Monday, 23 February 2009

The Eucharist for Lent



Lent is almost upon us, quite frighteningly early, and I thought it might be as well to share some ideas I have for keeping Lent this year. We all know that Lent is a season of penitence, contrition, fasting and fervent prayer, which is all designed to bring us to an interior conversion, a re-alignment of our lives so that we may be totally renewed by the glory of the Resurrection. But for those of us who try to achieve this conversion year in year out every Lent of our lives, a certain vigilance is necessary, so that our spiritual methods remain vital and dynamic.

I have to commend the writers of the Women’s Guild blog, who have suggested learning a common liturgical prayer each week during Lent, in order to embed them in our minds and hearts. While I will try to follow them in this exercise, my personal plan is to approach Lent through the Eucharist, and my reading for this season will kick off with God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life by Pope Benedict XVI. While I will be making an extra effort to attend the Holy Sacrifice during the coming weeks, I will try to focus on making regular visits to Christ in the Tabernacle and on making adequate preparation for Holy Communion.

Some might find it strange to focus so much on the Blessed Sacrament during a penitential season which is has its eyes so firmly set on the Cross of Jesus. So what really is the relevance of the Eucharist to the Lenten season?

Well firstly, we must remind ourselves that the Mass makes present the Sacrifice made by Christ on the Cross, and that to this Sacrifice “full, perfect and sufficient” that is it, we add our own “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”. The language of the Prayer Book reminds me of the Eucharistic life model outlined by Dom Gregory Dix in some of his writings. He urges us to offer up all that we have and all that we are – our prayers as well as our trials - to God. The traditional Lenten observances of fasting and increased charitable giving fit quite comfortably into the Eucharistic life-vision provided by Dix. Additionally, the Sacrament of Penance, of which we are told to avail ourselves often during Lent, has as its aim the reconciliation of man with God, and men with each other; an aim which is ultimately achieved through the Incarnation, when God makes His communion with man and through His Eucharist men make communion with each other.

In John’s Gospel, Christ answers our superficial question about the Eucharist: “What is this bread?” and answers “This bread is my flesh, given for the life of the world.” The whole Bread of Life discourse found in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel provides us with a way to view the Eucharist that is entirely consonant with the themes of Lenten conversion. In verse 27 Jesus says “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you.” What clearer way is there than this to tell us what Christ demands of us in this earthly life? When we turn to sin, we toil, under Satan, for things that might appeal to us, but which ultimately “spoil”, and our souls won’t escape that putrefying effect of sin. Yet when we toil for God, when we store up spiritual grain in heaven, then we are truly on the path to new life. The notions of spiritual food and drink outlined in this Eucharistic discourse also link us to our practice of fasting and abstinence. Jesus in the Eucharist helps us to discern that which we much renounce, and that to which we must hold tight; that which pollutes and that which washes us clean. The discipline of fasting before receiving Communion reminds us of that time before sin entered our world. Forty days of fasting then seems barely enough to prepare us for the Paschal Feast of Easter.

Lenten observance and the Eucharist, then, have a common purpose, which is to cleanse us of our sin. Our liturgy during the coming weeks will also reflect that theme. The secret prayer for Mass on the Third Sunday in Lent asks “Lord, May these offerings wash away our sins, and hallow the minds and bodies of your servants for the celebration of this sacrifice”. Those who do not make a habit of the Asperges ceremony before Sunday Mass during the rest of the year may do so during Lent. Following Mark’s Gospel we come across the passage where Jesus cleanses the temple, which has become a den of thieves. In the Eucharist, we are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Just as our conversion leads us into obedience to God the Father, our Lent should lead us to God to the Son, who comes to us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.

We can see then, that the Eucharist can be a focus for our observance of Lent. I hope to be inspired by Pope Benedict’s book, but if any readers would like to suggest further reading material then let me know.

3 comments:

  1. Why are you not a Roman Catholic you have the spirit you just do not it. The C of E is not same even if you Have'high Mass'and stuff it is not the full truth. Pray to the Eucharistic Victam so He may inspire you in a way that is not perfect but a way where you do not need the veil of the anglo-cathoicism even if its a nice veil.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your comment. I also hope that in my lifetime we will see the end of that scandal of schism and that we may see the restoration of full communion with the See of Peter.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Davis d'Ambly25 February 2009 at 19:24

    An excellent post. May God bless your Lenten devotions and bring you to the joy of the Resurrection.

    ReplyDelete