Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Rites and Rituals For Lent
Note: For seventeen years I co edited The Seasons, a small-circulation devotional publication, which divided the year into quarters, providing a daily lectionary, essays, poems, prayers, short fiction and graphic illustrations, mostly by a small circle of regular contributors. In 2009, our last year of publication, Richard Price prepared a piece entitled, “Rites and Rituals For Lent, Easter, and Pentecost,” intended as an outline for readers wanting a brief reminder of the major themes for worship in this important part of the church year. I am pleased to present the first half now, with the balance to come at the start of Holy Week.
Rites and rituals are an integral part of the liturgical and spiritual life of the church. They provide a framework within the larger frame of the calendar of the church year. The time from the season of Lent to the Day of Pentecost offers a great number of these rites and rituals, which permit us expression of our faith in a variety of liturgical settings.
Lent (Liturgical Color: Purple)
Lent is a penitential season of spiritual pilgrimage to prepare us to travel with our Lord to the cross. It is also a time for personal reflection upon the state and condition of our faith through spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and worship. It is a season that is full of rites and rituals that can enhance that pilgrimage and deepen our understanding of the meaning of our Lord’s passion. This means that Holy Eucharist is celebrated during each liturgy, with the exception of Good Friday.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, observed on the Wednesday before the First Sunday in Lent. The penitential rituals include confession of sin and the assurance of forgiveness, followed by the ancient rite of imposition of ashes. Unfortunately, this rite has been neglected for several generations primarily due to a lack of understanding of its meaning and purpose. A renewal of this rite would deepen the meaning of the acts of confession and the assurance of forgiveness, and the words of the imposition of ashes, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” bring us to a point of humility before God that reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith.
The Sundays of Lent rightly focus on the pilgrimage to the cross, the texts reminding us of God’s promise in Christ that we would be led out of the life of sin and death to salvation and eternal life. The rite of thanksgiving for baptisms each Sunday can bring that promise into sharper focus.
Weekdays of Lent provide opportunities for the practice of individual and congregation spiritual disciplines, perhaps done ecumenically, within the framework of a version of Evening Prayer.
Passion (Palm) Sunday (Scarlet or White)
It is appropriate to include in the Passion Sunday liturgy the blessing of the palms and a procession. This ritual begins outside of the worship space with a reading of the gospel narratives of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (St. Matthew 21:1-11 or St. John 12:12-16). There is a proclamation of Jesus’ coming “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, concluding with the singing of an appropriate hymn.
It is important to remember that this day begins the most solemn week of the church year as we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is not a day of sheer joy, but of ironic triumph, for we know that our Lord will suffer torture, ridicule, and the horrific death of crucifixion.
Richard Hammond Price, OCC
© February 2009