I’ve been thinking a lot lately of traditions in the Catholic Church and how wonderful they are to take part in. I was raised evangelical, and so for myself, growing up evangelical, there were no traditions to take part in besides a few holidays that were celebrated in private with family. Sure – we went to Church, but there were no seasons in the Church. Seasons were something to do with the weather. There were no observances, days for Saints, special prayers besides the sinners prayer – in fact, the thing I would identify as tradition in my Church was the altar call that happened after every service, otherwise there was no necessity to any of the liturgy occurring in any order.
With Lent fast approaching, as well as my wife’s due date, I’ve been considering what traditions will our family keep, and how will we celebrate the different times of the liturgical seasons. What do I want my children to grow up identifying with the different times of the year in the Church and the different Holy Days? What memories and new traditions (is that an oxymoron?) will my family know?
Lent is a special season, one of penance and preparation. So much so that at Vatican II, they defined it as such. From “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” no. 109,
The two elements which are essentially characteristic of Lent — the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance — should be given greater emphasis in the liturgy and in liturgical catechesis. It is by means of them that the Church prepared the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God’s word more frequently and devote more time to prayer.
Vatican II, no doubt took into consideration the significance of the number 40 within Scripture as the number occurs many times and often has to do with trial and testing. For example, Abraham asked God to spare the city of Sodom if he could find 40 righteous individuals therein, Moses resided in both Egypt and in the wilderness for 40 years, Jonah preached to Ninevah – calling them to repentance for 40 days, Elijah fasted for 40 days, and similarly, so did Jesus. To understand the 40 days of Lent is to understand that each of these days is symbolic, a part of the whole, and each day is meant to pay reparation to God and make right our souls in the eyes of the Lord.
People ask me all the time, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Actually, I am asked this more often by my protestant friends than I am by my Catholic friends, and I believe there is some deep-seated longing to participate in the penance. To feel unworthy and yet to try to prepare ourselves for Easter, participating in something beyond the individual but in a community of believers. Lent is not merely an individual abstaining from meat and giving up secular music – Lent is a community preparation for Our Lord – a communal desire to increase in holiness through a cathartic experience.
This year I will sacrifice something. I don’t know what it will be yet. In previous years I gave up music that had lyrics – so that I may better reflect and pray while driving. This year will be different though, I won’t just give something up, but rather I think I will also take something up. Since my wife and I are expecting in May, I think I will sacrifice some of my free time to begin making my daughter a Book of Hours. Something which she can then use every Lent, with 40 pages, to pray each day, and reflect upon the love of our Lord and what she can do, what her calling is, and what the Lord wants in her life and whether or not that syncs up with what she is doing at the present.
I’ll let you know how it goes. Now that this post is on the internet, saved into eternity I have some accountability, and hopefully I can post the Book of Hours as a scan after Lent.
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