WELCOME TO SPRINGTIME. As I write this column, there is snow on the ground! And March 21 is more than a month off. So why would I say that?
Because in fact, the word “Lent” is an old English word for Springtime. The date for Easter, and the start of Lent, changes every year, sometimes by weeks. Why?
Here goes: Easter is the 1st Sunday, after the 1st full moon, after March 21st. The first full moon after the Spring Equinox, March 21, is March 28 this year. So Easter 2021 is April 4.
Why this formula? Because the full moon along with the Equinox, when the earth turns more fully to the sun, brings the earth to life more fully. It’s the time when the sun, the winds, even the moon, work together to warm the earth and bring out life. Things bloom, the ground warms, trees come to life. So Lent didn’t originally have such a dark tone as we may think of.
So you see why it’s a misunderstanding to wish that Easter would have some fixed date for our convenience. This way, it’s timed every year for that maximum experience of nature coming to life. That’s our goal: to be coming awake and alive now, so we’re more fully in the light of Christ at Easter.
Ash Wednesday is kind of a ceremonial beginning, an announcement: “Blow the trumpet! Proclaim a fast! Gather the people, notify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children” (Joel 2 from the Ash Wednesday Mass.) We will of course distribute ashes at the Masses on Wednesday—the two standard weekday Masses, plus 12:10 and 7:00 P.M. It’s a popular day for Mass (although not a Day of Obligation!) This year the ashes will have a pandemic tweak: instead of a thumb to the forehead, water mixed with the ashes will be sprinkled on the head. (After receiving instruction recently to do it this way, a note came out that the pastor could decide to use the original method. To be responsible, this would mean that the minister using a thumb with ashes would sanitize the thumb after each recipient–?? I go for the safety and the assurance to all that we use the safe manner.)
Remember that a classic Lent has 3 elements: Sacrifice (What are you giving up); Prayer (the simpler, the better; instead of continually talking to God, can you quietly listen for a while?) and Almsgiving, charity to the poor. It’s incomplete to make it just a test of our will power; the other two elements bring us closer to God, and to other people. Make what you sacrifice, something that will bring you closer to God and others. As I mentioned in my homily last Sunday, a monk once told us “If your sin and your fault is that you use harsh words to hurt others, God won’t be pleased if you give up mashed potatoes.” Give up using those words! Sacrifice your time and impulses to consider those around you. A fine combination of sacrifice and prayer is to resolve to spend more time in your Formed modules or other podcasts, with Word Among Us or The Magnificat, to faithfully read the Lenten Black Book. The bulletin will have more opportunities. And to learn more about the scriptural view of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, attend the talks by an earnest speaker on February 24 and March 3. These talks will also be livestreamed.
Next Sunday, the 1st Sunday of Lent, we begin the formal cycle of Lenten readings by seeing Jesus in the desert tempted by—and overcoming—usual human distractions: satisfaction, recognition, respect. He sought instead to be in complete union with his Father. He leads us through an exemplary human life into the fullness of his Father’s kingdom. He accepted his suffering as part of this great fullness. We can journey with him for 40 days now, and grow to become more loving, more devoted, more secure in God by April 4.
Fr. Tom Wyrsch