I have a confession to make.
I am, by training, a liturgist.
As such, I cringe at the well-known joke—“What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with terrorists.”—both because there is a grain of truth and because I work very hard at defying its stereotype.
But when times to prepare for major liturgical seasons like Lent arise, battle lines are often drawn quickly. Over the years, I have sat in mostly civilized groups of liturgical volunteers, discussing a wide variety of ways to prepare ourselves and our worship space for the season. Ideas like:
- Absolute silence before and after Mass during Lent—and it must be enforced
- Start each Mass in darkness and slowly bring the lights up during the Liturgy of the Word until they are fully on at the Gospel
- Simplify the musical arrangements for all music so that there is largely only a melody instrument playing (or, even better, a cappella)
- Wrap columns, doors, and backdrops in deep purple cloth
- Fly yards of purple cloth behind the altar and from the ceiling to highlight the baptismal font
- Empty the baptismal font and all holy water locations until Easter
- Build a desert “scene” in front of the altar over the weeks of Lent, including sand, rocks, and desert plants. Then add candles and water-related objects on Easter
In my younger years, I quite vociferously advocated for some of the above suggestions. But over the years, my approach turned more practical. How do we keep people from talking before Mass? Don’t we need lights so that people can read the music and prayers in the missalette? How are we going to anchor that material to the ceiling? What does the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) have to say about that?
Until more recently, my questions were simpler—and harder to answer. So, how is this change/behavior/environmental concern going to draw our parishioners more deeply into the journey of conversion to which the Gospels compel us?
Because, in the end, that is what Lent is really all about—the ongoing journey of conversion. There are common roads that we follow—penitence, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, the Cross. But our pathways and directions are as unique as each of us is. While the rosary may nurture your spiritual hungers, daily meditation on the Scriptures may be the food that I need. Whereas silence may be the song of your Lenten heart, the Psalms and Lamentations may be mine.
It is the beauty of our Catholic faith that we have such an extensive vocabulary of practices for the Lenten season.
The mistake that my liturgically argumentative friends make is in thinking that there is only one way to prepare for the great feast of Easter. This week’s list of CatholicsRead titles honors the breadth of our Catholic tradition and offers you a variety of choices to prepare well during Lent.
Paulist Press’ Hope from the Ashes starts with where Lent begins—with ashes on Ash Wednesday. If you have ever walked down the street or turned on TV and noticed the ashen cross on the forehead of a well-dressed stranger or your favorite late night host, this book breaks open what this phenomenon is about and how to turn those moments into memorable milestones in the journey of faith.
We have two resources that offer a structure or organization for your personal or small-group prayer. A Retreat in the Desert with Jesus from Catholic Book Publishing Corp. includes Readings of the Day, a reflection, and prayer for your daily devotions. If you are leading a small group or if you want something to use with your family members, try Live Lent! from RENEW International, one of the leading publishers of small group faith resources. This weekly companion is based on the Sunday Gospel and include prompts to help you keep a daily journal during Lent 2022.
Through Story and Reflection
Lent is an idela time to read and reflect on and derive inspiration from the faith journeys of others. Broken and Blessed: An Invitation to My Generation from Ascension is written by African American priest Fr. Josh Johnson, a Millennial speaking to other Millenials about the harsh realities facing the Catholic Church in the 21st century.
In Ave Maria Press’ Fat Luther, Slim Pickin’s, Marcia Lane-McGee and Shannon Wimp Schmidt share their faith and reflections on the liturgical year to honor the Black Catholic experience and to help other Catholics understand Black culture.
No Lent would be complete without a variety of ways to reflect on the Cross. The first of three titles is Catholic Book Publishing Corp.’s From the Cross to the Empty Tomb by Bishop Emeritus Arthur Serratelli (Paterson, NJ) who invites you to journey with those who were with Jesus in His last hours—Peter, Judas, Simon, Mary Magdalene, or Our Lady. In the second, Catholic Book Publishing presents St. Alphonsus Liguori’s The Way of the Cross in a beautiful and reverent devotional.
Lastly, we have Magnificat’s Way of the Cross Companion which includes a beautiful work of art depicting the scene, a verse of a hymn set to Stabat Mater, an excerpt from Scripture, a short, insightful meditation from spiritual giants such as Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Thomas á Kempis, and a prayer beseeching God for a particular grace.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.