reduced number of saints' days during Lent. The General Norms of the Liturgical Year and Calendar explains how Lenten weekdays take precedence over memorials and optional memorials. Saint celebrations which are either an obligatory memorial or optional memorial all become optional memorials. A priest continues to wear violet vestments even if he celebrates a saint for the Mass, and he can choose to not celebrate the saint at all. Though it would be shocking to many, a priest has the option to not celebrate St. Patrick in the US!

When the Church revised the General Roman Calendar in 1969, many saints' days were moved outside of Lent, in order to allow the saintly celebration to not overshadow the Lenten liturgy. The following are the moved saints' days:

Saint 1962 Feast Date Current Feast Date
St. Matthias, Apostle February 24 May 14
St. Thomas Aquinas March 7 January 31
St. Gregory the Great March 12 September 3
St. Benedict March 21 July 11
St. John Damascene March 27 December 4
St. John Capistrano March 28 October 23
St. Leo the Great April 11 November 10

Since Lent can begin as early as February and end as late as April 25, there is no way the Church could adjust all the feast days, but lessening the amount of saints' celebrations helps keep the focus on Lenten awakening and renewal.

In our own home, echoing the Church's liturgy, we try to have ways to get out our routine and awake from our slumber. Last week I detailed a few of our Lenten practices. We have a few other little indicators, often spontaneous gestures from our sons. For example, our TV cabinet doors remain shut -- there is no invitation to turn on the television. On Ash Wednesday my sons set the table and wanted to drape the entire table with purple. They used purple tablecloths, purple table runner, and purple napkins. They then placed purple votive candles to eat in candlelight. These were just simple ways to prick our senses and help "shake us from our torpor" and concentrate on Lent.

The table setting did give me an idea that we should be adding extra reminders at our dinner meal. What we do during Advent are beloved meal prayer traditions, and while I do not have a "Lenten Wreath", the use of candles and Sunday Collect prayers and singing can help us from falling back into our numbing routine. During Advent we always sang the refrain from "O Come, Emmanuel", and so for Lent we will sing Attende Domine refrain or Parce, Domine while we light the candles.

The following is a simple file we are using for our Lenten Meal Prayers, to be printed double-sided and folded in half.

Lenten Meal Prayers

In Lent we need to “rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). Since we are human, it takes a special effort to provide those external pricks for the family to actually get into new changes for Lent. The need for conversion is great, and the need for perseverance in our commitment is even greater. We are trying "to open our eyes and ears, but especially the heart" and break our routine of inactivity. These are just external examples of ways of shaking up. The internal work is deeper and harder, but these reminders should motivate us to wake those numbed limbs and get to action.

 

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  • Posted by: Victoria - Mar. 08, 2014 10:57 AM ET USA

    Thanks for the prayers and suggestions! We like singing "Parce" also. Victoria

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