It's time to prepare our spirits for the coming of the Lenten season
There was a time which I remember when the Church had a kind of preparation leading up to Ash Wednesday. It was celebrated beginning the two and a half weeks before Ash Wednesday. Thus, it began the third Sunday before the beginning of Lent and it was called Septuagesima Sunday. The two Sundays following were called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays. Prayers and Scripture readings for those Sundays and the weekdays helped people look forward to Ash Wednesday.
In 1937 a small book of meditations was published to help people get ready for Ash Wednesday and Lent. A priest named Father Philip Hughes translated into English the work of St. Thomas Aquinas entitled Meditations for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas. The reflections went from Septuagesima Sunday up to and including Holy Saturday. The thrust of the first seventeen reflections was to impress upon the reader that one needs to be prepared well to enter into Ash Wednesday and Lent. Now, I am not advocating a return to an older liturgical calendar. However, I am advocating an appreciation of the value that was behind such an arrangement whereby Lent was preceded by a serious time of preparation.
Think for a moment about a person who wishes to run a full marathon of twenty six plus miles. He or she knows very well that they do not start to get ready for the event a week before it occurs. They know only too well their performance would be a disaster if there were to be only a week’s preparation.
Or consider a graduate from law school preparing for the Bar Exam so that he or she may pass the exam thus permitting them to practice before the Bar which is their dream. They do not just show up the day of the exam. No, many start studying weeks and months before the exam is to take place so that they are well prepared for this significant event.
I hope these examples underscoring the significance of being prepared for an important event help us appreciate the wisdom of the past relative to being spiritually prepared for the beginning of Lent and to carry out well the Lenten journey right up to Easter Sunday.
The lesson from the past is well worth our paying attention to. St. Paul often wrote in his letters about running the race and the importance of being prepared for it, right up to the finish line. And St. Thomas Aquinas in his work had valuable meditations for the days leading up to the beginning of Lent so that people might be ready to wholeheartedly embrace the rigors of Lent for their spiritual benefit.
As you are reading this article there are ten or more days to Ash Wednesday. You have a choice. Are you going to go to Church Ash Wednesday to worship God, receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, and receive ashes and then begin to think about what am I committed to for these next six weeks? Or, are you going to pause right now as you read this message and say to yourself now is the time to plan and prepare, lest I fall short of the goal?
What is the goal? The words used in the imposition of the ashes sum it up quite well: REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL. Each of these actions, repenting and believing, in a full sense are lifelong goals. Preparation for entering into them calls for our attention and commitment. Something so serious demands our engagement now.
The wisdom of the past invites us to incorporate the value of being prepared lest we miss the opportunity.
Blessed Ash Wednesday to one and all.
(The above column by the Most Reverend Richard Lennon, Bishop of Cleveland originally appeared in the Friday, February 1, 2013 issue of the Catholic Universe Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Cleveland.)