As Lent begins, there are a few subtle changes to the regular pattern of our liturgy that are required and thereby signal for us the changing season. The Opening Acclamation, optional in Rite I, but required in Rite II, moves from the familiar, “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to the more penitential “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.” Many congregations will move from the Gloria or a hymn of praise to the Kyrie or Trisagion, though this is not required in the rubrics. The Alleluias that many congregations cheat into the Dismissal will get a brief reprieve, but again, they really shouldn’t have been their in Epiphany to begin with. The clearest liturgical sign that Lent is upon us comes at the Fraction, where the usual anthem, optional in both Rites I and II, drops the Alleluias that are rubrically kosher the rest of the year.
We go from:
Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore, let us keep the feast. Alleluia.
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore, let us keep the feast.
In our Gospel lesson for Lent 1, we hear the story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. This is, somewhat obviously, the underlying motivation for a forty day fast in the Season of Lent. We follow the model of our Savior in taking time to keep the fast in order that we might properly keep the feast that is Eastertide.
As I’ve noted previously on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve struggled for many years with the giving something up for Lent cultural phenomenon. When Arby’s is hocking fish sandwiches in early spring, the idea of Lent being a season of self-denial loses something for me, but the more I think about the correlation between our liturgical fast and the fast of our Lord in the wilderness, the more I think I might work to give something up this Lent after all. Just as there is no resurrection without death: no Easter without Good Friday, so too there is no real feast without a fast. There is no mountain unless one knows the valley; no exuberance unless one knows the doldrums. As we prepare to keep the great feast, let us prepare ourselves by keeping the fast.