By the Rev. Victor Horvath
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on the Saturday before Easter (i.e. Holy Saturday). It covers 40 days, excluding Sundays. The Eucharist feast celebrated each Sunday proclaims Christ’s resurrection and therefore seems a “little Easter,” even during this solemn season.
“Lent” is the Anglo Saxon word for spring. “Lencten” means “to lengthen,” which is exactly what happens to the days as springtime approaches. Lent became a church season in the fourth century and was seen as a time of special discipline for those who were to be baptized on Easter. Eventually, the discipline of fasting and penitence came to include all those involved in the church as a means of preparation for that joyous celebration. For all Christendom, Lent became a time of prayer and reflection on the meaning of redemption and our need for God in our daily lives.
We have the opportunity to walk the path and learn the lessons that the season has to offer by focusing on God’s overwhelming love for us.
During this season, we have the opportunity to walk the path and learn the lessons that the season has to offer by focusing on God’s overwhelming love for us, despite our unfaithfulness to that love. We hear God’s call to repent, to return, and to go forward in sure knowledge of God’s abiding care and delight in us.
As a scholar puts aside distractions in order to focus on subject matter, so too do we notice that some things have changed as we enter the season of Lent. At many Episcopal churches, the altar frontal and other liturgical hangings are changed to purple, the color of penitence and royalty. The many brass candlesticks with their glowing lights have been set aside in favor of two simple pewter ones, and our Christus Rex cross, with its image of Christ triumphant is replaced with a simple wooden cross. Our silver chalice and paten for communion are set aside for a simple pottery cup and plate.
Event the shape of our worship changes. The choir and altar party enter in silence, giving us time as a community to focus on God’s quiet presence in us. The Penitential Rite, with the confession of sin, is moved to the beginning of the service. This is a clear statement that all of us–as individuals and as a community–have often turned from God, and as such, are called to repent in our individual and corporate life.
We ‘bury’ all Alleluias for the duration of the season (even on Sundays in this case) and sing the Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) to appropriately mark a more contemplative mood.
There is a lot more silence to allow us to meditate on the readings and on our lives during the Lenten Eucharist service. It may take a few weeks to become comfortable with this…silence can make us wonder who has forgotten what comes next…but it we let this concern go, we may be surprised how quickly we enter into this holy silence.
All these changes may indeed feel strange; they may feel sudden and shocking. In a way they are meant to be that! Like a splash of cold water in our face…like a call of a teacher to pay attention…it does indeed get our attention. And once we notice…it is up to us, not only to listen and to learn, but also to grow deeper in our relationship with our Creator.
The Rev. Victor Horvath is a retired priest who previously served at Immanuel Episcopal Church, Bellows Falls and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Springfield.