Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tempus Quadragesimae

Lent is the approximately forty day period celebrated by the Church each year to prepare for the Lord's resurrection at Easter. All Catholics between the ages of 18 and not yet 59 are bound by precept of the Church to abstention from meat on Ash Wednesday and on all the Fridays of Lent, and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting, at a minimum, means eating one full meal and two other, smaller, meals together which do not constitute a second full meal. Catholics age 14 up to those not yet 18, and age 59 up to those not yet 80 are bound only by the rules of abstinence from meat. Fasting and abstinence should always be accompanied by prayer, whether privately or publicly at daily Mass. The Church also requires what has come to be called the "Easter duty", which means every Catholic who has made their first Confession must receive this Sacrament of forgiveness at least once a year, during the Lenten season.

The great forty days fast, "begun under the Law and the Prophets and hallowed by Christ himself" (hymn at Matins) has always been one of the essential practices of Lent. The liturgy alludes to it continually and the Lenten preface reminds us of it at every Mass during this season. But fasting goes hand in hand with prayer. Like all the penitential exercises of Lent, it is offered to God in union with the sacrifice of the Cross, renewed daily at Mass.

Every day of Lent has its proper Mass, because, in fact, the whole Christian community in Rome used formerly to be present at Mass daily during Lent. It is for this reason also that each of these Masses has a stationed church -- the Church at which the Mass was celebrated for the community. Even nowadays the Lenten stations arouse much interest in Rome, and the whole Latin Church, which by the celebration of the stational Mass unites its intention with the keeping of Lent at the center of the Christian world.

At other seasons of the year there are ordinarily feasts of saints celebrated during the week; during Lent, it is the Proper of the season, devoted entirely to the mysteries of Christ, which should dominate the interest of the faithful. That indeed is the precise intention of the Church, and it is one worthy of our respect. The Sundays of Lent are Sundays of the first class: their Mass is always said. Ash Wednesday is a first class ferial day which gives way to no other Mass. The Ember days are second class ferial days which take precedence even over local feasts of the second class. The other ferial days of Lent are of the third class and take precedence over Commemorations and feasts of the third class, which can no longer be kept in Lent. When another Mass is said, the Mass of the ferial days is always commemorated.

Every ferial Mass of Lent has, after the Postcommunion, a Prayer over the people, before which is said: "Bow down your heads before God." The penitential character of this season is emphasized by the silence of the organ. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the penitential tract of Ash Wednesday is repeated: "Lord, repay us not according to the sins we have committed." The suppression of the 'Gloria in excelsis' and 'Alleluia' is maintained, the celebrant and ministers are vested in violet, and the deacon and subdeacon wear folded chasubles in place of the dalmatic and tunicle, which are symbols of joy.

-- The Saint Andrew Missal