Can Lent be called a celebration? It wasn’t until the fourth century that the Catholic Church in the West began to have penitential periods of expectation before solemnities commemorating significant times in the life of Jesus Christ. Advent originally led up to the feast of the Epiphany. Lent was the time prior to Passiontide, and still is a series of days set apart, culminating in holy week, for contemplating the agony and death our Lord endured before His glorious resurrection and ascension.
Penance of course is virtuous in its self and carries with it many graces, but penance in preparation of a great feast seems to bear a greater joy. A joy that comes not only from the sense of relief or accomplishment when it is finally over, but also from the fact that we are making ourselves ready for something important that is about to happen to us – for us. Penance is all about transformation from the old to the new; the becoming of taking on something better than we had previously known.
All of this makes sense when we realize Advent and Lent were designed not only as ascetic measures, but truly as times of preparing for regeneration. Much like the dying and rising again with Christ which occurs in the waters of baptism. What meaning is there then in liturgical seasons of penance for the already baptized, the already but not quite yet redeemed? It means there is some salvific power in the getting ready.
The readings today include commandments from God and the cleansing of the Temple by the incarnate Son of God, both seemingly harsh. What we must not forget during periods of denial and reflection is that we are the lover seeking with pure desire the beloved. God may not absolutely require our keeping times of prayer and penance, but they are for us. “For the foolishness of God is wiser,” still. Let us therefore celebrate.
Darren G. Poley
Falvey Memorial Library