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Introduction to Lent

Short history of the Pascal cycle and Lent in particular

Christians of the early generations were so fascinated by the “event”, this means the death and Resurrection of Jesus, that they met on the day of His resurrection, which was called “dies domini”(Our Lord’s day), which was the day after the Jewish Sabbath .

From the second century on, after the first full moon of spring (where the Jewish Passover is celebrated), it was chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the death and Resurrection of Christ in a festive fasting and a joyous prayer. Thus, in the course of Sundays, a nucleus was crystallized.

But one day to celebrate the event was not enough, and the kernel itself burst into a paschal triduum where one commemorated the holy death of Jesus, His descent into hell, His glorious Resurrection. Then the celebration was extended for fifty days to conclude with the celebration of Pentecost.

At the other end, the preparation was growing in its turn, as for the sake of balance. The paschal fast took on the whole of Holy Week, and then, as early as the 3rd century, the intensive instruction of the catechumens helped the paschal preparation to take forty days (our present Lent), a custom already widespread at the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325.

Since baptism is a death-Resurrection event (Rm 6), it was appropriate to confer it at Easter. Thus, the weeks before Easter became a time of intensive preparation for this sacrament.

The readers are spared the later developments of Lent, which made them begin on Ash Wednesday, and then overflow into quinquagesime (fifty days) and up to septuagesime (seventy days before Easter).

With the disappearance of adult baptisms, the baptismal character of Lent became less intelligible. Lent was then revised in the penitential sense. It would be wrong, however, to regard the penitential side as a mere avatar. In fact, it even preceded the baptismal preparation, because fasting and prayer were always the privileged means of preparing hearts to celebrate the death and Resurrection of the Lord. Better the oldest celebration of the Passover itself was in a festive fast!

Vatican II rebalanced Lent by restoring its paschal character (death and Resurrection) as well as its baptismal orientation, without neglecting the penitential aspect. Here we have the three threads which make up the fabric, the very structure of Lent, and they are closely united, as on the first Sunday in the gospel of temptation, where the rude struggle (the penitential aspect) leads to victory (Pascale), thus drawing the twofold approach of baptism (I renounce-I believe), sometimes, especially on the last three Sundays, they each diverge in one of the years of the triennial cycle, the baptismal character dominating in year A, the death-Resurrection aspect in B, the penance-conversion aspect in year C. But to distinguish is not to separate, it would tear the fabric of this extraordinary liturgical time and its deep spirituality.

Spirituality of Lent - Plain Spirituality

Yes, we have here the profound spirituality of Lent. Only Lent? All our lives! There is not, in truth, any other spirituality. Lent is only the highlight of what we need to live all the year, our whole existence.

It draws more forcefully the three dimensions of our king, His three essential movements:

- # Jesus went from death to Resurrection, he made a passage, a passover (a word that means precisely: passage).
- # Baptism realized in us this passover of Christ, it made us pass from a life without God to a life with Him.
- But what has been done in the sacrament must be realized in our life: we must constantly “pass” from the remoteness of God to a return to Him, from a life of cowardice to a life of fervor, from selfishness to love, from “for oneself” to “for others,” until death definitely makes us pass from this world to the Father (John 13: 1).

Spirituality rude, but exalting. The passage is not made without tears, without “mortification”, without death to ourselves. But we do it, eyes already illuminated by the exalting goal: the true and profound success of our life (not seen in material possessions), our ultimate fulfillment in Christ.

Let us enter Lent. This Lent, an austere and sad one (this is how most Christians still feel it), is flooded with light. As the rise of Christ towards Jerusalem, towards His suffering, knew the comforting stage of the Mount Thabor, so our quadragesimal effort is already irradiated with Paschal joy. As the climb to the cross was for Christ the way to His glory, Lent and Good Friday will flourish in the final Resurrection.

Of true spirituality there is no other.

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