Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) – This weekend marks the halfway point in Lent. The following spiritual and community practices can help enhance or rejuvenate your Lenten experience.
For many non-Catholics – and many Catholics as well – some of the Church’s devotions and liturgies may seem daunting. “What do I do? When do I sit, stand and kneel?” are perfectly understandable questions. If they’re in your mind, read through the list below and give one – or all – a try this Lent.
Stations of the Cross
Since the fourth century, Christians have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land to follow the steps of Christ during His Passion. This pilgrimage is replicated in churches all over the world as Stations of the Cross. It’s also called Via Crucis (The Way of the Cross) or Via Dolorosa (The Way of Grief).
This devotion focuses on 14 events that Jesus experienced as He journeyed to His death for our sins. The scenes are typically depicted in paintings, engravings or bas relief along the walls of the nave in any given parish, or outdoors in prayer garden sculptures.
Before the Stations of the Cross begins, take some time to pray, opening your heart to the Lord and detaching yourself from sin and everything else in this world.
Most parishes have a booklet to guide participants through the Stations of the Cross. Look for one as you enter the church. If it’s not noted in the booklet, follow the others in attendance for cues as to when to genuflect and when to kneel.
In a small group or by oneself, it’s essential to physically move from station to station. However, in large groups, people generally remain in their pews while only the leader and his accompanying altar servers or other ministers move through the stations. Those unable to kneel or stand may remain seated.
At each station, the leader announces the name of the station and leads a statement of praise, such as, “We adore Thee O Christ and and we bless Thee.”
Respond with the others, “Because by Thy Holy Cross, Thou has redeemed the world.”
Listen carefully to the short meditation that follows.
Pray in unison the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be.
Frequently, a stanza of the hymn Stabat Mater is sung between stations.
Finish your participation in the Stations of the Cross with a prayer of thanksgiving.
Fish fries are a regular fixture during Lent, and with good reason. They provide a good fundraising mechanism for parishes and other organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, while giving Catholics an opportunity to experience good fellowship.
Check your parish bulletin for dates and times, or be daring and plan to visit a different parish. If you don’t care for fish, check if there will be meatless pasta or soup. Or … resolve to eat the fish anyway as a penance!
Prepare to wait in line. Catch up with friends or make new ones. Keep kids busy with games like “I Spy.” Or conjugate Latin verbs instead – all Catholics can do that, right? If you have teens and a smart phone, this is a great time to look up their grades and discuss anything they may have forgotten to tell you about.
Opt for the specialty of the house. Every parish excels at something, whether that’s fried cod, tuna casserole or coleslaw.
If there’s a tip jar, drop some money into it. These people go home smelling like the food you are about to eat.
No empty tables? Join in and meet someone new! That’s where the ‘fellowhip’ comes in.
Pray before you eat. Hello – you’re in a room full of Catholics; this is no time to forget. Extra points if you remember the Prayer After Meals, too.
Plan to burn off those extra fish fry calories with some Catholic calisthenics: most parishes have Stations of the Cross on the same evening.
The final week of Lent, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with the Holy Triduum, is marked by an increased sense of expectation and wonder. Don’t miss out on the liturgical services that can help you prepare your soul for the greatest feast of them all: Easter.
The Mass readings focus on the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, when crowds welcomed him by laying down palm leaves on the road before Him.
Palm fronds will be available to pick up before Mass. Choose one or two for each member of your family. Once blessed, they become a sacramental, so be sure to take care of them.
Palms can be easily folded into a simple cross for easier carrying or display in your home. Directions are available on the Internet.
Old palms may be given to a parish priest, who will burn them to make the ashes used on Ash Wednesday next year.
The Chrism Mass, in the Diocese of Lincoln, is celebrated on Monday of Holy Week (March 30 this year) in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, 3500 Sheridan Blvd., Lincoln. It begins at 5 p.m. All are welcome to attend.
During that Mass, Bishop James Conley will bless the Oil of Catechumens and the Oil of the Sick and will consecrate the Sacred Chrism for use in parishes throughout the Diocese in the coming year. Also, at this Mass, there will be a solemn renewal of priestly promises made by all the priests. Members of the diocese who are unable to attend are asked to join the diocesan family in prayer at that time.
Spy Wednesday is the traditional observance of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ. In years past – and in some parishes today – a service called “Tenebrae” (shadows) helps the faithful develop an appropriate sense of mourning before the Holy Triduum begins.
If you haven’t been to Confession recently, make a concerted effort to go on Spy Wednesday.
Attend Mass and reflect on the meaning of the readings.
Also known as “Maundy Thursday,” this day commemorates the Last Supper. Today’s Mass will be the last one offered until Easter Vigil on Saturday.
Traditionally, this was the day houses were scrubbed from top to bottom in preparation for Easter.
It’s appropriate for the faithful laity to take off work from this day till the Monday after Easter, if possible.
Attend Mass in the evening, where a priest will wash the feet of 12 men, just as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.
At the conclusion of the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is normally reposed in a side chapel or place of public prayer. People are welcome to spend time before the Eucharistic Lord in prayer that night.
If you are available to do so, join the altar society or other parish volunteers in stripping the church of all ornaments and shrouding statues.
The tabernacle is left open and empty. The whole church is left stark and bare of decorations as we await Easter.
While there is no Mass on Good Friday, a service is held nonetheless.
This is a day of fasting (for those 18-59) and abstinence. Only one large meal and two smaller meals are permitted, without meat.
A pre-consecrated Host will be offered at the liturgy.
Typically, you will have the opportunity to venerate a Crucifix. Kissing the base of the cross is a common form of this. If you are not able to go to a Good Friday service, venerate a crucifix on your own.
Leave the church in absolute silence.
Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil
The Easter, or Paschal, Vigil is truly the most beautiful liturgy of the year. This glorious Mass has four parts: the Service of Light, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of Baptism and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Parents of small children may wish to hire a sitter for very young children, as Easter Vigil typically starts late in the evening.
Candles will be provided for the Service of Light.
Catechumens will be baptized and confirmed, and candidates will also be confirmed. If there is a receiving line after Mass, do stop to congratulate these newcomers.
If you are greeted with the Eastern Catholic Easter exhortation, “Christ is risen!” you should respond, “He is risen indeed!”