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Preliminary Lenten Reflections from Pius Parsch

by pastorjuhl ~ March 7th, 2011

Every year it seems we One-Year Lectionary pastors have to defend the whole notion of Gesimatide to those who know not the season. “Why prepare to prepare? That’s silly!” some of them bark. Let the uninitiated bark. Pius Parsch has some good thoughts concerning not only Gesimatide, but also Holy Lent and Passiontide too.

First level. Pre-Lent – a time of invitation. The Church invites us to make good use of the great season of penance. We already have observed the progression inherent in the liturgical formularies of the three Sundays. In external structure Pre-Lent resembles the tempus per annum, with the Alleluia missing.

Second level. Lent, the season of fasting and penance. In the missal this begins with Ash Wednesday, in the Office with the first Sunday in Lent (not until then does the Ordinary of Lent appear) and closes with the Saturday after Laetare Sunday. A good description of this period is had in the words of the preface: “Through bodily fasting You suppress vice, elevate the mind, bestow strength and merit.” It is then a season of interior purification and spiritual renewal.

The deeper or mystical import centers in a conflict between spirits, the gigantic struggle between light and darkness. In this war we can distinguish two phases, one defensive and the other offensive. In the first two weeks Christ and the Church seem on the defensive; in the next two weeks they proceed to the attach. For these two phases the Gospels of the first and the third Sundays in Lent give the signal. On the first Sunday Satan confronts Christ and abandons the assault only after repeated advances; on the third Christ takes the initiative, He is the stronger and conquers the strong. On my own personal battlefield I too must turn from passive resistance to open attack upon the enemy.

Third level. Passiontide. This period is consecrated exclusively to the memory of Christ’s sufferings. As early as the Monday after Laetare Sunday the liturgy begins to speak of the suffering of Jesus. In the chants our ear senses laments from the lips of Christ. With Passion Sunday the liturgy abandons its reserve and openly shows us the sacred passion.

Parsch then moves on to the purpose of this portion of the Church year. He highlights three points: Christ’s passion, baptism, and “second baptism” or penance. For our evangelical ears, we ear “repentance” for this third point.

Recall that in the Christmas cycle we were not merely interested spectators of the mighty struggle between light and darkness; then as now the mystery is re-enacted in each person’s heart: in your soul Christ is wrestling with the devil; or better, by the very fact that you are involved in this fight. At Easter we want to be ready to sing Alleluia with our Leader, but the victory can only be gained by death and crucifixion to the natural man. Therefore we must relive our Savior’s passion in Lent; as catechumens we must die with Christ; as penitents we must die with Christ; as disciples we must die with Christ in order to rise with Him as new men on Easter. Christ’s passion, accordingly, is not merely the highest motive for a spiritual renewal; rather it must be, in the sense of St. Paul, relived by us. We must share His sufferings and death.

Lent is the springtime in the ecclesiastical year. From the planted and dying kernels of divine wheat a wonderful harvest will come, souls ripe for baptism. Lent is the ideal season to prepare for baptism.

For understanding the liturgy of the season this is of great importance; not the sober and serious mood of penance but a joyful anticipation of baptism is the spirit proper to the older strata of Lenten texts.

Whatever our status, whether it be catechumen, penitent, or faithful member of the Church, we must never forget that the main task of the liturgy is not to impart instruction but to bestow divine life…. This is why the ancient Roman liturgy loved to portray the effect of the sacred mysteries in the Lessons at Mass, choosing scenes from the Old and New Testament which typified the action of grace. The readings, indeed the whole variable text of the Mass, were regarded as parables on the graces of redemption coming to the members of the Church from Christ’s death on the Cross.

Lent, then, is the time of salvation par excellence not only for catechumens and penitents, but for the faithful as well. The catechumens attain their goal in baptism on Holy Saturday, the penitents theirs in the reconciliation of Holy Thursday. Lent is designed to aid them in preparing. And through daily Mass the faithful have the divine life within them enriched and perfected. By Holy Thursday they should be free from all sin and cleansed of guilt so as to appear in the full maturity and perfection of grace on Holy Saturday.

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