Aspects of Lent

This Sunday, 11th March, is the third Sunday of Lent. A few obvious features of the liturgy during this season are no Glory to God in the introductory rites, no joyful Alleluias to greet the Gospel, and the use of purple vestments and hangings.

We all know that Lent is 40 days long – well around 40, depending on when you start counting and what, if any, days are omitted! The number 40 has symbolic rather than literal meaning. It is based on Christ's 40 days in the desert and on the fasts of Moses and Elias, so exact calculations are not important. 

The six weeks of Lent are not repetitive but rather cumulative. One way of understanding the structure of Lent is this:

The first four weeks take their direction from the readings, penitential rites and the rites related to the Catechumenate (RCIA).

On the fifth Sunday of Lent (25th March this year) the focus shifts to Christ's passion.

Holy Week runs from Passion/Palm Sunday until the beginning of the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.

The Triduum (Latin for "three days") refers to the period from the evening of Holy Thursday until the evening of Easter Sunday.

A popular practice in many parishes during Lent is the Stations of the Cross. The Church has never provided an official ritual for celebrating the Stations. In 1975 the Congregation for Sacred Rites suggested a list of Stations of the Cross that is more in keeping with the gospel accounts than the traditional form.  It begins with the Last Supper and concludes with Christ’s resurrection. 

Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have used another set of Stations that differs from the traditional 14 when celebrating the Way of Cross at the Colosseum during Holy Week. It also omits those events that are not attested to in the biblical account of the Passion.

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2002 makes a number of what it describes as “useful suggestions for a fruitful celebration of the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross)”. These include:

Alternative forms of the Stations approved by Rome or used by the popes “can be regarded as genuine forms of the devotion and may be used as the occasion might warrant”.

The choice of texts should take account of the wise pastoral principle of integrating renewal and continuity. It is always preferable to choose texts written in a clear simple style.

The celebration could end with a commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection “to leave the faithful with a sense of expectation of the resurrection in faith and hope”.

“The Via Crucis in which hymns, silence, procession and reflective
pauses are wisely integrated in a balanced manner contribute significantly
to obtaining the spiritual fruits of the pious exercise.”

As we remember the sufferings of Jesus, we are led into the celebration of Christ’s victory over death and into the renewal of our commitment to the life of faith at the Easter sacraments.


Elizabeth Harrington