‘The annual Lenten season is the fitting time to climb the Holy mountain of Easter.
‘The Lenten season has a double character, namely to prepare both catechumens [new people who become Catholics this year] and faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery. The catechumens with both the rite of election and scrutinies, and by catechesis, are prepared for the celebration of the sacraments of Christian initiation; the faithful ever more attentive to the word of God and prayer, prepare themselves by penance for the renewal of their baptismal promises.’
CONCERNING THE RITE OF CHRISTIAN INITIATION
The whole rite of Christian initiation has a markedly paschal character, since it is therein that the sacramental participation in the death and resurrection of Christ takes place for the first time. Therefore Lent should have its full character as a time of purification and enlightenment, especially through the scrutinies and by the presentations; naturally the paschal Vigil should be regarded as the proper time to celebrate the sacraments of initiation.
Communities that do not have any catechumens should not however fail to pray for those who in the forthcoming paschal Vigil will receive the sacraments of Christian initiation. Pastors should draw the attention of the faithful to those moments of significant importance to their spiritual life nourished by their baptismal profession of faith, and which they will be invited to renew in the Easter Vigil, ‘the fullness of the lenten observance’.
In Lent there should be catechesis for those adults who, although baptised when infants, were not brought up in the faith and consequently have not been confirmed nor have they received the Eucharist. During this period penitential services should be arranged to help prepare them for the sacrament of reconciliation.
The Lenten season is also an appropriate time for the celebration of penitential rites on the model of the scrutinies for unbaptised children who are at an age to be catechised, and also for children already baptised, before being admitted to the sacrament of penance.
The bishop should have particular care to foster the catechumenate of both adults and children and according to circumstance, to preside at the prescribed rites, with the devout participation of the local community.
CELEBRATIONS DURING THE LENTEN SEASON
The Sundays of Lent take precedence over all feasts and all solemnities. Solemnities occurring on these Sundays are observed on the preceding Saturday. The weekdays of Lent have precedence over obligatory memorials.
The catechesis on the Paschal mystery and the sacraments should be given a special place in the Sunday homilies. The text of the Lectionary should be carefully explained, particularly the passages of the Gospel which illustrate the diverse aspects of Baptism and of the other sacraments, and of the mercy of God.
Pastors should frequently and as fully as possible explain the word of God – in homilies on weekdays, in celebrations of the word of God, in penitential celebrations, in various reunions, in visiting families or on the occasion of blessing families. The faithful should try and attend weekday Mass but where this is not possible they should at least be encouraged to read the lessons, either with their family or in private.
‘The Lenten season should retain something of its penitential character’. As regards catechesis, it is important to impress on the minds of the faithful not only the social consequences of sin but also that aspect of the virtue of penance, which involves the detestation of sin as an offence against God’.
The virtue and practice of penance form a necessary part of the preparation for Easter: from that inner conversion of heart should spring the practice of penance, both for the individual Christian and of the whole community; which while being adapted to the conditions of the present time, should nevertheless witness to the evangelical spirit of penance and also be to the advantage of others.
The role of the Church in penitential practices is not to be neglected and encouragement is to be given to pray for sinners; this intention should be included in the prayer of the faithful.
‘The faithful are to be encouraged to participate in an ever more intense and fruitful way in the Lenten liturgy and in penitential celebrations. They are to be clearly reminded that both according to the law and tradition, they should approach the sacrament of penance during this season, so that with purified heart they may participate in the paschal mysteries. It is appropriate that during Lent the sacrament of Penance be celebrated according to the rite for the reconciliation of several penitents with individual confession and absolution, as given in the Roman Ritual’.
Pastors should devote themselves to the ministry of reconciliation, and provide sufficient time for the faithful to avail themselves of this sacrament.
‘All Lenten observances should be of such nature that they also witness to the life of the local Church and foster it. The Roman tradition of the “stational” churches can be recommended as a model for gathering the faithful in one place. In this way the faithful can assemble in larger numbers, especially under the leadership of the bishop of the diocese, or at the tombs of the Saints, or in the principal churches of the city or sanctuaries, or some place of pilgrimage which has a special significance for the diocese.
‘In Lent the altar should not be decorated with flowers, and musical instruments may be played only to give necessary support to the singing’. This is in order that the penitential character of the season may be preserved.
Likewise from the beginning of Lent until the paschal Vigil ‘Alleluia’ is to be omitted in all celebrations, even on solemnities and feasts.
The chants to be sung in celebrations – especially of the Eucharist, but also at devotional exercises – should be in harmony with the spirit of the season and the liturgical texts.
Devotional exercises which harmonise with the Lenten season are to be encouraged, for example, ‘The Stations of the Cross’. They should help foster the liturgical spirit with which the faithful can prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ’s paschal mystery.
PARTICULAR DETAILS CONCERNING THE DAYS OF LENT
‘On the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent, the faithful receive the ashes, thus entering into the time established for the purification of their souls. This sign of penance, a traditionally biblical one, has been preserved among the Church’s customs. It signifies the human condition of the sinner, who seeks to express his guilt before the Lord in an exterior manner, and by so doing expresses his interior conversion, led on by the confident hope that the Lord will be merciful. This same sign marks the beginning of the way of conversion, which is developed through the celebration of the sacraments of penance during the days before Easter’.
The Blessing and imposition of Ashes should take place either in the Mass, or outside Mass. In the latter case it is to be part of a Liturgy of the Word and conclude with the Prayer of the Faithful.
Ash Wednesday is to be observed as a day of penance in the whole Church, one of both abstinence and fasting.
The first Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of the annual Lenten observance. In the Mass of this Sunday there should be some distinctive elements which underline this important moment; e.g. the entrance procession with litanies of the saints. During the Mass of the first Sunday in Lent, the bishop should celebrate the rite of election in the cathedral or in some other church, as seems appropriate.
The Gospel pericopes of the Samaritan woman, of the man blind from birth and the resurrection of Lazarus, are assigned to the II, IV and V Sundays of Lent of Year A; since they are of particular significance in relation to Christian initiation, they can also be read in years B and C, especially in places where there are catechumens.
On ‘Laetare Sunday’, the fourth Sunday of Lent, and in solemnities and feasts, musical instruments may be played and the altar decorated with flowers. Rose coloured vestments may be worn on this Sunday.
The practice of covering the crosses and images in the church may be observed, if the episcopal conference should so decide. The crosses are to be covered until the end of the celebration of the Lord’s passion on Good Friday. Images are to remain covered until the beginning of the Easter Vigil.
– from Congregatio pro Cultu Divino, 1988