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The Prefaces of Lent
The Prefaces of Lent
I suspect that most people are like me and seldom read the preface of a book, instead skipping over it to begin at chapter one.
Unfortunately, we often do the same with the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. The Preface is that part of the great prayer of thanksgiving which comes after the introductory dialogue between the presider and the assembly and the hymn of praise, the Holy, Holy.
The Prefaces for feasts and seasons of the church year always reflect the focus of the celebration, but sometimes we are distracted and our thoughts wander and the Preface is over before we are aware of it.
Today is the first Sunday Lent, the Church’s 40-day season of preparation for Easter. Anyone looking for a clue in the liturgy to help understand the purpose of Lent could do no better than to listen carefully to the Prefaces of the season. To those accustomed to thinking of Lent solely as a time of penance, their words might come as something of a surprise.
“Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed. You give us a spirit of loving reverence for you, our Father, and of willing service to our neighbour. As we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ, you bring the image of your Son to perfection within us.” (Preface of Lent 1)
“This great season of grace is your gift to your family to renew us in spirit. You give us strength to purify our hearts, to control our desires, and so to serve you in freedom. You teach us how to live in this passing world with our heart set on the world that will never end. (Preface of Lent II)
Words such as “joyful” and “gift” are not generally associated with Lent.
The Prefaces for the Sundays of Lent serve to reinforce the Gospel readings of the day. For example, on the first Sunday, the Gospel reminds us that the Lord was led into the wilderness for forty days and tempted by the devil. The Preface for this day proclaims:
“His fast of forty days makes this a holy season of self-denial. By rejecting the devil’s temptations he has taught us to rid ourselves of the hidden corruption of evil, and so to share his paschal meal in purity of heart, until we come to its fulfilment in the promised land of heaven.”
The Gospel reading on the second Sunday of Lent is always the account of the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. In the Preface for that day we hear:
“On your holy mountain he revealed himself in glory in the presence of his disciples. He had already prepared them for his approaching death. He wanted to teach them through the Law and the Prophets that the promised Christ had first to suffer and so come to the glory of his resurrection. “
In the words of Preface of Lent IV, “Through our observance of Lent, you correct our faults and raise our minds to you, you help us grow in holiness, and offer us the reward of everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord."