The Season of Lent

27

Prayer for the Season

The Signing of the Senses is a blessing prayer for those who are beginning the journey of preparation for Christian baptism. It invokes the blessing of Christ’s cross upon the all those who set out to follow in the way of Jesus Christ.

Download:

Prayer for Lent

Understanding the Church’s Lenten Tradition

The forty-day Season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Holy Thursday evening with the Celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

Lent is primarily the Church’s time of preparation for the Easter mystery. We remember and celebrate the crucified and risen Christ who sends the Holy Spirit. Lent is the penitential season of the Church – the time for purifying our lives from sin by prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The colour of Lent is violet, the colour associated with humility. Lent is traditionally the season of preparation for Baptism. In the early Church it was the period when candidates for Christian Initiation fasted and prayed more intensely before their baptism at the Easter Vigil.

The word ‘lent’ originates in the northern hemisphere where it means ‘springtime’. It comes from the Old English word lencten (lengthening of days). Here in the southern hemisphere Lent moves through autumn. This has a unique symbolism for us. At this time of year, in the southern hemisphere, the trees are relinquishing their foliage, thus enabling the light of the sun to shine through them more clearly. Similarly, we are encouraged to let go of our attachments – cleansing our lives by fasting, prayer and almsgiving as we prepare for the light of Christ at Easter.

In many other languages the name for the season is derived from the Latin word quadragesima for ’forty’ (such as the Spanish cuaresma and the Italian quaresima). Lent recalls Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness as he prepared to proclaim the Good News. The number 40 is highly significant in the Bible. Long before the time of Jesus, Moses and Elijah had also fasted for 40 days; the great flood lasted 40 days and nights; Israel journeyed through the wilderness for 40 years. In the Bible the number 40 usually means that something very significant is happening. We often refer to Lent as a ‘journey’ of 40 days. The Lenten journey is an inner pilgrimage with Christ. It is marked not so much by external observances as by a deepening of our relationship with God.

Consider

Preparing to Pray during Lent

Along with fasting and almsgiving, prayer is one of the key foundation stones of Lent. During Lent it is important to allow time for daily prayer (personal prayer or communal prayer), and perhaps an extended period of time at least once a week for quiet meditation. Our lives are very busy at this time of the year, yet we can always take a few moments for personal prayer. It may mean getting up a few minutes earlier each day. The most important attitude in prayer is having a mindfulness of God. Even as we do the ordinary things of life – getting dressed, travelling, starting work, washing up – we can remember God’s presence. Pray the words: ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening’, or another well-known scriptural phrase. Your prayer may be as simple as ‘Be with me, Lord!’ When you have more time you might read a passage of Scripture or prayers from a prayer book. The secret is to read slowly and allow a great deal of silence. Prayer is a communion with God and does not really require words at all.

If you are praying with a group, these steps are still relevant. A leader can slowly direct the group through them. It helps to establish an environment for prayer. Light some candles and arrange a prayer cloth. Open the Scriptures. During Lent you may wish to keep the environment stark, even adding sand and pebbles to create a ‘desert-like’ appearance. A few moments of quiet music can help to settle the group before prayer. After reading a passage from Scripture invite the group to repeat a word or phrase from the text or pray spontaneously in response to the scriptural text.

 

Consider

Lenten Prayer

During Lent the focus of prayer and liturgy is trust in the overwhelming mercy, compassion and love of God.

Prayer can take many forms. It may simply be a silent awareness of God’s mercy. The ancient Jesus Prayer, based on the cry of the blind man to Jesus – ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’ – could be prayed over and over as our own cry from the heart. A single word such as the name ‘Jesus’ or ‘peace’ or ‘love’ can help focus our awareness of the presence of God with us. Our Lenten prayer can also be a communal experience consisting of intercessions and thanksgiving – using Scripture, spoken prayers, rituals and songs. As a community we recognise that we have not always lived up to our human dignity. We have yet to reach our potential, and we acknowledge our need for God’s forgiving love.What matters in prayer is our relationship with the God of mercy and compassion. Before beginning prayer, either individually or in a group, take time to close your eyes and be still for a moment. Become aware of the presence of God in your heart and in the group. This creates a readiness for prayer and a readiness to enter more deeply into relationship with God.

Choose, from the links below, a form of prayer that will suit your group/class, or that will enrich your own individual prayer.

Consider

  • Pray this prayer for Ash Wednesday. It may be suitable for individual reflection or group prayer in a staffroom or parish setting.
  • Use the reflection ‘Coming Home to God’. It is a penitential liturgy and can be used for prayer throughout the season of Lent.
  • In our busy world, Lent offers us an opportunity to pray more deeply. Find prayers for each day of Lent: Praying Lent.
  • Explore this site for meditations and prayers for Lent and Easter.
  • The Irish Jesuits have an online prayer for each day on their site: Sacred Space.

Taking Action

Along with prayer and fasting, almsgiving is one of the three key practices of Lent. Lent calls us to transform our lives by prayer and penance, and to reach out generously to others. As Christians we are particularly mindful that building a just world involves standing in solidarity with the poor and oppressed and making a commitment to do something about poverty. This helps us also to see the poverty in our own hearts, and in our own contemporary society. During Lent, in particular, we tune our ears and hearts to the cries of the poor in our many ‘worlds’, and give alms.

Project Compassion is just one of the Church’s means of identifying with the poor. Caritas Australia’s Lifestyle Awareness Calendar provides many practical suggestions for remembering and assisting people in need.

Consider

  • Find Project Compassion stories, educational resources and fundraising ideas here on the Caritas Australia website.
  • Research the tradition of alms and almsgiving on the Catholic Encyclopedia site.
  • Join the band of people, in Australia and around the globe, who are taking action to make poverty history.