It’s common knowledge in the parish that Lent is my favorite liturgical season. I can’t keep track of the number of times some thoughtful parishioner will begin to ask “how are you doing, Father, with all the extra…” and then there’s a pause and the sentence is finished with something like, “…oh, never mind, I just remembered. You like Lent.”
Probably a psychoanalyst would say it’s because I was deprived of the experience of Catholic Lenten practices when I was a child or something like that. Whatever the reason, I always wake up on Ash Wednesday morning with a sense of anticipation for the day, and this year was no different. I opened the church at the usual time, about 5:45 a.m., and saw that one of the deacons had prepared everything the night before. The ashes were ready, the purple vestments set to go. I was able to spend time in prayerful preparation for the day. I often think there’s no place on earth more beautiful to me than our church in those still-dark hours of early morning.
In addition to the three Masses we celebrated, the students also assembled for Solemn Evensong just before the end of the school day. It’s my opinion that you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced Evensong with our children. The ease with which they sing Anglican chant would be the envy of most cathedral musicians. The seriousness with which they pray the traditional prayers, hearing them tell God that they have “erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,” it all gives me the assurance that the best of our liturgical and devotional traditions are living on.
The lines for confession are bulking up, too. Not only the scheduled times for confessions, but also the calls come in. The secretary takes the calls, “Could Father hear my confession sometime today?” And I always can. The school confessions are also coming fast and furious, with class after class being scheduled. One day last week I spent nearly three hours hearing the confessions of students, and (thankfully) it looks as though it won’t be letting up soon. I have an admission to make. I used to be able to sit for hours in the confessional on a hard metal chair, but I’ve had to give in to getting a more comfortable chair. Popping a couple of discs in my back and neck have made it a little too penitential to sit for very long on an unpadded seat!
On Friday we had Stations of the Cross. Not once, but twice. First we had them in the afternoon with all the students, plus several parishioners who like to join with the children in their extra devotions. Five hundred students and their teachers, along with a good number of others, meant that quite a few people were standing in the back of the church as we made our way around, using the new (but very traditional) set of stations we just obtained. That evening a good number of people gathered for Solemn Evensong, Stations of the Cross and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Those Friday evening devotions are always a highlight for me, and this year it was especially beautiful with the new Casavant organ supporting the music. At the actual benediction the organ begins softly, building and building, until the sound is almost overwhelming at the climactic blessing with the monstrance held high amidst heavy clouds of incense. I love it.
Today was the First Sunday in Lent. This is one of the days when we use the Decalogue. It’s always a sobering sound to hear the commandments read out with the people responding, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” I think it’s important to be that specific from time to time. It’s good actually to hear the commandments with our own ears.
So tomorrow continues another week, and I’m happy to see the days are “purple days,” all weekdays in Lent. As much as I love commemorating the saints, I do like a run of regular penitential days with no interruption. And by that, I don’t mean that celebrating the saints are an interruption. Oh well, you probably know what I mean.
At any rate, Lent is well and truly here. I do find a real comfort in it, and I am praying that all of us in the parish are just that bit more holy by the time the Sacred Triduum arrives.