I have not always been Catholic. And I haven’t always observed Lent, so when my husband and I became Catholic in 2007, this was all new and unfamiliar. I thought it was cool to have ashes placed on your forehead and to have different kinds of resolutions for a few weeks. From the outside, I had always thought it was all about candy, and didn’t appreciate or understand the beauty of living ones life in the rhythm of the church’s liturgical year, focused on the life of Jesus.
In my protestant Christian upbringing, such observances would be considered superstitious and legalistic, and perhaps even as having a morbid emphasis on sin and trying to earn one’s salvation by his own strength. As Catholic Christians, we observe liturgical holidays throughout the year, a few of which the rest of the Christian world still observes with us. These holidays highlight the life of Christ, and we are ever in this cycle: waiting for Jesus in Advent, celebrating the Incarnation at Christmas, the Baptism, the first Miracle at Cana, and so on to Lent (Jesus 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert), Palm Sunday, Holy Week (Last Supper, Death, Burial, Resurrection on Easter), the Ascension, Pentecost, and then our thoughts turn to Heaven where Jesus reigns triumphant until He comes again. Then we begin again.
Every year we take our time celebrating these important moments in the life of Jesus. We begin our year waiting for His coming. Each spring we fast with Him in the desert, dine with Him at the last supper, watch and pray on His
way to crucifixion (stations of the cross), mourn at the tomb & rejoice at His resurrection!
But are these things empty motions we go through? As Catholics, we are called to live liturgically. In the Christian tradition, liturgy refers to the “participation of the people of God in the work of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1069).
For it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that “the work of our redemption is accomplished,” and it is through the liturgy especially that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church. (Sacrosanctum concilium, 2, qtd. in CCC, 1068)
So litugical living means that we live in light of the graces God has given us, especially in the Eucharist, which is the “source & summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324-1327). We also have a missionary calling, proclaiming the gospel every day, not just on Sunday.
During the season of Lent, the Church joins herself to Jesus in the desert, where he successfully rejected Satan & his promises. Where Adam failed, Jesus was victorious (CCC, 538-540)! The emphasis during lent is on prayer, penance, fasting, and alms giving. By joining ourselves to Jesus in these 40 days, we remove distractions and give a greater focus to our prayer life & practice of charity in preparation for Holy Week.
So we remove things that are goods, or at the very least are morally indifferent in & of themselves. By doing so we make room for more prayer & alms giving. Of course we should practice prayer, alms giving & penance throughout the year. And we should constantly be looking to remove distractions from our life. In a similar way, our gratitude over the gift of the incarnation, and our Joy in the Resurrection should be with us all year, not just at Christmas & Easter. But we do focus on these themes in special ways at those times, and this is both sanctifying for us as a Church body, and instructional to the world.
For our personal sacrifices (food, sleep, technology, etc.), we find rewards in our spiritual life. Jesus did not eat or drink, but angels ministered to Him. By joining ourselves to Jesus, we also find triumph in the desert.
4Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.
5Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
6Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness.
7And that which was dry land, shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water. (Isaiah 35:4-7)