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The Prefaces of Lent
I suspect that most people seldom bother to read the Preface of a book but skip 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 heavenly 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’re distracted by the collection or our thoughts wander and the Preface is over before we’re aware of it.
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 in terms of penance, these 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” (Preface of Lent 1)
“This great season of grace is your gift to your family to renew us in spirit”. (Preface of Lent II)
Perhaps “joyful” and “gift” are not words we generally associate with Lent!
The Sundays of Lent each have a special character drawn from the gospel of the day. On the first Sunday, the Church remembers that the Lord was led into the wilderness for forty days and tempted by the devil and on the second that Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor. On the next three Sundays in this year A of the three-year cycle of readings, we hear three great stories to do with Christian initiation from the gospel of John: the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus. Finally, on Passion or Palm Sunday the account of the Lord’s Passion is proclaimed from one of the synoptic gospels.
The Prefaces for the Sundays of Lent serve to reinforce the power of these readings. Listen for the Prefaces and make these prayers your own.
This Sunday afternoon and again next week, those people preparing for initiation into the Catholic Church at the Easter ceremonies will gather with their sponsors, catechists and families at St Stephen’s Cathedral for the Presentation of the Creed. In this ritual, which has been practised from the earliest years of the Church, the “elect” will hear the Archbishop recite to them the great statement of our faith which dates from the Council of Nicea in 325CE. They will be asked to commit the Creed to memory and to recite it publicly before professing their faith in accordance with that Creed on the day of their baptism.
Lent is a time of purification and enlightenment for these people and for all of us as we strive to “rid ourselves of the hidden corruption of evil, and so to share his paschal meal in purity of heart” (Preface of the First Sunday of Lent).