Here we are at the beginning of another Lent. Didn’t we just celebrate Christmas? Oh well, onward.
A very short history of Lent. Lent began as a preparation time for the greatest feast of the Church, Easter, but early Christian communities developed different practices. By the fourth century, the practice of beginning to pray and fast six Sundays before Easter became the final, intensive period of preparation for those wishing to join the Church at the Easter Vigil and for public sinners who had separated themselves from the Church. By the eighth century, Lent, as we know it today, became a time of fasting, prayer, penance, and giving in charity for the entire Church.
A multiple choice question: “Lent is about…” which of the following?
A — receiving ashes on your forehead
B — prayer, fasting, and giving in charity
C — confessing our sins
D — preparing for the renewal of our baptismal promises
If your answer was “A — receiving ashes”, I’m afraid this answer does not get even partial credit. Yes, we do receive ashes on our forehead at the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday. If receiving ashes on our forehead what that critical to our celebration of Lent, it would be mandatory. But it is not, and those who fail to receive ashes are not banished from participating during the rest of Lent.
If your answer was “B”, prayer, fasting, and giving in charity”, you get partial credit. Jesus describes how we are to go about giving in charity, praying, and fasting in Matthew 6: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”; “pray to your Father in secret”; “and when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” So these are good things for us to do or Jesus would not have spoken positively about them. During Lent we should take the opportunity to increase our praying, fasting, and giving in charity. Prayer unites the three of these activities with fasting and giving in charity really being forms of prayer. Prayer, and thus fasting and giving in charity, are things we should practice throughout the year and we pay special attention to them during Lent, but they are not all what Lent is about.
If your answer was “C — confessing our sins”, you should also be given partial credit. God wants to heal us of anything that doesn’t reflect hi will for our lives. We have to be intentional about liberating our hearts from all that holds us back from God and his grace. These could be problems with overeating or drinking too much on occasion. We may fail to control our temper when our charity fails to pass the test of daily irritations. We may talk unkindly about other people or judge their motives. We might be preoccupied with money or any number of things that are not good for us. Confessing our sins is certainly a necessary ingredient in allowing our hearts to be converted and it is an important part of what we do during Lent, but it is not all that Lent is about.
So we come to answer “D — preparing for the renewal of our baptismal promises”, which by now you have figured out is the correct answer.
Lent is about baptism for people preparing to be baptized. For those already baptized, Lent is about preparing to renew our baptismal promises. At all Masses on Easter Sunday, we recite the Renewal of Baptismal Promises:
Celebrant: Do you reject Satan?
Celebrant: And all his works?
Celebrant: And all his empty show?
Celebrant: Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
Celebrant: Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Renewing these promises is a way of making a total commitment of our lives to God. This is the most important decision a human being can make. The Church urges us to decide today, using the words of St. Paul, “Now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).