LITURGY MATTERS: a long, lingering, liturgical lent

We have just celebrated the launch of Project Compassion.  This year, we celebrated Catholic Schools Week as well.  What better way to celebrate the life and mission of our Catholic Schools than for staff, students and parents to gather to do what is essential to our Catholic life: to pray; to listen to the voice of those who experience poverty and marginalisation; to listen to what God has to say about that; to commit ourselves to do something for others? 

Since I went to Mass on Saturday night, I have been reflecting on what a gift Lent is, personally and communally.  I thought the readings set us up for a good Lent.  The Word of God echoing in my mind and heart has taken the shape of a question:  What fills my heart? 

We talk about Lent as a journey.  A six-week journey is a significant undertaking. It is something we choose and something we need to give ourselves to completely.  Six weeks gives us plenty of time to settle in and to find the rhythm of the journey, to ensure that we pace ourselves so that we arrive at the end, focused, renewed and ready to enter into the most profound celebration on the liturgical calendar – the Easter Triduum. 

Other images also help us prepare for Lent.  For me it is like a long retreat, time to step back and ponder what is important − ‘what fills my heart?’  We could think about it like an ‘oil change and grease’, a spring clean (for us an ‘autumn’ clean), or a post-summer pruning.  Whatever image appeals, I see it as a God-given opportunity not to be wasted.

This morning Bishop Bill commissioned us to participate in the traditional Lenten activities that are meant to support us on our Lenten journey.

Lenten Commission for 2019

The Project Compassion theme for 2019 is based on hope and giving Lent 100% in the name of hope.
I commission you to take up Caritas’ Compassion Project with the love and compassion of the first disciples Jesus sent to proclaim the kingdom of heaven by their words and actions.
To get fit for this project …
  • Contemplate: Pay attention to your relationship with God: be aware of God’s presence with you, of God’s love for you and the world.
  • Pray: Take to heart your responsibility as a baptised person to pray for others.
  • Listen: to the Word of God and the stories Project Compassion offers each week of Lent. What is God asking of us through these stories?
  • Act justly: in all your relationships and in your care for our earth.
  • Be generous: Give as much as you can to the poor via the Project Compassion boxes I will give you. The stories help you know what a difference that money makes to our neighbours.
  • And fast: go without – don’t consume so much; live more simply; and also fast from the things in your life that are unjust and that get in the way of your belonging, your learning and your serving.
Most Reverend William Wright

Critical to focusing and sustaining our six-week Lenten journey is the Sunday liturgy.  The Sundays of Lent are road stops along the way, where we gather to be nourished and sustained by the Word of God, the bread of life and the community. 

Parish Liturgy Teams are acutely aware of the importance of this season, and will have been pulling out all stops to prepare the liturgy for the Sundays of Lent.  Some of the things they might have been considering include:

  • The environment: How is the Church noticeably different? Not just inside but perhaps in the porch or at the doors.
  • RCIA: How is the journey of the elect (after the first Sunday of Lent) incorporated into the liturgy?
  • The sound: How is the sound of Lent different from the Sundays of Ordinary Time?
    • Is there a Lenten repertoire?
    • Perhaps there is a Mass setting used only for Lent?
    • Perhaps there is a hymn used every Sunday as a unifying thread throughout the season?
    • There may be less music and more silence eg at the Presentation of Gifts, after Communion, instead of a recessional.
    • Singing may be unaccompanied.
    • Perhaps some chant is used.
  • The Word and silence: Lent may be an opportunity to consider how the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ is ‘choreographed’.
    • Perhaps more might be made of silence throughout the Liturgy of the Word.
  • The Universal Prayer:
    • There might be a different ending for the petitions and response.
    • The petitions might be more concise and more focused.
    • A petition for the elect is included even if there is none in the parish.
  • The progression of Lent: If Lent is a journey how might the liturgy mark the unfolding of this journey throughout Lent and towards Holy Week?
  • The integration of liturgy and life: Consideration might be given to how the liturgy connects to and gathers in the previous week’s journey and missions the Assembly for the next week of the journey.

If we are to engage meaningfully in our Lenten journey, we need good liturgy that helps us deepen and renew our baptismal commitment.  Sunday liturgy that helps us continue to:

Pattern our lives on the teaching of the Gospel

Receive the cross as our sign and learn to know and follow Christ

Put on Christ

Be enlightened by Christ.

Like liturgy, Lent is not an end in itself.  It is a means to an end.  The end of course is Easter and the renewal of our baptismal commitment to shine with the light of Christ in and for the world. Lent, with its Sunday road stops is about forming and renewing missionary disciples whose focus is loving God and one another.

The Rite of Election is a larger road stop on our Lenten journey, a gathering of the Church of Maitland-Newcastle to applaud and be inspired by those who are elected for baptism at the Easter Vigil.  In the midst of our current joys and sorrows, griefs and anxieties.  I need such inspiration.   (Sacred Heart Cathedral at 2.30pm on Sunday March 10) 

May your experience of Lent 2019 be long and lingering, and sustained by good liturgy, so that at Easter we might all proclaim, ‘The light of Christ’ in the liturgy and life. 

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Louise Gannon rsj Image
Louise Gannon rsj

Louise Gannon rsj is the Diocesan Co-ordinator of Liturgy.