The 2nd of March is Ash Wednesday, and it marks the beginning of Lent. It always takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday and comes from the Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice of wearing ashes on our foreheads symbolises the dust from which God made us. Ashes are traditionally made from the blessed palm branches from Palm Sunday in the previous year. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting but young children, elderly and sick are excused from this.
The Cathedral will look different during Lent and the liturgical colour of violet is used symbolise both royalty and remorse. At Mass you will notice that The Gloria and Alleluias are not said as we are focusing on mourning not rejoicing.
The 40-day period has particular significance in the Bible, as the people of Israel wandered the desert in search of the Promised Land and Moses spent 40 days with God on Mount Sinai. In the New Testament it says…
‘Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness…..He fasted forty days and forty nights’.Matthew 4:1-2
He did this before he undertook his public ministry.
Pope Francis reminds us that,
‘Lent is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing him to make his dwelling among us’.Pope Francis
This time of discipline and preparation is important before any important event or decision in life. Prayer, Fasting and Abstinence are the three tools we use as we prepare to celebrate the great mystery of Easter – the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord.
There is also an added emphasis on charity during this period. It is a time to let us focus on others in our community or globally as many charities such as Trocaire (the Irish word for compassion) have Lenten collections to address challenges of poverty and injustice in the developing world. This year their campaign, ‘A Better Tomorrow’ is focused on the people of Zimbabwe whose struggle for survival has increased due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Lent is a wonderful opportunity to correct bad habits and think about becoming better versions of ourselves. Lots of people decide to give something up that they love – perhaps chocolate, sweets, using social media or even the act of shopping for all but essential items. Others might decide to take up something, like helping out more at home or making an effort to be nicer to their brother, sister or neighbour. Many people decide to go to Mass more regularly and it is a really good time to reconnect with Mass or family prayer. This period we will witness some of the most beautiful ceremonies in our liturgical calendar and we look forward to welcoming you to them.
So, take time this Lent for renewal of your mind, body and spirit.
From Benedictus: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue:
You have travelled too fast over false ground;John O’Donohue
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.