18 February 2014


We're into pre-Lent! I know, that's not really an official liturgical season in the Roman Rite anymore, and if you attended a novus ordo Mass on Sunday the priest wore green and it was ordinary time. In the old calendar, though, this past Sunday is called Septuagesima (70th, a name coming from counting the time before Easter) and signals the beginning of our approach to Lent.

Even with the modern calendar of readings, though, I thought this week definitely encapsulated that spirit of preparation for the penitential season. Sirach wrote of free will, that we have a choice whether or not to follow God, and that those who choose what is right will be saved but "to none does He give license to sin" (Sir 15:20). In Psalm 119, we heard about how those who follow the way of The Lord will be blessed. In 1 Corinthians 2, St Paul talks about the wisdom the world does not grasp, but to which the Spirit opens our hearts, instructing that this wisdom and not the worlds' is what we should value. 

And the Gospel! How much clearer a "start getting ready for Lent" could we get?  "Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5:17-37) Christ continued on to explain the importance of going beyond the letter of the law and living the spirit: not only 'Thou shalt not kill,' but refrain from cherishing anger against another; not only 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' but actively avoid indulging in lust. Christ makes it clear that taking a minimalist approach to our examination of conscience ("Haven't killed anyone this week!") won't cut it.

I love the way the Eastern Rites and the Orthodox approach the Sundays before Lent: with Zaccheus Sunday, the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, and Sunday of the Prodigal Son, they begin exploring themes of repentance; on Meatfare and Cheesefare Sundays, they move into the great fast by giving up meat and dairy. Cheesefare, the last Sunday before Lent, is also Forgiveness Sunday: they begin Lent by offering forgiveness to each other, that God might forgive them.

Don't be caught on Ash Wednesday wondering what to do for Lent this year! Take advantage of these last three pre-Lent weeks to plan and prepare for your observance of the Lenten season.

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