Friday, March 23, 2012

From 1896

During this Lenten season I have found myself using an unusual source for devotional time. Two things make it unusual. First, it comes from my old book collection and is dated 1896. Secondly, entitled, "The Office of Holy Week," it comes out of the Roman Catholic tradition. From Palm Sunday to Easter the small volume consists of services and readings in both Latin and English. There are also brief explanations and commentaries along the way.
One word of interpretation reads: "Church history and the holy Fathers tell us how the primitive Christians conducted themselves...Penance was imposed at the beginning of Lent on such penitents as were to be reconciled at Easter. It was proper that they should long bewail their crimes, and covered with confusion, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, pass through the sorrowful stages of penance, before being admitted at Easter to the communion of the divine mysteries.. Thus Lent came to be observed." And then from 1896 there comes a word which could have been written yesterday. "The majority of the faithful have greatly degenerated from their first fervor..."
These words written so long ago provide much reflection for the present moment. Our observance of Lent seems to be a kinder, softer, more gentle thing which, perhaps, speaks of the way our culture calls us to compromise the sin in us instead of being mortified by it. We have substituted the confirmands for the penitents. Too many of us come to Easter more conscious of how we are appearing to one another instead of how our hearts must appear to God. We no longer see the penitents around us even though we see those in need of penance as we check ourselves out in the mirror.

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